Reflections from the Ah­nish­i­nah­bæójib­way (We, the People)

April 3,1994

Remember when a nickel was a nickel and when you made a purchase you got your money’s worth?

This was part of the Great Depression, the C.C.C. and W.P.A. and money was scarce.

If you happened to be in town and had money to purchase a pack of cigarettes, and carelessly opened your cigarettes in front of all of the jobless and unemployed people hanging around town, your tobacco would quickly disappear.  If you lit a cigarette, before it was halfway smoked, someone would say, “give me a drag, give me butts.”  Those were the good old days.

Remember when tobacco advertisements on bill-boards were just starting to clutter the highways and roadsides, signs like Burma Shave, Chesterfields, Lucky Strikes, Camels, and a Copenhagen sign which read “snuff said.”  This was in the days when bars still had polished brass spittoons, drinking alcohol was acceptable social behavior, and chewing tobacco and spitting was “cool.”  I once heard an old Scandinavian mutter as he slowly ambled by, “what’s the youse of chewing snoose, and spitting out the youse, ‘by Golly’.”

As youngsters, the Duke’s advertisement was our favorite.  The poster showed a young man standing in front of an airplane, wearing a helmet and goggles and a white scarf blowing in the breeze, high top boots—a uniform of daring and adventure.  The sign read, “Dukes keeps ‘em rolling.”

We young boys wanted to belong and be part of the crowd.  We pooled our pennies and when we had gotten five cents, some one went into the store, and bought our prize, a bag of “Dukes.”

The grown ups displayed their bag of “Dukes” by letting a small round white tag hang out of their shirt pocket, on a yellow string which was used to close and open this little cloth bag of tobacco.

We were not old enough, so we had to hide our prize until we got to our destination, a safe place in the woods.  Cigarette papers were provided with this bag of Duke’s tobacco, and we would roll our own and sit back, smoke, and dream about being a pilot and able to fly away.

But we were quickly jolted back to reality when the town bully suddenly appeared, and took our treasured bag of “Dukes.”  The bully knew that we were not supposed to have tobacco, so he threatened to turn us over to the local authorities, and when we protested, he decided he was the judge, jury, and executioner.  He placed a number nine boot along our backsides, and we went howling and crying down the pathway.  After several hundred yards, we stopped, nursed our wounds, wiped away our tears, and talked abut when we grew up we were going to come back and give this bully the same treatment, and maybe a little more for good measure.

Times have changed since I was a youngster.  The Good Citizens have “No Smoking” signs everywhere, smoking is banned in all Federal Buildings subsidized by tobacco taxes, and packs of cigarettes are sold at inflated prices.

And, we are told that smoking is bad for one’s health.

Times have changed, although smoking is still here.  Some people call the new age tobacco Mary or Marijuana, taking a toke replaces asking for a “drag,” and one does not ask for “butts,” as the modern hand-rolled smoke is reverently passed around.

It is also called “taking a hit,” after this funny cigarette is about half smoked.

Some one will exclaim, “this is good shit.”  How times have changed.

Oh, I wish I could kick this dirty habit of nicotine and tobacco, and be like the “good people,” able to say, “smoking is bad for your health.”  If only I could reach my lofty perch of moralizing abstinence, and from there look down at the near mortals, wallowing in their vices and filthy habits, and with scorn and contempt, self-righteously proclaim from my bully-pulpit, “I don’t smoke.”

But, Alas!  I am hopelessly addicted to caffeine and nicotine, and after I pass on I know I will surely be where losers and the rest of the addicts go.

And, pay the consequences yet again.

Oh! How I wish for the good old days, when some one would say, “give me a drag,” or “give me butts.”

How times have changed, or did they?


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