There they stood out on the loading dock at the back of the administration building. Huddled behind a dumpster to protect themselves from the biting wind, they shivered, occasionally glancing over their shoulders at the solid metal door.
People that walked by glanced at them then quickly looked away. It could have been a picture from a depression-era hobo camp, or a group of refugees waiting for a food distribution truck. I ambled up to the crowd and said, “Gotta light?” (Just a joke, folks.)
I smoked a little on and off over the years. The last spanking I got growing up was for leaving some Indian beans in the pocket of my jeans. The beans were long and filled with fluffy seeds like milkweed. When Mother washed them the fluff filled up the washing machine and it looked like a snowstorm!
“Wait ’til your father gets home!” I was thirteen.
My friends and I had a treehouse built across a cotton field from the Home of the Good Shepherd. Scotty and I had climbed down inside a homemade chicken wire corncrib. It was full of whole ears of corn. We were peeling the shuck back from the tips and helping ourselves to the cornsilk to smoke. In retrospect, I could defend our actions by saying we were removing temptation from the girls.
Anyway, we were stuffing it in our pockets and under our shirts. I remember looking up to see Conrad, our lookout man, racing across the field toward the treehouse! Then I heard the roar! The army of girls led by a phalanx of brown-habited nuns were bearing down on us! We scrambled out and ran, cornsilk shedding from our bodies like we were on fire! The battalion swarmed behind, individuals stooping to pick up clods and heave them at us. We managed to climb to the treehouse where they held us at bay yelling and bombarding our scavenged board eyrie until one of the nuns reported our deeds to Conrad’s mother.
By the time I had bought my first motor scooter, a Savage, I had graduated to Bull Durham. I’d stop along the bar ditch, pull the bag from under the seat, roll one and light up. With such a great start, you would think I would have become a pack-a-day smoker, but I didn’t. I’m glad. It’s obvious, because over the years we have learned it is not a wise thing to do. Now only 25 percent of the population smokes, many of them young people who will realize before it is too late that it will kill you.
I wish I could say it was that mature wisdom, the realization of the risk, and common sense that got me off cigarettes. Alas, it was because I started riding bulls and took up chewin’ tobacco!
Email Baxter Black at firstname.lastname@example.org
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