Thursday, November 27, 2008
A trip back in time, prompted by cigarettes
A forty-six year old man takes up smoking, just to see what it's like, and, to write about it.
When I was fourteen or so, a friend of mine's mother took up smoking. She was thirty six, and I thought she was pretty old. I also knew enough to think that there was something profoundly wrong with an adult taking up smoking. Us teenagers, I thought, we're prone to peer pressure and all that, and we're kind of dumb, even though we don't think so, but mothers, well, they ought to know better.
I often wondered about what was really going on in that household. The house looked perfectly normal and nice from the outside; the lawn was mowed, the shrubbery was clipped and the azaleas bloomed in bright colors. But once I stepped inside their doorway, the world suddenly seemed gray and listless. My memory of that home looks like an photo with all the color drained out of it.
My friend's mother seemed to always have an apron on, which was unusual in my neighborhood, unless you were a maid or a grandmother. I don't remember her cooking. I do remember her standing at the kitchen sink, staring out the window or sitting at the kitchen table, smoking. She was pale, overly thin and tired looking. Her husband was distant, and I took his wearing a pocket protector and always having a slide rule on him as evidence of an emotionless nature.
I wanted to know why my friend's mother was unhappy. She had to be unhappy, taking up smoking as an adult, and doing all that quiet staring.
Their son sat in his room, smoking pot by himself. The house was a haze of smoke. When the kitchen was dark, as it always seemed to be, the ray of light that filtered in through the window was filled with dust.
My friend was a happy, bubbly and seemingly well-adjusted girl, and so, our friendship faltered. I was neither happy, bubbly or well-adjusted. I was far more interested in the boy who stayed up in his room, the listless mother and even her husband. What did he do at work? Was he ever affectionate with her? I suspected the answer to that was no, and so, she took up smoking.
I have no idea what happened to any of these people. I wonder if the parents are still together. Perhaps, today, they are all together, for it's Thanksgiving. Maybe they're in the same house that I visited as a kid. Now I'm terribly curious if this may be so. Is my friend's mother still smoking? Perhaps these days she stands in her backyard to do it. If that street is anything like it used to be, standing in front would be a social faux pas of the highest order.
A quick google search gave me some answers. It appears that both the mother, father and son still live in the same town. The daughter, my old friend, lives about twenty minutes away (two more stops on the Long Island Railroad). Seeing their names (and one photograph) made me feel very strange. I left the town of my childhood behind me a long time ago. Maybe they are having Thanksgiving together and perhaps their house is not so gray today, but I doubt it, judging from the profiles I have just read.
Image note: Lots of old smoking ads here.