Why I Hate Cigarettes

March 29, 2014

I could start out and say I hate cigarettes because they killed my mother but that might seem melodramatic and it is not the original source of my loathing those nasty sticks.

Mama and Daddy both smoked, Mama smoked Winston’s and Daddy smoked Salem’s. I always thought that was cool because about two and half hours northwest of home was the town Winston-Salem. They smoked all the time and everywhere. I used to complain to Mama that her cigarette smoke was bothering me. The ghostly trail seemed to find me.

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“Yuck,” I would say as I waved my hand and broke up the fine white lines.

“Smoke follows beauty,” was always her reply.

I have images of her steering the wheel of her Cadillac with a cigarette balanced between her long index and middle fingers. I could smell the smoke mixed with her thermos of coffee and a waft of Adorn hairspray. Mama never went anywhere without her hair just right. And there was the faint scent of Chanel No. 5. None of it was as powerful as her Winston’s.

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She would occasionally send me to Little Giant, the convenience store on Hope Mills Road to buy her a pack. She would call up ahead and let the cashier know it was fine to sell her ten-year-old daughter the cellophane wrapped box. They were about fifty cents a pack. This was North Carolina in the 1970’s.

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My high school had a smoking area. I hung out on the periphery. All of my friends smoked but I hated it. (Full disclosure: I puffed a few times because I wanted to blow smoke rings – I actually did! Once!)

Freshman year of college my favorite class was Acting. I loved it! It was the class I lived for. No partying the night before. One particular night, all of the theatre students gathered in a spacious apartment in one of the Victorian houses off Tate Street. Everyone was smoking and drinking. Smoking weed, smoking Camels. I inhaled and got that nicotine high and I felt good. My hair, my clothes reeked of ashtray but I fit in with the actors.

In the morning as we sat on the wooden floor in a circle wearing tights, leg warmers and sweat pants, stretching and vocalizing my chest ached deep inside. I felt black in my lungs. My breath was shallow. I was sad. That was my last cigarette.

Jump ahead three years later. I was a senior. I had a job at the Fifth Season – a nightclub at the Greensboro Four Seasons Hotel. I called myself a bouncer. My actual title was hostess. Basically I checked id’s of the people going in to make sure they were at least twenty-one and that they adhered to the dress code – no sneakers, no shabby clothes. This was North Carolina in the 80’s.  There was a mix of disco, pop, country and lots of cigarettes!

I worked there three nights a week. I never went into the club but as Mama said: “Smoke follows beauty.” I developed a cough that year. I worked at the Fifth Season for nine months. I moved to New York a couple of weeks after graduating.

My cough lasted another two years and I never lived with or worked with smoke.

If I went out dancing in a club I coughed for two days after. I cannot tolerate smoke.

Mama had a love/hate relationship with those Winston’s.

Daddy used a hypnotist to quit – it took two sessions but he is still smoke-free!

Daddy used to yell at me because he said my friends were smoking in Mama’s car. They always denied it. Turns out it was Mama! Those cigarettes had a hold on her.

She would stop and start and stop and start. She loved the taste and she loved the way they made her feel.

Then she got lung cancer.

Was it the Winston’s?

There is a tea I like to sip – no coffee for me. It is vanilla rooibos. It is an herbal tea with a full body.

Before I brew it I love to smell it. It smells like tobacco – before it is rolled and smoked.

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