Up In Smoke

I live in Kentucky and one of our biggest and most profitable crop use to be tobacco.  Each spring, all the farmers would plant tobacco and in the fall the crop was harvested.  There is a lot of work involved in growing tobacco because each plant has to be handled individually numerous times.  Most people think that once something is planted, you just wait for it to grow.  Some crops are that way, but after tobacco is planted, it will need to be topped, suckered, cut, hung to cure, stripped then packaged for sale to a tobacco company.  Just a few years ago, there was big money to be made in tobacco.  However, with the government restrictions being imposed and the health related issues, tobacco is no longer a desired product to grow in Kentucky.

Speaking of tobacco, I started smoking when I was a in the seventh grade.  It was Saturday night, and one of my friends named Lisa had a slumber party.  Joining Lisa and I were three other girls, Sarah, Judy and Sharon.  At first we listened to music, then we talked and played Spades.  When Saturday Night Live came on, we were glued to the television set.  After Saturday Night Live went off, we watched The Wolfman Jack Show.  It was midnight, and of course we didn’t want to go to sleep so we decided to play gin rummy.

We were all sitting at the kitchen table and Lisa walked over to the cabinet drawer to get a deck of cards.  When she came back over to the table, instead of playing cards, she had a pack of cigarettes.  She asked if anyone wanted to smoke a cigarette with her, and Sharon said she would.  Lisa and Sharon went out the back door and stepped out into the darkness.  It wasn’t long before the rest of us decided to take a puff, so we joined them.  It was misting rain, so we all had to stand under the eave of the house so we wouldn’t get wet.  We were standing there in a straight line passing a cigarette back and forth, from one to the other.  After only two puffs each, the cigarette was gone, so we decided it would be best if we each smoked our own cigarette.

We stood there in the darkness for about an hour watching each other smoke. We practiced making smoke rings, and inhaling and blowing smoke through our nose.  It wasn’t long before we had finished the whole pack, so Lisa went back into the house a got another pack.  Then the mist of rain turned into a down pour.  Since we were not finished smoking, so we decided to get into Lisa’s mother’s car.  In about forty-five minutes, we were out of cigarettes again, so this time Lisa ran into the house and grabbed the eight packs of cigarettes that were left in the carton.

We stay up until daybreak sitting in that car smoking, smoking and smoking some more.  It got a bit smokey in the car with windows rolled up, so about every thirty minutes we would crack the car window a couple of inches to let out some of the smoke.  Every time we cracked the window, smoke would roll out and fill the humidity trapped air with a cloud of smoke that was about fifteen feet in diameter, and momentarily the car transformed into a steam engine.  And since the smoke lingered so long,  we would only leave the car window cracked for a few seconds because we were afraid someone would see the smoke and think the house was on fire.

Although we pretty much smoked the whole damn carton, we were considerate enough to leave a half a pack for Lisa’s mom.  We were all sitting around the kitchen table at six o’clock that morning when Lisa’s mother got out of bed .  I was watching her and the first thing she did was put on a pot of coffee, and next she went to her cigarette drawer.  She had the strangest look on her face when she opened the drawer; then she looked over at Lisa and said, “Didn’t I buy a carton of cigarettes at the store yesterday?”  Lisa said she didn’t know because she didn’t go to the store with her.  Lisa’s mother looked puzzled, and she shut the drawer and walked over to the stove.  Once the coffee was ready, she poured herself a cup full and walked back over to the drawer.  She sat the cup off coffee on the counter and opened the drawer and started pulling things our of it.  After she had pulled several things out of the drawer and laid them on the counter, she looked over at Lisa and said, “I could have sworn that I bought a carton of cigarette yesterday.”  Lisa just shrugged her shoulders.

I guess Lisa’s mom figured out what was going on when she was going outside to get the Sunday’s newspaper.  She took one step out back door, and then she just stopped.  She turned around and looked at us and said, “Come here girls.”  With a little hesitation, we finally joined her at the back door.  Would you like to know why she wanted us to come to the back door?  There were about 100 cigarette butts surrounding her car and the ashtray full, and ashes all over the car seats and the floor.  And to beat it all, the smoke was still lingering from the windows being rolled up.  I can’t remember how mad Lisa’s mom got that day, but I do remembering going home fairly quickly after that happened.  It was a very long time before I could spend the night with Lisa again, and she never did have another slumber party.  Needless to say, I didn’t smoke another cigarette for a very, very long time after that.

When I was growing up, my dad smoked, and my mom was scared to death that our house was going to catch on fire.   My dad did catch their bed on fire one night when he fell asleep smoking in the bed.  It must have been on fire for a while because that cigarette burnt a hole all the way through the mattress to the box springs.  He never smoked in the bed after that and he was damn lucky Mom let him smoke in the house at all after that happened. And, come to think of it, he was damn lucky Mom let him sleep with her again.    Believe me, when you did something wrong, Mom would not let you forget about it.

Sometimes Dad would buy the cigarettes already rolled and other times he would buy tobacco and paper and roll his own.  Mom smoked for a very short period of time.  She bought these really long cigarettes that looked like a pencil.  She didn’t smoke much, but when she did smoke, she looked so funny.  Every time she would light her cigarette, she would hold the ashtray under the end of the cigarette just in case a spark might fall off. Every time she would take a puff, she made sure the ashtray was directly under the cigarette just incase an ash were to fall off.  Apparently, she wanted to make sure she didn’t catch the house on fire.

Every time we would leave the house, she had to go around to all the ashtrays to make sure all the cigarettes were out.  And most of the time she would put all the ashtrays in the kitchen sink if they had ashes in them or not.  After she made sure all the ashtrays were safe, she would check to make sure the stove was off, the iron was off, the clothes dryer was off, the lights were off and anything else that was associated with a fire was off before we could leave.  There were many times we had left and had to come back because she forgot to check to make sure something was off.  When we would get to where we were going, she would get a panic look on her face and say, “I hope I turned that dryer off.” Or “Did I turn the iron off?”  I simply replied, ”Yes, it’s off Mom…everything is off.”

For as long as I can remember, my mom was terrified that our house would catch on fire.  I mean she was paranoid, scared to death of fires.  I guess I thought she worried enough for the both of us, so I never thought anything about fires.  One day, Mom had put a big pot of brown beans on the stove before she left for work.  She told my brother to watch them and to make sure he kept adding water to them and stir them every now and then so they wouldn’t burn up and catch the house on fire.  She also made me promise to remind him to check on the beans off and on.

It wasn’t long after Mom had left the house when a few of the neighborhood kids came over.  We started playing football and must have played for two hours before my brother and I realized we had forgotten about the beans.  When we ran into the house, the kitchen was filled with smoke and the smell was horrible.  My brother turned the stove off; put on oven mitts and grabbed the smoking pot and took it outside.  In all my years of living, I have never seen beans so burnt and black.  They were so bad we could not even scrap all of them off the bottom of the pan.  Not only did we ruin the beans and Mom’s good cooking pot that day, the smoke also ruined the kitchen curtains.   Mom was pretty upset with us when she got home from work that day.  I don’t remember what we had for supper that night, but I’m pretty damn sure it wasn’t beans.

Occasionally, mom would take me and my brother to the bank with her. On the wall behind the tellers was a large mural that covered the entire wall.  This was a painting of the famous bank robbery that occurred in town on March 20, 1868. Jesse James and his gang stole about $12,000 from the bank that day and the mural showed the outlaws riding their horses and shooting their six-shooters and holding bags of money.  This inspired my brother and I to become bank robbers.  That summer we played bank robbers every day and we practically lived in the small dirt basement under our house, which was our hide-out.  Although it was cool in the basement, it was also very dark.  One day we rode our bikes to the corner store and bought a couple of boxes of birthday candles and some matches so we would have some light.  Day after day, we would light birthday candles and after burning cobwebs off of the wooden frame of the house, we would carefully place the candles all around us and it would become as bright as daylight in our hide-out.   Every now and then, we would hear Mom come out the backdoor to hang out laundry, so we would be very quite so she wouldn’t find us.

We had fun in our little hide-out until the day we got caught. As usual, we were sitting there with our guns and counting our play money, when we heard someone at the basement door.  We quickly and quietly blew out all the candles and sat there in the dark for a few moments.  When my eyes had adjusted to the darkness, I saw that the dirt basement was filled with smoke from where we had blown out all the candles.   Suddenly the basement door flew open and the brightness of the sunlight blinded me.  I couldn’t see anything, but I did hear a voice screaming, “Oh my Lord!  The house is on fire!”  I bet you can guess who that was.  Yep. Mom.  Instead of being relieved to find out it was just us and that the smoke was from the candles that had been blown out, she was mad.  She gathered all the candles and matches and she ran us out of the basement and pretty much dared us to enter the basement again.  I wasn’t about to say anything that day, but all I could think was, “Oh Lord Momma; the house ain’t on fire!”


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