I quit smoking almost seven years ago after being a heavy smoker most of my life. I started by sneaking a Camel from my mother's pack or finding an unfinished butt in the ashtray on top of the furnace in the kitchen. It was an old house with an old coal-fired furnace in the kitchen next to what had been a house heating fireplace in earlier years. Carrying coal from the dirt cellar to the kitchen was one of my daily chores along with removing the ash pan and dumping it in the metal trash can out back.
That's about the time I started working part time at the local Esso station (Esso became Exxon) when service stations actually provided service — washing the windshield, checking the oil, checking the tires and pumping gas. I was eleven but big for my age and in a small town, nobody bothered about requiring working papers for young part-timers.
At the station, the cigarettes were on a shelf next to the cash register and offered a delightful variety of cigarettes that a curious young experimenter could try. Back then, smokers unashamedly enjoyed their smokes anywhere and everywhere.
Among the many "samples" I tried were Camels, of course, Lucky Strikes (LSMFT - Lucky Strike Means Fine Tobacco), Pall Mall (in hoc signo vinces - "By this sign shall you conquer" above the brand's popular slogan, Wherever Particular People Congregate), Herbert Tareyton, Old Gold, Chesterfield and non-filtered Kools. It didn't take long to get hooked.
Smoking was, I thought, a kind of status symbol. I was born not on the wrong side of the tracks but close enough to the tracks downtown that I could never be a part of the uptown "in crowd".
Fast forward to a couple weeks ago: Except for the last 6 years and 8 months of being an ex-smoker, the longest non-smoking stretch I endured was in the Navy during refueling, re-arming or at General Quarters. Aboard ship, any time the flag Bravo was hoisted, the smoking lamp was out. (Flag Bravo is a red, swallow-tail shaped flag often referred to by old Salts as "Maggie's Britches"). Beyond that, I was pretty much a chain smoker up to 3 packs a day until nearly seven years ago.
What triggered my falling off the non-smoking wagon? In a nostalgic mood I read some French poetry by Jacques Prévert, Déjeuner du Matin and La Grasse Matinee both of which are talking about a cup of coffee and the former the smoke rising from a cigarette. Any smoker knows that coffee and a cigarette are almost an inseparable pair.
My late sister discovered the French singer Charles Aznavour and shared his music with me. My head was in a different place and I was not as hooked on his songs as she was. After her untimely death though, I played the records of his she had bought and I listened with a different ear and began liking his music so much that when I had the opportunity to see him in concert at the Academy of Music in Philadelphia, I gladly went.
Another French song performed by "The Little Sparrow," Edith Piaf, was included in my trip down nostalgia lane. In her Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien she lights a cigarette while reminiscing about her past.
How easily I remembered the taste and aroma of the Gauloises I smoked when ashore in France, kind of like a French version of Camels. In State College where I was a student, Gauloises were available at the book store on College Avenue. I thought finding a pack here would be a simple matter of going to a tobacco shop. Not so. (I learned that the French no longer make Gauloises. They are now made in Spain.) Although I discovered they would be available via internet, it is my firm intention to return to non-smoking status again so I will not pursue acquisition.
Unable to close the nostalgia paragraph with French cigarettes, I yielded to the temptation to accept a couple drags from a young lady with whom I sang at a non-smoking karaoke event. I felt attracted to her and her beautiful voice (We sang the Bocelli/Brightman duet Time To Say Goodbye, in Italian) and when she went to the patio for a smoke, I went along to continue our conversation. The next event, I returned the favor by taking advantage of some coupons for Newports that I continued to receive even during my non-smoking years.
What's my point? Simply this, addiction to cigarettes is forever. Even during my nearly seven years of abstention there was never a day that went by without my thinking about a cigarette. Walking in to a smoke filled room didn't bother me. My triggers were not related to seeing people smoking or to the smell of the smoke. I've often said if second-hand smoke is so bad, why can't I get my "fix" by just taking in deep breaths. My triggers always began as soon as my feet hit the floor in the morning.
This latest excursion into the smoking world showed me I will never be free of the risk of addiction but, with judicious self control, I can yield to an occasional puff without reverting to my former heavy smoking habit.
I am not now nor have I ever been nor will I ever be a didactic, proselytizing anti-smoker like some ex-smokers have become. I say, if you got 'em, smoke 'em, but fully know if you decide to quit, you'll have to confirm that decision each and every day.
One Day At A Time
(Where have we heard that before?)
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