When I was almost fourteen, (in 1959) my elder cousin decided it was high time I got some experience in smoking if I ever wanted to fit in with the older girls, and of course, I did.
Cousin, Anne Marie, was past fifteen and I believed her to be completely grown up and sophisticated. After all, she had already been smoking steadily for a year. We were usually at one or the other’s home so our parents were not suspicious when she asked if I could stay over one hot summer night.
The plan had been set in motion earlier. First we’d wait in her upstairs bedroom till her parents fell asleep, then sneak downstairs and steal a pack of her mother’s cigarettes from the kitchen drawer…
Stretching across her bed killing time, we finally heard her dad’s loud snoring from the room below.
As quiet as mice, and with flashlight in hand, we crept downstairs and pulled off the first stage of our devious plot with no problem whatsoever. Anne Marie even grabbed a few toothpicks from a holder on the table. These, she explained when we were back upstairs, were to be used in case we smoked the butts down too short and had to stick a pick through the cigarette making it possible to hold it without burning our fingers. What a pro!
We sat cross-legged on her bed, and the lesson began.
Cousin dear lit the first cigarette, taking a long drag and holding the smoke in her lungs for a couple of seconds. When she blew out, the smoke was light and airy as it drifted from her experienced lips.
Gee, it looked so easy, and sexy too, I thought. I felt I was ready to take this giant leap into adulthood, and could hardly wait for her to pass the white fag to me. When my turn came, I put the cigarette between my first two fingers, tilted my head back slightly as I’d seen the movie stars do on the silver screen, and took a long drag. For the next few seconds, I desperately ried in vain to catch my breath. That was the first clue I may need a lot more practice.
As I was choking half to death, my brave cohort threw a pillow over my face to squelch the coughing so it wouldn’t wake her folks and get us both grounded for the rest of our natural lives. She then gave further instruction to take smaller puffs, and hold only part of the smoke in to build up my fragile “Virgin Lungs,” as she called them. With my next attempt, I found the new procedure worked smoothly and with much less coughing.
All went well, and soon I was keeping up with her in Pall Malls. We opened the windows at each end of her room, and leaned halfway into the night, trying to blow the stinking smoke away from the house so her mother wouldn’t notice her room smelled of stale tobacco in the morning light.
I thought I was getting the hang of it until Anne Marie told me to hold my breath longer with each inhale, and began timing me. That’s when the room began spinning, my stomach lurched, and I realized I was in big trouble. Leaping from the bed, I ran downstairs to the one and only bathroom, and began violently upchucking. Trying to be quiet so as not to disturb the rest of the sleeping inhabitants of the house was not an easy task but after a few minutes passed and no one rapped at the door to see if I was dying, I figured I was in the clear.
Raising my head from the toilet bowl, I pulled myself to my feet by hanging on to the edge of the sink. I then glanced in the mirror covering the medicine cabinet and thought, “I now know what they mean by being green around the gills.”
Circling my mouth was the deepest shade of brownish-green I’d ever seen. (Smoking with toothpicks had left nicotine stains on my lips, but at the time, I was far too dumb to know that was what it was.)
I splashed cold water on my face, and was relieved to see the stains rinsing off. Not a great improvement but I thought perhaps I’d survive.
The pallor of my complexion was frightening, and before I could leave the bathroom, I up-chucked once again, then literally crawled back up the stairs to my fearless leader’s bed—finding her fast asleep, and not in the least concerned about my present state of ill health.
This was my Alpha and Omega—beginning and end.
I vowed never to smoke again and can proudly say, “I’ve kept that promise!”
FOOTNOTE: I wish every kid who ever tried smoking could learn their lesson on the first try. It’s a vile, filthy, addiction, and my cousin wished years later that she could quit! She finally was successful but with much agony in trying to kick the habit…
You know me, a sentimental ol’ Granny….Well, here’s another poem that’ll take ya back to those days of being a carefree child.