Monday, August 25, 2014

Problem with tobacco ~ my column from Sunday's paper

It’s a wonder I never got hooked on tobacco. Most of the people I adored during my formative years smoked, dipped or chewed, but for reasons I’ll explain later, I never did.

I remember my grandpa Charlie Watson smoking as he sat in his overalls on an oak stump the size of a No. 3 washtub. None of those sissified filtered smokes for him. No, sir. He rolled his own.

He did a lot of work for the mines in those days, and he had a blacksmith shop behind his house. He’d heat and beat orange-hot strips of metal into U-shapes. These later became shoes for the mining mules. When his arm tired from beating hot metal, he’d sit on the stump, which also served as a workbench, and take a smoke break.

From the bib of his overalls, he’d pull out his Prince Albert tobacco, which was in a can as red as a stop sign. Curling a thin rolling paper with his index finger, he’d thump in a little tobacco, snap the can closed with one hand and place it back in his pocket. 

With practiced motion, he’d twist a cigarette as tight as a ready-roll and seal it together with a lick of the tongue.

The routine was almost a ritual. Somehow, the act of rolling his own cigarettes gave him time to think. As he blew smoke skyward he’d sometimes wax metaphorical and say, “These dang (I cleaned that word up) thangs are nails in my coffin.”

My Grandma Watson never smoked, but she always had a spittoon within arm’s reach. She often spent evenings on her front porch dipping and reflecting on life. 

She’d put a pinch of Bruton snuff just inside her bottom lip. After a while, she’d make a V with her middle and index finger, raise it to her mouth, lean toward the edge of the porch and spit an amber stream the size of a pencil into the yard.

My dad and my brothers also smoked, but thanks to an invaluable life lesson, I decided tobacco wasn’t for me.

Little-league baseball was a part of every summer when I was a kid, and one day just before practice, a teammate offered me a chew. 

“You want some of this? It’s great,” he said with a bulging jaw. He looked like he’d lost another fight with his older sister, who was as mean as a snake with an abscessed tooth.

“Sure,” I said a little too quickly. Appearing naive was a big concern at that age, so I reached into my jeans for my Old Timer pocketknife to cut off a corner. “Just bite it off,” he chided. I slid the knife back in to my pocket and took the plug from him. 

It looked a little like a chunk of cow dung and didn’t smell much better.

Almost breaking a tooth, I gnawed off a corner. Thanking him, I handed the plug back to him. Not wanting my friend to think I was without vices, I didn’t ask what to do with the juice.

I chewed the tobacco for a while but instead of spitting the juice out, I swallowed it. 

Practice was short that day. My head began to swim, and my stomach churned as if I’d swallowed a live eel. I threw up so hard that muscles throughout my body ached for a week.

That one episode was all it took to realize that tobacco was not for me.


  1. Hi Rick, the same thing happened to my little brother, he barfed till he was about half dead!
    I did smoke for a few years, but I never liked the smell of it! So glad I am not hearing the question everywhere you go (smoking or non-smoking)
    Funny how those memories stick with us!

  2. Anonymous1:53 AM

    I still smoke (Marlboros), but unlike Jimmy Carter, I DO inhale--but I never swallow!!

  3. Wow... lucky that you only got a little sick... I could never understand chewing tobacco.. good that you learned your lesson and never felt the need to take up the vice... :)

  4. Oh, swallowing that juice was nasty, but what a great lesson. My great grandma used to dip snuff, too, and had deadly accuracy with where she spit.

  5. I've never smoked, and I'm proud of this because it's a horrible vice.


  6. Ug, I remember the left over C rations from WWII. Dry as the desert, burt we smoked them anyway because they were free with the great 'C RAtion, fortified sausage patties', fortified meaning full of grease, methinks. Ha.
    I enjoy it when you spin a good tale. I do wish swallowing the juice had cured me, but I was stubborn....

  7. A lucky lesson for you as well! I smoked cigarettes a little when I was younger, but once I had children, I decided to be a better role model for them and quit. I never regretted that decision for a second.

  8. Great life lesson for sure! I see no good from smoking. In my line of work I see all the damage it does. My Mom and I are the only ones who never smoked. Everyone quit except my sister who still does smoke but is really trying hard to quit. Dad died young and so did Jack's parents who were also smokers. Jack never smoked either...guess we were made for each other! I think I never smoked because of the smell...I have a very sensitive smeller! Whenever I would have the flu all I needed was Dad to light up and I'd throw up...yuck! Glad it's atleast one habit I don't have! Glad you don't either! Live long and prosper! (as much as cigs cost these days that might be a true statement!)

  9. I am not a smoker and out of my three daughters only one of them smokes my dad smoked for many many years and mum tells us that she smoked when she was young but but gave up over 40 years ago.

  10. well I get the allure of it - my husband used to smoke and he looked so dang good doing it. From the way he flicked his zippo to light it, all the way to the end. Plus he never smelled like a smoker. although I'm glad for his health and mine that he stopped, I do miss that very 'attractive' part of him I'll never get to see any more.
    He spent a short time trying Snus which he imported from Europe. Much cleaner than chaw, but similar effects. I'm definitely glad that habit is gone.
    Four years later, he kicked the cigarette habit but not the nicotine - he still chews nicotine gum. I haven't been able to convince him to quit that yet.

  11. You're so fortunate for that Life Lesson! I smoked - and enjoyed every minute of it - for nearly 40 years before quitting last October. In my heart, I 'know' God doesn't make deals ... but it was mighty coincidental that last year when my hubby was diagnosed with Stage III lung cancer and I promised, if He allowed Tom's recovery, I'd stop.
    I still walk a little closer to someone who's smoking and breathe a little deeper ... but I'm not dumb enough to go back on my deal with the Almighty! :)


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