Guest post from BCC’s friend Elouise
Tobacco came into my life early. We lived with my grandparents during the Depression–my parents, my brothers and I. The women and children in this household were church-going Methodists, the men, Jack Methodists. The small house was cramped, but times were hard; people did what they had to do. Gramps brewed his own beer; Mom worked as a practical nurse; Dad saved money by rolling his own cigarettes. At five, I learned how to operate the little machine that produced his smokes.
Hand-rolling may have been a sacrifice for Dad, but it was a delightful game for me. First the ultra-thin slips of cigarette paper tucked into the trough of the roller. Then just the right amount of Bugler tobacco –no spilling!–tamped in on top, evenly from end to end. (The light blue tobacco can, with its logo of a uniformed WWI bugler on the front, is still bright in this mind’s eye.) Lick my finger and wet the pre-glued side of the paper; crank the roller, and out comes the finished product! No leathery Havana cigar-maker, wrapping his stogies with a skill sculpted over decades, could have been prouder of his handiwork.
Just as almost every Western woman, according to folklorist Rayna Green, has her “first tampon” story, so most gentiles, and many Mormons as well, I would guess, have “first cigarette” memories. Mine seemed a natural progression from rolling Dad’s smokes. Except that it wasn’t a cigarette. By the time I was 10, the economy was doing better because of The War. Dad could buy ready-made Camels (20 cents a pack) as well as tins of Prince Albert pipe tobacco. (Generations of kids thought it howlingly cool to phone some beleaguered store and ask if they carried Prince Albert in a can. If told yes, you then yelled, “Well, let him OUT!” just before banging down the receiver.)
Deciding that 10 was old enough to smoke, I simply trooped around the house and picked Dad’s butts out of the ashtrays. I also confiscated his well-used, rarely cleaned pipe. Easy enough, then, to slit the cigarette paper, winnow out the remaining tobacco, and stuff the gleanings into the bowl of his pipe. (I guess the pipe seemed more exotic than the now-familiar cigarettes.) Light up, sit back, puff away. I had just finished supper, including a tasty slice of cherry pie; now I was enjoying an after-dinner pipe. Uh-oh: what’s this? Very suddenly, neither the cherry pie nor the pilfered pipe seemed enjoyable at all,and I got rid of both faster than one can say “regurgitate.”
That really was the end of tobacco’s temptation for me; later, when teen-aged friends started lighting up, I just shook my head. I did not, on the other hand, give up cherry pie.
Years later,on my mission among the heathen French, as one puzzled gentile friend put it, my senior companion and I called several times on a certain Frere Dupont, who had been baptized years earlier but whose burning in the bosom had cooled, leaving no live coals that we could detect. Nonetheless, every new set of missionaries had to give the rekindling a try.
Frere Dupont was a smoker; he especially enjoyed smoking when the missionaries came to call. On our first visit, my senior, the backslider and I sat around a table chatting, just getting acquainted. Frere was expounding on some dark, existential labyrinth. The ash on his thin cigarette grew longer and longer. Habit kicked in, and without thinking, I did as I had done a hundred times at home. I reached for an ashtray on my side of the table and placed it by his hand. He continued his discourse, but those Gallic eyes flickered.
This casual gesture did not, of course, change his ways. But he did, later, philosophize dryly on the “Mormon” virtue of acceptance and respect despite differences. And oddly enough, he began showing up occasionally at sacrament meeting. Not often–just enough to tease each new set of missionaries. And always, the aroma of his tabac over-powered even the elders’ after-shave.
Any other tobacco memories out there?