Tuesday, April 8, 2008

On Smoking

One of the things that was a puzzlement and a source of much thought for me growing up in Pocatello was the habit of smoking. Nothing, it seemed to me, so clearly defined who you were and what you wanted in life than that habit--with, of course, the possible exception of drinking.

Now it is important to realize that in Pocatello when I was young there were only two reasons--at least, that I could see--not to smoke, and one of them was definitely not because of health. Tobacco containers did not, back then, have little messages saying in effect, "Smoking the contents of this package may not be the smartest thing you will ever do." Most of the magazines, the radio, and the TV (when we finally got TV) all carried the message that smoking was indeed the very smartest thing you could possibly do. Don Larsen, for example, pitched the first-ever no-hitter in a World Series for the Yankees, and then told everyone who looked on the back cover of Colliers that if he hadn't been smoking Camel cigarettes the whole time he couldn't have done it. Likewise, Rise Stevens, who sang in movies and at the Met said that she could not possibly sing Wagner or Verdi without smoking Camels. And it was that way for almost every exciting thing that a person could want to do. Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly could have hardly moved their feet if they hadn't smoked--not that I cared about that. No one in Pocatello, it seemed to me really wanted to dance. My parents didn't enjoy it, and I absolutely hated it. Everywhere you went--at school, and even at Church, it seemed like someone always wanted to teach you to dance--but I digress. Anyway if you wanted to be a great athlete, a beautiful or charming movie star, a glass-breaking singer, or anything else worth while, you pretty much had to smoke. Of course, I noticed right away that most of the people I knew who smoked were not doing any of those things, but I suspected they took up smoking in case the fancy hit them to start doing them, they would have the most important requirement for doing them firmly in place.

The first reason not to smoke was that your Church frowned on the habit. Of course, not all churches did, but mine did, so my parents didn't smoke, or at least, my mother didn't. There were times when I wasn't so sure about my dad, because he would come home reeking of cigarette smoke, but after awhile I accepted his story, which my mother did right from the start, that being a lawyer he had had to go to a meeting where everyone else was smoking so that is why he smelled of smoke. I certainly hoped it was true, because I knew that my mother would be terrible mad if my dad started smoking. Naturally, our church was not the only one that frowned on smoking. Just up the street was the Grace Lutheran Church, which as part of the Missouri Synod, also frowned on smoking, but a couple of the men in our church used to tell us with some delight that they had very carefully watched some of the Grace Lutheran fellows and, sure enough, after they got around the corner, and out of sight of the Pastor, they had lit up. Of course, now I realize that the Grace Lutherans were probably telling the same story about some of the men going to our church, but at the time, it seemed to me that that was the sort of behavior you could expect from Grace Lutherans. Actually, I rather admired them, in a way--at least they came to church. I had two uncles in Pocatello, and virtually all of my friends at church, had fathers who smoked (thinking, no doubt, that they better do it in case they decided they wanted to start pitching for the Yankees or, at least, doing something like that) and they never, or at least, hardly ever came to church. My friend, Gary Hoff, on the other hand, had a father who did not smoke, which I could never understand because I went with Gary a couple of times to his church, the Congregational Church, and after the service, several--in fact, most of the men, lit up, right in front of the Pastor and the Pastor never said a word. Of course, Gary explained to me that in the Congregational Church, every congregation more or less decided a lot of the rules, so I could only conclude that the congregation where they had come from, Weiser, Idaho, had decided to frown on smoking, and Gary's dad, thinking he might want to move back there some day, did not want to take up the habit, which was hard to break, and he would find himself having to sneak around a corner after services like those Grace Lutheran people.

The other reason for not smoking was that it was expensive--or at least, my parents and all my teachers at church, told me it was, and I believed them because it certainly made sense, because how else could you explain the fact, that with all its many advantaages, almost none of the women I knew--even the unreligious ones--didn't smoke. Take Bucky Petersen' s mother, for example. She never went to church--any church, and yet she didn't smoke. And there were lots of others like her--although their names don't come readily to mind--who were just like her. I concluded that before a couple got married, they would sign a sort of pre-nuptial agreement (not that anyone in Pocatello actually signed a pre-nuptial agreement--I suspect that no one in Pocatello, except lawyers, like my dad, and probably Mrs. Miller, my high school Latin teacher, even knew what "nuptial", much less "pre-nuptail" meant), but they all sat down with their parents before they got married and decided important things like who was going to do the dishes and who was going to mow the lawn and take out the garbage, and things like that until they could get their kids to do all those things, which, in the case, of my sister, Loni, and me happened much earlier than they could possibly have agreed on. At any rate, they sat down and agreed on all that sort of thing, and one of the things they agreed on was, that since smoking was so expensive, only one person in the marriage could do it, and, in Pocatello, at least, it was always the man. Naturally, if a couple felt that they were very rich and they could finally afford it, then both of them would start smoking. A very good example of this is Pete Bistline and his wife,Jen.

Before I go on I think I better explain why I knew about Pete Bistline, seeing as how he lived in the next block. Normally, of course, a young boy would not know anything about a person who lived a whole block away, but in Pocatello, it was different. The reason was that the people who started Pocatello, did not like Mormons in general, and they really disliked Brigham Young in particular, so they decided that they were going to do everything they could to make their town as different as possible from any town that Brigham Young founded. So instead of having big blocks with wide streets laid out with the streets running on a North-south, east-west grid, the Pocatello people decided on very small blocks with very narrow streets laid out on a helter-skelter grid. This being the case, it was pretty easy for a kid to know the people in the next block. There were only four houses on our block, and only three across the street, on account of Dr. Hegsteads 2-car garage with a double wide driveway, obviously, something had to go and in his case it was having an extra neighbor, which, I hate to have to say it, but I don't think he minded much. At any rate, Pete Bistline owned Bistline's Hardware (actually, my dad said sometime that Pete owned Bistline's and sometimes he said that his friend, Amos Chase, owned Bistline's. To me it made more sense that Pete would own Bistline's, because--well after all, it was called Bistline's and not Chase's, and I'm sure that a simple visit to the board of director's meeting would have settled the whole question, but I never went, not being at that age much interested in business--but I digress). As I was saying, because he owned Bistline's--or thought he did--and because he and Jen didn't have any children, I think that they decided that they could start letting Jen smoke, which she did. Actually, now that I think of it, the same thing happened to Dr. and Mrs. Hegstead, although they did have two children, but I think they decided that since he charged so much for delivering babies, and because (I would guess by looking at her) that Millie ate so little, that they could afford to have Mrs. Hegstead take up smoking--and, I must say, she took to it with avengance.

At any rate, I understand that smoking is something that is hard to understand, but I sincerely hope that this explanation has at least helped clear it up for you.

1 comment:

rks said...

I moved to Pocatello a couple of years ago and have enjoyed reading your comments about this interesting place. It certainly is better than anything yet I've found in the local newspaper!
Roland Smith