Today is the 30th annual smokeout…a day when Americans are encouraged en masse to give up the smokes. I want to be clear that my position is that cigarettes will kill you and everyone who smokes them should stop. I am an ex-smoker who can testify to the benefits of having quit. While I do enjoy an occasional cigar, and would love to smoke a pipe (but would hate the constant answering for it to my beloved Baptist brethren), smoking is generally not a good thing.
That said, when I think about cigarettes some memories come barging into my brain that I can call nothing but good. One such memory, perhaps the most vivid, is being a kid at my grandparents house. Grandpa and Grandma both smoked (he smoked Raleighs and she smoked BelAirs, I think), and walking into their house was like walking into a different world – a world where everything was a little hazy but not dirty, a world that had a distinct odor but didn’t stink, a world that had a peculiar language that included things like “darlun” and “pagoodytakes” (“for goodness’ sake”). It was a safe world, which, when I was a kid, meant something.
I particularly remember breakfast at Grandma and Grandpa’s. It was usually something like milk-toast or cracker soup. Cracker soup was something clearly made up by poor poeple, but was a delicacy for me as a boy. Crackers were spread out on a dinner-sized plate in a single layer, then coffee with lots of cream and sugar was poured over them. Then more sugar was sprinkled on just to make sure. Sometimes breakfast was large Archway cookies dunked into coffee – as many as you wanted. Grandpa taught me the trick to dunking Archway cookies. What you had to do was break off a piece and place it on your spoon, then let the spoon down into the coffee gently so that the coffee would spill over into the spoon. The coffee was cooler at the top and the cookie didn’t disintegrate into a soggy mess at the bottom of the cup.
One thing that was constant at the breakfast table was a cigarette burning like a candle in an ashtray with other former candles that had been snuffed and crunched and now lay there useless. The smoke from the current cigarette drifted purposelessly into the air and mingled with the other smoke to form a fog that was a familiar comfort because it was Grandma and Grandpa’s house. I could do whatever I wanted in that fog, I could be a little boy who had to do nothing but be loved by Grandma and Grandpa.
I know cigarettes are bad for you…they ended up killing Grandpa. But the memory insists upon being a good one for me…the safety, the cracker soup, and the sense of peace…pagoodytakes.