WOSTER: As schoolboys, smoking was a way to show off maturityIf you’re thinking we schoolboys were demonstrating a pretty low level of maturity, sure, you’re right.
By: Terry Woster, The Daily Republic
Sometimes a cigar may just be a cigar, as Freud may or may not have said, but when I was growing up, my pals and I used cigars to demonstrate our maturity.
If you’re thinking we schoolboys were demonstrating a pretty low level of maturity, sure, you’re right.
These days, you wouldn’t expect to see four or five laughing, clowning high-school guys lighting up cigars.
Back then, we didn’t know any better, and we sure didn’t know anything about surgeons general or tobacco warnings.
I suppose I was like a lot of kids back in the 1950s. I tried smoking cigarettes about the time I turned 10. It was pretty much the classic “out behind the barn’’ scene. I swiped a cigarette from my dad’s pack, went off behind the barn and smoked the thing.
I didn’t get sick, but I didn’t get much of a kick from it. The only excitement came from the deliciously guilty feeling of doing something absolutely decadent and maybe getting away with it.
I didn’t get away with it, of course. How my dad knew he was missing one small cigarette, I didn’t figure out until a few years later. I came to understand that he only smoked two a night. Obviously, he could keep a pretty good track of how many he had when he opened a pack, and then how many he had at the end of each evening.
I also came to see how addictive a habit he had, because even though he didn’t smoke in the morning or in the field during the day, if he ran out of cigarettes at night, he’d be pretty irritable.
The story goes that on one of those evenings, we drove up the road to the nearest neighbor to bum a couple of smokes. You wouldn’t think two a day would be that compelling.
Eventually, my dad decided cigarettes weren’t a bright thing to need. He quit.
Me? I gave it up after about two tries. I don’t know why it didn’t draw me in. I have an addictive personality, whether for liquor or caffeine or diet cola or nacho chips.
I substitute one addiction for another, and when there’s nothing else around to hook me, I read one book after another for days at a stretch.
Anyway, after a couple of experiments with my dad’s cigarettes, I didn’t smoke until the end of basketball season my senior year. We’d been dumped from the playoffs by then.
A carload of us headed to Huron to watch some of the teams that did make the State Class A Tournament. One of the guys suggested we get some cigars. That was a powerful suggestion in a Chevrolet full of 18-year-old guys. I didn’t know school kids could buy cigars, but the guy came out of the drug store with a five-pack of cheapies. I can’t remember the brand, but I figured out quickly that what the country didn’t need was a five-cent cigar. For a few minutes, we all thought we were pretty swell.
After that, I didn’t smoke anything but a pipe — mostly to be literary looking during my college years — and I gave that up pretty early in our marriage. Once a year at the end of legislative session, I’d join a couple of the other news reporters for a cigar. Red Auerbach smoked a cigar when the Boston Celtics won. We smoked one when session ended. I still wasn’t all that mature.
In those days, of course, smoking was not only permitted but liberally practiced throughout the Capitol building. Legislators smoked cigarettes, cigars and pipes in committees, on the floors of the House and Senate and in the hallways and lobbies.
A few chewed tobacco. One west-river senator kept his own spittoon, engraved with the state seal. The place must have reeked. In time, social change hit the statehouse and the spittoons, ashtrays and purple haze disappeared.
Sometimes I look back at those times, and I’m amazed the practice lasted as long as it did.