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Monday, October 02, 2006

Secondhand Smoke

Once upon a time, smoking was a sign of sophistication. Important decisions were made through a haze of grey in the boardroom. Classy restaurants, coffee shops, public transportation, even elementary education staff rooms were places to light up in. Mothers gathered in each others kitchens to encourage one another and enjoy their coffee with a smoke. Indoors.

Now, smoking has got a really bad reputation. And for good reason. We've all heard the sad stories about non-smoking waitresses dying of lung cancer, babies with asthma, and people dying of emphysema. We've come to accept the negative image associated with smoking-- poor health, smokey clothes, people shivering outside , 12 feet from the exit.... OUTCASTS!

Here's the thing though- the associations I have built around smoking don't tidily fit the I-live-for-bingo-and-I-don't-bath type of mentality. Some of the big players in my life are smart, educated, wise people who.... --GASP-- SMOKE!!

When I was a little girl, my big brother Wally smoked menthols. He was my daddy in many ways. It was always him who drove me to and from events, took me sledding at the ski run, took me to the beach in the summer, and then bought me a pizza pop and ice cream on the way home in his 70's velveteen van. I always felt safe and loved, roaring around in that ugly van and enjoying the smell of Wally's menthol in the air.

In my adult years, one of my favorite friends enjoyed every cigarette she furtively smoked as though it were her last. She respectfully hid this from her children, but when they were in bed, we would chat over the fence and I would soak in her wisdom. Lory thought out of the box. She was unconventional, gracious, brilliant, creative.

In the summers at the cottage, I enjoy watching and learning from Al as he packs and savours his summer pipe. I don't mean I learn how to pack a pipe- I mean I have enjoyed getting to know him, glean from his wisdom, watch him mellow with the years, and watch his intellect morph into something messier, something more grey than the textbooks ever taught him.

Recently, many bridges have been built with smoke. Without a bonfire to gather around, we would wheel Ken's wheelchair outside of the hospital, and although he had kicked the habit, we would light one up for him for old times sake. I wept with Ken's friends under a pergola rich with cigarette smoke. Al and I ran funeral errands in the comfortable presence of Du'Maurier.

The short answer, the tidy one, is that smoking is evil.
That nothing good could come of it.

But there's not much room for the hazy shades of grey in that.

6 comments:

shelley said...

"i live for bingo and don't bath type", that is so funny. how does your brain come up with these things? for a moment it took me back to that quaint small town east of winnipeg where are girls played soccer. I won't forget that one!!

Carlotti said...

Ditto. Smoking for me brings up images of good bonding and special friends. Especially this summer....

Michele said...
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Michele said...

i hope my kids never find this comment... i abhor smoking and fear for the beloved smokers in my life. still, i must have at least one cigarette each july to remind myself that i am still the teenager i was.

Cherrypie said...

Erm, I smoke menthol. Very few people know it because I don't do it at all during the day, never in restaurants or in front of anyone who does not smoke but most nights when I am sitting alone reading a book. I'm not sure which category you'd put me under but I don't go to bingo.

Joyce said...

Michelle-- exactly. I wouldn't want my children to misunderstand my message either. But we're adults, and smoking in July sounds incredibly healthy to me!

Cherrypie-- you'd be in the category of fascinating people who defy the image of the inferior smoker. Menthol? really? Well then! You could even be a role model! (could you please give me and four kids a ride to the thrift shop, and then to wal-mart for 44 jugs of milk?)