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Posted: June 12, 2012 3:43 p.m.
Updated: June 13, 2012 5:00 a.m.

Tobacco was an important part of life in Georgia during the thirties and forties. Every man smoked -- a pipe, cigar, or cigarette. Farmers raised tobacco as a money crop and their own use. Most women did not smoke; if they did so, they did it in private, certainly not on the street. My mother considered women who smoked to be “hussies,” although she dipped snuff. I cannot remember her, in her few times of leisure, without a dip of snuff and a twig in her mouth and a spit can by her side. I certainly was not interested in becoming involved in the practice: snuff made anyone unlucky enough to get a whiff sneeze.

Since my mother was forty when I was born, most of her friends had no children as young as I. Well aware of her role as a mother, she dressed me in starched pinafores, what must have looked like a picture to the old women who came to visit. With my platinum blond hair, company manners, and clean demeanor, I was the focus of these ladies, who all insisted on kissing me smack in the mouth. This practice was bad enough, but what made it even worse was that each of them had a dip of snuff! I tried to stay out of the picture, but my mother wanted to show me off. My brother, on the other hand, since he was a boy and did not conform to what was expected of him, was free.

A health practice of the day was to use smoke. Since I suffered from frequent earache, I tried to keep away from my smoking uncles, who would grab me and blow smoke in whichever ear was hurting. I have no idea whether it was the warmth of their breath or the tobacco, but the ear did feel better. I know I certainly got more than my supply of second hand smoke from them!

My mother’s wonderful chocolate icing was not a treat for a child. We were not even allowed to lick the bowl, possibly because of potential cavities. What does chocolate icing have to do with tobacco? The answer, of course, is nothing unless a child mistakes a jettisoned dip of snuff at the telephone table for it. Back in those days, mothers, especially widows, watched their children. My mother was frosting a cake when the telephone rang. She attended to the phone and then returned to her culinary pursuits. When I walked by the telephone table, I saw -- wonder of wonders -- that she had forgotten her tablespoon, resplendent with which I believed to be chocolate icing. I looked over my shoulder to see what she was doing and if she were watching me. I was in luck; she was busy. I readied myself for the forbidden sweet, closed my eyes, and savored -- SNUFF!

Years went by, and my brother smoked prodigiously -- no wonder! The coveted candy of the day was candy cigarettes and tobacco companies gave cigarette packages to high schoolers with me getting my share to give to my brother. Mother would not tolerate a mess, so my brother dumped his cigarette butts in any beverage I had fixed for myself. Flavored milk was especially noxious! Coffee hid the butt and the taste better. No use existed for complaining to Mother. Her answer was that I should have carried the drink with me. The real reason was that he was a boy, and boys always received better treatment.

I was determined to have nothing to do with tobacco, its smell, and the potential health hazards. Of course, such was not to be the case. When I began teaching school, the faculty restroom reeked of smoke. In fact, some teachers, I believe, spent more time in the restroom smoking than in their classrooms. Whenever I made a necessary trip to this facility, I met a cloud of smoke and, no matter how fast I attempted to remove myself from the room, reeked of smoke myself. When I pled with the principal to make at least one bathroom in the school smoke free, no matter how far away from my classroom it was, I heard not to be selfish. Evidently most of the teachers smoked, and the rest of us were outvoted by the majority. Ironically, the whole town of Camden is now “smoke free” with a fine assessed for those caught smoking in public places.

I have aged without the problem of buying tobacco products or cessation medicine. Actually, I have no idea how much a pack of cigarettes costs, nor do I intend to research the matter.


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