July 1st……….“IN YOUR LITTLE BOY YEARS ON THE FARM, DID YOU SEE YOUR FATHER, RUSSELL, SMOKE? WHAT TYPE OF TOBACCO PRODUCTS DID HE USE? DID YOU DESIRE TO BE LIKE HIM AND SMOKE, TOO”???
Pihl’s Park provided pulchritudinous possibilities of playtime pleasure for this pug-nosed puny person of a Norwegian Farmer’s Son. We had just pulled into a cool, shady spot in the park’s grounds that day to park our family car. Sitting in the back seat, my pint-sized energy level was percolating like an old coffee pot, so as soon as one of my parents either leaned forward in the front seat, or stepped out of our vehicle’s front seat, my stubby little toddler self pushed forward the vertical, folding front seat backing and I burst from the car door of our 1949 Ford Sedan. My itty bitty legs were pumping like a short-legged puppy dog as I shot across the shaded expanse of lawn. I was making a bee line for the nearest swing set!!! Once Daddy caught up to me at that swing set, out from his shirt pocket came a “Camel’s” cigarette and then out from his pants pocket came a match to strike against his matchbox cover and he lit up one of his favorite tobacco products as he pushed me back and forth on that wunnerful swing!!! 😉
Our sweet, maternal Smith family cousins had caravanned with us to this popular park along the shores of lovely Rice Lake there in Faribault County of south central Minnesota. A dear man by the name of Mr. Joe Pihl had been the creator of this picnic and camper’s paradise, eventually gifting the park to the county and people of our area to enjoy an inviting shady picnic, camping or fishing experience for all.
As ubiquitous as bib overalls on all his fellow farmers, our dear daddy, Russell, followed the culture of his “Greatest Generation” and enjoyed tobacco products of numerous varieties over the years of his life. Back then, tobacco usage was considered a completely normal, and even desirous, part of everyday living for countless millions who saw smoking as both fashionable and, for some, even a way to relax when they were stressed.
As far back as my memory goes, it was just part of Dad’s modus operandi to have either a “Camel’s” cigarette, a self-rolled homemade cigarette or a pipe in his mouth.
Even being knee-high to a grasshopper, like I was in those days, I idolized anything and everything that my hero dad did. Therefore, since I saw my handsome daddy smoking, I figured it was something only cool people do; and of course, I, too, wanted to be cool!!! I could hardly wait for the day when I could emulate and eventually smoke just like Dad did.
So, whenever I’d come across tobacco related candies, in the stores within our hometown of Kiester, I just had to have my very own pack of candy cigarettes or bubble gum cigars. Most candy companies made the “cigarette” out of a white sugar concoction that was coated in powder and then wrapped in a white paper. As I’d put the candy “cigarette” to my lips, I’d actually give a little blow of air which made “smoke” appear at the tip of my “cigarette” from that sugar powder coating at the factory. My “buzz” wasn’t from tobacco, but from the mental excitement of looking just like my daddy. Eventually, I’d just peel off the paper wrapper and munch n crunch my candy stick till it was all gone.
Even though a pack of cigarettes, in the late 1950’s, was barely $.25 cents, our daddy tried to save money by “rolling his own”. He’d buy a small package of wrapping papers and then get himself a flat, metal can of “Prince Albert” tobacco to carry in a pocket of his bib overalls. A small amount of tobacco was sprinkled onto the “onion skin” thin paper and rolled into the form of a white “stick”, so to speak. To keep the tobacco inside the “stick”, Dad would lick the paper all along its edge and then “seal” the paper along the long seam of the “stick”. Oftentimes, he’d also wet the ends of his now cigarette and twist them closed to hold the tobacco inside. Out would come his match or lighter to ignite the end of his homemade creation and he’d begin his smoking.
“Monkey see, monkey do” was not only my mantra of following Dad’s smoking example, but, even when the grandkids came along, they, too, began to want to be like their Grandpa Russ and would want to pretend to smoke with his actual pipe. Since Dad didn’t want them to taste the nastiness of real tobacco, he’d buy them a tiny, clean pipe of their own to be their toy to pretend to be like their grandpa.
In my young, robust days, the only time that I ever coughed was when I had a bad case of the cold or a flu. One fine morning, there on our farm, when I was about maybe 9 years old, I came bounding down the squeaky wooden stairs from our bedrooms to find Dad at our family Kitchen table waiting for some of Mom’s delicious breakfast cooking. Poor Dad, he was coughing something fierce!! I could tell that his lungs were heavily congested and his coughing, mixed with thick phlegm, actually caused him to gag and choke on whatever was troubling his lungs that day. I asked him (based on my having colds), “Geeee, Dad, do you have a cold today”??? When our father finally re-gained his composure and air enough to speak again, he said, “No, Son, this is what smoking does to you!!! Please, don’t ever smoke”!!!! Now, in an instant, the playtime nature of emulating my dad went right out the window of reality!!!
I had grown up alongside our father, through the years, and recalled times how he nonchalantly held his cigarette between his two fingers as he steered our old pickup truck down the local roads. Or, how he’d converse with fellow farmers with his cigarette dangling at the corner of his mouth, bouncing (as if in a dance) with every word from his lips.
Even with Dad’s warning, there was still an air of fashionable desire to still want to at least try to smoke someday.
Reality finally grabbed me by the butt one day when, as a teenager, I was riding in a pickup truck with some neighbor buddies of mine. I was 15 years old in 1969 and the elder brother of my good friend had just come back from serving with the U.S. Army during the war in Vietnam. As the elder brother drove us along our town’s country roads, he leaned over and offered both of us “kids” a cigarette. Here was my moment of truth. I lit my cigarette and started sucking the smoke into my mouth (only) and pushing it back out into the cab of the truck as we rolled along. “Jim” leaned over, from the driver’s seat, and chided me severely, “HEY KID, you’re not smoking”!!! “Sure I am”!!!, as I defended myself. “The hell you are!!! The smoke comes out whiter when you suck it into your lungs”!!! I was absolutely incredulous as I earnestly responded in a question, “You suck this smoke INTO your LUNGS”???? “Hell yeah, kid”!!! came his derogatory exclamation!! Immediately, I retorted, “In THAT case, NO THANKS”!!! And I squashed dead the hot end of the cigarette in the truck’s ashtray. The first and LAST cigarette for this Norwegian Farmer’s Son!!!