Smoking

Pam’s Pictorama Post: Born into the mid-1960’s my parents were in many ways a modern and scientific couple. My mother evidently eschewed alcohol during her pregnancies and gave up even what was evidently a lingering, occasional cigarette – so infrequent that I knew nothing of the habit until years later, but I will get to that in a bit.

I came more or less into a world where even among my extended family there was, to my memory, little or no smoking. It wasn’t like it was an issue. Of course tons of people smoked and people came to the house and smoked. To my knowledge nothing was thought about it and never anything said. Although as I think of it, I can only remember us owning one ashtray however – it was a large blue heavy ceramic item with a swirl of color in the middle that I liked for its heft and color. Perhaps that we only had the one ashtray is telling. (I own a single one as well – a cat head with a wide open mouth. Not really surprising I realize. The awkward design is not favored by visiting smokers.)

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When I was about twelve my mother, who must have been trying to lose weight in retrospect although I don’t remember her being heavy, took both running and smoking up. I eventually learned that my mother had been a high school track champion (to my knowledge a plaque noting her accomplishments is still at the Long Branch, NJ school she attended) and the running craze of the 1970’s had renewed her interest. What took her back to the occasional cigarette I am not sure. I smelled them but never saw her smoke one. She later said she stopped again because she could taste them when she ran, even after having only a single one and a day later.

Turns out my mother had been a regular smoker in college. She tells tales of tobacco companies coming to the campus at Douglas College where they gave free cigarettes to all the students, essentially getting them hooked which of course made it a good investment. They would have had to be free because my mother, at school entirely on scholarship, often also told stories of how she had her budget calculated down to how much shampoo she and her roommate could use monthly. (In addition, mom was pre-med and eventually was offered a fellowship to do cancer research. Pregnancy prevented her accepting the position – years later she mentioned that all of the researchers she worked with developed and died of cancers.)

On the other hand, my father disliked cigarettes and I gather he had encouraged or even insisted that she stop when they got together. He was not happy when she went back to that occasional cigarette either. While he did not smoke and disliked cigarettes, after I reached a certain age he told me had had tried pot and thought it okay. This tale was tied to a wild story about the friend of a friend, an artist named Ernst Fuchs, who drove a car trunkful of pot up from Mexico. Much to my surprise at a quick internet search, Mr. Fuchs only died in 2015 at 85 – I always thought he was older than my father, but he was about the same age. I hadn’t thought of that story in years. I supply an image of one of his paintings below, one done in a style that I think my father would have liked.

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Meanwhile father drove from location to location for ABC News in a car with his crew with many of whom did smoke. I am not sure if it was that or another exposure, but it is somewhat ironic that it was COPD that ultimately killed my father last year.

I believe the pipe shown here belonged to my great-great grandmother, on my mother’s side. It was discovered by my cousin Patti who is unearthing many family treasures as she cleans out her family home which has housed at least three prior generations. (See my recent post about a photo of a turn of the century family wedding party here.) It is my understanding that this Italian ancestor of mine was a tough cookie. She was a breast cancer survivor when the only option was cutting away as much as possible of the cancer as you could and survive. She had surgery and lived a significant time beyond it.

There is something so personal about such an item and you feel that when you hold it. I am impressed by the velvet-lined case it sports and survives in. I gather from looking at it that the mouth piece must have been replaced ongoing. The maker’s tag is unfortunately faded beyond recall.

Quick research shows various attitudes toward women smoking during what I vaguely calculate to be the late Victorian period, heading toward the dawn and start of the new century. (An interesting aside, smoking jackets originated because it was considered rude for men to expose the women in their lives to the smell of tobacco on their clothing and therefore changed into jackets for this purpose. Interesting, yes?)

I know my family was not wealthy so, putting aside the feeling about female smokers of the upper class, I am left with the impression that great-great grandma would have been considered either fast or somewhat hard-bitten. From what I know I lean toward the latter. She would have come to this country as a young, married Italian woman. It doesn’t leave a lot of room for having been fast.

I knew the story about the breast cancer and our ancestor because of my sister’s research of the family proclivity when she developed it. At the time no one mentioned that our great-great grandmother had been a smoker however. Loren was not, like me she never developed a taste for cigarettes. I assume like me she tried a few, but she was an athlete and generally disliked smoking. (I never developed the habit and don’t even really understand how to smoke them since it really is different than a joint.) I doubt she smoked much pot either although we never really discussed it. Loren’s cancer was ultimately labeled as environmental rather than hereditary, although I take little comfort in that – as we shared the same environment for many years of our lives.

For all of this, there is a bit of allure as I look at the pipe in it’s case – looking at the case from the outside, it is almost as if a tiny musical instrument was going to be found within. Another tiny piece of family history today, waiting patiently all these years to be taken out, examined and considered. Even our own limited family history surprisingly tied up and full of contradictions about this particular habit.

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