My grandfather smoked a pipe. Every Christmas his seven children and numerous grandchildren filled Grandpa’s stocking with tins of crimp-cut Granger tobacco. Grandpa smoked only Granger because he was a working man who also, along with Grandmother, eked out a living on a tiny hard scrabble farm. Grandpa did not drink, swear or hug his kids nor his grandkids nor did he talk, other than to nod at Grandma to get dinner on or to sternly tell a grandkid to not slide on the cellar door or to get out of the cherry tree. Pretty much what he did was work and smoke his pipe. He died of cancer.
Grandmother did not smoke herself but still died of cancer after living with Grandpa from the time she was sixteen through all those kids and grandkids, many of whom smoked. Grandpa, Grandma and my mother, who was the first-born child, travelled to Oklahoma by covered wagon in 1915. There was precious little relief to be had from the struggle to live and raise a family. Smoking was cheap and ubiquitous; until near the end of the 20th Century about the only warning about possible harm from tobacco was the folksy admonition to young people that it would “stunt your growth”. This was countered by the constant drum beat of the Marlboro Man and movie stars who hardly did a scene without a cigarette dangling from their lips. You may recall that 1978 hippie anthem by Little Feat about sharing a marijuana joint: “Don’t Bogart that joint my friend, Pass it over to me.” Humphrey Bogart, and almost every other hero of the silver screen, was famous for smoking. He died of cancer at age 57.
When I started college at Oklahoma State University in 1961 I did not smoke, but everybody who was cool did. In order to be a real college student I had to teach myself to smoke by practicing in front of a mirror in my dorm room. Yes, smoking was allowed almost everywhere, even in the classes at the option of the professor. One of my literature professors would get so involved in his lectures he would sometimes have three burning cigarettes lying in the chalk rail.
My parents both smoked and both died with cancer. Of the four children in my family, three smoked and one never did. The one who never smoked has never had cancer.
Now, Gentle Reader, what’s this column all about? Well, it is not an anti-smoking diatribe. If you or anyone else wishes to smoke, drink, whatever, I am not seeking the role of hall monitor. This is America. Do what you choose as long as you do not harm others. No, what this column is about is the smoker who was so addicted to tobacco he left his baby in a basket on a train as he stepped out to have a smoke.
This happened in Cleveland, Ohio on January 12, 2019 on the Regional Transit Authority train. When the father left his baby and stepped off the train the doors closed and the train took off for the next station. You can imagine the father’s panic.
It turned out okay as the engineer was informed and then returned the train to where the father was. The baby was fine. My guess is that when the baby’s mother heard about the event, she engaged in an intensive stop smoking intervention with the father. Maybe he won’t follow in Bogart’s footsteps.