Smoking Jag

When I was a kid and people smoked cigarettes a lot we would say they are having a smoking jag. I just looked that up on the internet to see if that was really a term or if I had made it up in my head. Turns out there are many things that could be that from smoking pot to a Jaguar car that is smokin’ hot. I did find that I was correct in my phraseology.

Then there is smoking like a fiend. I heard that one as well growing up. It sounds like I came from a smoke free home growing up, but I did not. My dad smoked until he got punched in the chest by a steel rod (that is a good story for another day). Since he coughed every morning on waking up because of smoking and it hurt to cough now with this hole he gave it up cold turkey.

My mom didn’t smoke and not many of her side of the family did although my uncle by marriage from Kentucky did. The family’s excuse for his habit was that he was from Kentucky and that is where they grew it so…. He would hold it in between his thumb and index finger and then cup the other fingers under it when not to his mouth. I can see him sitting on some step, bent over, forearms on the tops of his knees wide spread, almost like a squat. The last fingers able to gently hit the cigarette so the ashes  fell to the ground. Sometimes he would have to move his leg quickly to keep from an ash touching his pant leg.

Dad had that same position. I would watch him take a pull. I would watch him grind them out both in an ashtray and when outside on the ground. I would watch how his mouth would blow it out different directions depending on where he was. I remember how he would stick it in his mouth with his lips curved in while he lifted something heavy. I asked him once if he could blow smoke rings as I had seen someone doing that on TV. I sat memorized while he made a few and let me poke a finger and then a whole hand in them. Then he sometimes did that little trick where the smoke came right out of his mouth and would go up directly again into his nose.

He would sometimes make his own cigarettes and had a little rolling machine. It was red and had a cloth band on it where you laid the paper like a mini hammock. In that little now paper covered hammock he would sprinkle the tobacco from the can. I assume it was Prince Albert in a can. Sometimes he let me do it. The papers came in packets very much like the papers for perming hair. Tissue like and the cigarette ones where banded with a label. I remember the label being blue and black. Maybe they matched and were also from the Prince Albert in a can people. I think that sometimes he might have bought filters to add in, but the ones I made for him were sans filters. To make the cigarettes hold together he would lightly use the tip of his tongue to pass over the long edge of the now rolled cig and adhere it to itself. Then he would take the cigarette and tap the ends on the edge of something to bang tiny bits of tobacco back into the tube of paper.

He then would light one up. As far as I remember he only used paper matchbooks to light them, then take his thumb and middle finger to get those tiny bits off his lips. Then he would be calm for a bit.

When I was performing at a talent show where my mom was accompanying me, my dad stood in the back of the school gym near the big doors with some other dads and smoked. You could smoke anywhere then. I could see the glow of the lite ends as the lights were down. They would glow brighter as the men took a drag and then swung their arms down again.

This all makes smoking sound like a beautiful picture. It just was what we knew. Many people in my dad’s family smoked. His dad, my grandpa, smoked a pipe and cigarettes. His sister and his brother smoked too. Some of his really nice relative smoked cigars that I can still smell. It is a nice scent to me maybe only because they were so nice. Most everywhere we went the air was blue. One of my brothers did smoke and one does not.

When smoking came out of our house after Dad got hit in the chest by that iron bar our senses improved and things smelled better. Mostly I noticed that I did not have the respiratory problems anymore. It seems like no one put those two things together. I know that both of the doctors I had as a child both were avid smokers.

It made me crazy when one of my sons took it up for a while. I think the other may have as well. To me it made no sense because it really caused the cancers in our family. What was odd to me at the time he quit was that Dad always said that if he knew he would die tomorrow he would have a cigarette. I understand addiction better now, but when I asked him if he would smoke pot to help him when he was dying of cancer. He said that since it was illegal he could never do that. Whatever, Dad.

So, when I went into a tiny local store today and was at the checkout I was overcome with cigarette smell. I looked around and it was emanating out of the checker. No one else was in there. She wasn’t actually smoking and I couldn’t see anyone outside of the doors out there puffing. It was so strong that I backed up. Did we smell like that back in the day? Since most people our families spent time with had people that smoked, did we all smell like that? Remember when we came home from the bars and hung our jackets outside to air out? Makes me happy not to have too many people I know smoking anymore. What one whiff will remind me of…


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