Clouds of Smoke
Pop was a smoker. Cigarettes were always around the house, and cigars, too. A box of cigars sat on the table in the piano room, and I walked by that cache of tobacco for years before, one day, I stopped to study them. A full box contained 50 cigars, and on the day of my misdeed, thirteen had been consumed. It was easy to see that one less cigar would not be noticed. And so it was appropriated.
Bright enough at age nine to know I shouldn’t experiment in or near the house, I walked toward town, stopping at the Piggly Wiggly on 4th Avenue. One of the old entrances to the store had been taken out of use. The alcove made a perfect place to get out of the wind and to be hidden from view.
Biting off the end of the cigar, as my Pop did, was a necessary but not pleasant act. The taste of cigar tobacco in my mouth made my saliva flow. Spitting was another part of the ritual. Finally, the match was struck and the flame, applied to the end of the cigar, produced a large blaze and scads of smoke. One puff, two puffs, three puffs in quick succession and the alcove was filled with smoke.
Proud of my deed, I turned to leave taking one short step before abruptly stopping.
I recognized the shoes.
There before me, looking down was Papa. His face gave no hint of his thoughts, or worse, his upcoming actions. It was a glum moment indeed, but without stopping to analyze the situation any further, I flipped the cigar past him into the street gutter.
“I was just trying it out, Papa,” I said as brightly as I could, “I wanted to see what it was like.”
The pause that followed was neither long nor threatening before the words came out.
“Son, you can smoke if you want to, but I ask you not to smoke before you are 21 years old.”
“Okay, Pop, I won’t,” I blurted out, thankful for the reprieve.
And I meant it. I had no intention of smoking, because I had had my one-puff fling.
“Good!” he said, and put his arm around my shoulder. And we walked home.