Tobacco Road…


By Bill Derby

According to an article many years ago in Reader’s Digest, “The use of tobacco will go down in history as one of the worst scourges in the history of mankind. In the future people will look back at this century (1900’s) and be unable to understand why people smoked, chewed or whatever with tobacco, the most addictive drug known to man.” Ads today are running anti-dipping spots on TV. Boys, you better pay attention.

Smoking in America became prevalent during WW I when soldiers were given cigarettes on the battlefield. They brought the habit home. Going back a few years, news reports suggested tobacco companies have been secretly increasing nicotine levels in cigarettes to make it even harder to kick the habit. What’s a vapor puff? It can’t be good for you.

My generation grew up watching our parents smoke. It was natural we wanted to act like adults. Many of us started smoking, including myself.

I got my start early, thanks to some older influential buddies. According to my Dad’s analysis of my personality, “I was easily led.” My smoking introduction started with trying to smoke the “Indian Cigar,” a longish-looking seedpod that fell from the Catalpa Tree, the older and browner the better to light. We clipped both ends and held our mom’s kitchen match to one end while trying to puff. The thing tasted horrible and after a couple of tries we threw it down hacking, eyes watering. “Man, that was great,” we said as we rationalized our new habit while coughing. Every new kid in the neighborhood tried the “Indian Cigar” but only one time.

When I visited my grandmother on Pine Street, Luke Moss introduced me to real cigarettes. We walked down to Harry’s Steak House on Walnut St., now Tom Seaton’s office for the Firehouse Barbecue. Since Luke was taller he would quickly walk into Harry’s and stick 15 cents into the cigarette machine, pull the lever, grab the pack of Pall-Malls and run. Harry never did catch us. Minutes later saw us walking down the alley puffing away just like adults. We only puffed and never inhaled.  A mouth full of Juicy Fruit helped mask the smoke aroma.

Next came the Boy Scouts. On every camping trip we could count on someone smuggling in a pack of smokes. On my first camping trip to Davis Springs in Unicoi I remember watching smoke waft over Johnny Jones and Ricky Govan’s tent seeping out between the old army pup tent seams. They would sell you smoke for a nickel.

Another scout camping trip introduced me to chewing tobacco. Some nice scout doing his duty offered me a bite off his plug of “Mule Kick” chewing tobacco. “Here, take a pull off this plug. It’ll make a man out of you,” he promised.

I indulged his offer enjoying the first few seconds of the art of “chewing.” No one told me to spit. I swallowed only a little of “Mule Kick” but just enough to turn me the shade of our old green army tent. I never enjoyed the opportunity to try “Mule Kick” ever again.

In junior high we would sneak a smoke here and there, nothing regular. Our basketball coach, Jack McCorkle, guaranteed a swift kick if he caught a team member smoking. We all smoked. He did too and right in front of us. During team meetings he lit up his usual Winston taking deep draws and talking as we watched the smoke float out between words. Many times he would inhale and talk without smoke coming out. It made us nervous.

Once my Dad caught me smoking outside on the front porch. He sat down beside me very quietly and said, “Son, you’re going from bad to worse.” That’s all he said, got up, went inside. It made an impression on me. I was more careful the next time.

I was finally able to give up the habit “cold turkey” many years ago. It’s hard to quit and I have empathy for people who can’t. My good friend who started when I did called me two weeks ago to say he had stopped smoking. He hadn’t had a cigarette in five weeks. He has never tried to stop. I told him great and to keep up the battle.

I’m thankful I was able to give up tobacco especially “Mule Kick” and those horrible “Indian Cigars.”


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