I learned to smoke in my little town. In the mid to late sixties there were no laws about how old you had to be to buy cigarettes. The world had yet to publicize how things like cancer and emphysema were caused by smoking. Smoking cigarettes was still as common as drinking coffee and eating eggs for breakfast every day. It wasn’t until much later that cigarettes became regulated. Age didn’t matter, cigarette machines were more common that soda or candy machines.
I had two kids to play with back then. They were a brother and sister that lived near me. We called each other cousins but really our dads were cousins so we were second cousins or cousins twice removed or something. They were both older than me by a couple of years but when the pool of playmates is so small we weren’t choosy.
My dad would give me fifty cents to go to Jack’s store and buy his Kools. Cigarettes were only thirty five cents a pack so the change was mine. We were quite young, I was around seven or eight, when we decided we’d be really cool if we smoked. If we added up our meager earnings from running errands for the locals and change from our trips to the store for our parents we always had enough to buy cigarettes. Since my dad smoked Kools all I had to do was get two packs when I went to get my dad’s.
There were a couple of old, abandoned sheds in the pastures between our houses that were our play houses. The pastures belonged to their grandparents but to me they were always Grampa and Gramma Hastings. That’s where my years of smoking began. I smoked on and off through elementary school and from high school until I was in my forties I was a tried and true menthol smoker.
Through high school I could buy a pack of cigarettes using my lunch money. They were still only fifty cents a pack. I recall being upset when they went up to seventy five cents, then a dollar. As time went on and the price went up I remember setting limits, “if they get to X amount I’ll quit.” Every time they got to X amount I’d set a new limit.
More and more warning were coming out about the dangers, cigarette machines started disappearing and then there came the laws about having to be 18 to buy them. I was in my thirties when I’d quit, then start, quit, then start. I had a child and that was going to be it, until it wasn’t, and I found myself smoking under the fan in the kitchen or riding in the car with the windows open on the coldest days.
One day I was just done. I quit and stayed quit. It’s been about 20 years now. I honestly don’t have a clear recollection of the date. I do, however, remember who I was with and where we were when I smoked my last cigarette. Funny how that works. I guess I could figure it out but it doesn’t seem that important.
There are many times I think “I’d like to smoke right now” or my old smoking buddies and I will say “let’s go have a cigarette.” We don’t and it’s doubtful we really want one, it’s the rhythm and the ritual. It’s the feelings of old times. I see pictures of me with a cigarette in my hand and it looks funny to me now.
Times have changed. I have changed. My little town is still my little town but it too, has changed. The sheds are gone, kids can’t buy cigarettes any more, Grampa and Gramma Hastings farm has been sold and resold. Jack’s store has changed hands a few times but it’s still there. There aren’t even as many kids in town as there were when I was growing up. I never see them riding their bikes or swimming in the swimming hole. Cigarettes cost much more than my last X amount limit. And I don’t smoke any more.