Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Today's Moment of Dad...Regarding Cigarettes...

(*****Important note for readers: I am by no means advocating cigarette smoking in this post. I am simply relating memories of my father and one thing that triggers them. Please note any questions/comments/concerns/scoldings for the comments section. Thank you very much...the Management.)

OK...disclaimer is finished.

Anyway...I am sure every one of you reading this post understands the phenomenon of a particular smell triggering memories (good or bad). In other words, the nose knows.

At any rate, I'm no different from anyone else.

Unfortunately (or fortunately), whenever I smell cigarette smoke, I think of my father. For better or worse, that's just how it is.

I think I'm one of the few people who doesn't mind the smell of cigarette smoke. Yes, I know it's oily and it permeates almost everything fabric-based in your home, but I don't really care. To me, it brings back home and hearth. I have smells associated with my mom too...clothes from the line, roses, and White Shoulders perfume.

But cigs...they're exclusive to my dad. They caused his downfall, I know. But they etched a permanent association with my dad in my mind. So there, nanny-nanny-boo-boo.

According to Dad, he started smoking in his mid-teens (14-15 years old, and again, since I wasn't there, this is all hearsay).

From the time I was a child until I was 29 years old, I don't remember my dad without a cig in his hand or in his mouth. We had ashtrays in a few rooms throughout the house. I even remember the brand he smoked for many years...Lucky Strikes. As times changed, he switched to either Marlboros or Winstons, and then to generics. (Economical, he was.)

My dad could even change a diaper with a cig in his mouth. Unbelievable...it balanced lightly (kind of precariously, but I never saw it fall out) on his bottom lip, like there was a genetic groove present. He did practically everything with a cig in his mouth other than sleep, eat, brush his teeth, dance, or kiss/hug someone.

He tried to be a considerate smoker...he would smoke outside if he was visiting a non-smoker, he wouldn't smoke in a new car, and other things. When I was still living in Washington, in my own place, Dad would sneak to my apartment for lunch so he could take a nap undisturbed. He asked if it was OK to smoke there, and I said of course, it was fine. From then on, I could always tell when Dad was in my apartment - the toilet seat was up, the ashtray had a couple cigs in it, and the TV was tuned to A&E so Dad could watch "McCloud" or "Columbo".

Dad would alternate between using lighters and matches. A piece of Dawson family apocrypha goes something like this: One day, Dad came home from work when I was just a baby, and he leaned over the crib/playpen/whatever containment unit was used to hold me at the time. He cooed and laughed at me, and then he turned around to say something to my mom and reach for his omnipresent pack of cigs and matchbook.

The cigs were there, but the matchbook wasn't. Dad patted all his pockets, sure that he had it just a second ago. Then he turned back and looked at me...and saw a soggy pack of matches and a blue ring around my mouth.

He and Mom (rightly) freaked and took me to the emergency room and later found that a baby using a matchbook (with matches) as a pacifier is relatively harmless...no poisoning occured. (My sister was kind of bummed about that, I think - considering she wanted a pony and got me instead.)

Anyway, after that I think he was exclusively a "lighter man" - with lighter fluid being another smell I associated with Dad.

As I got older, of course I campaigned for my dad to quit smoking, but no dice. My campaigning was half-hearted, though, because I was savvy enough to know that if he quit smoking, he wouldn't smell like Dad anymore and we couldn't have that. Even with my sister developing asthma, he still didn't quit. Later, upon some research, I found that quitting smoking is as hard or harder than quitting heroin. There's a lot of factors involved in it that twist together and make one hard knot of nicotine dependence, so it wasn't an example of Dad stubbornness.

I remember one time when he tried to quit. My mother had joined Diet Center and for some reason, Dad thought Mom wouldn't stick with the program. Mom placed a bet with Dad at that time, saying, "If I lose 20 pounds, you have to quit smoking."

She lost the 20 pounds.

Dad quit smoking for...a day and 1/2. He went through a whole two bags of lemon drops in the process, he was VERY grumpy, and Mom figured he'd had enough. Dad usually NEVER welched on a bet, so it must have been akin to bamboo under the fingernails.

As I got older, I asked Dad if I could smoke. You would have thought I'd asked him if I could have an orgy with the football team in the middle of the living room. He'd say no, I'd ruin my throat, it's a dirty habit, etc. I would then ask, "Well, why do you do it?"

He'd change the subject.

When I entered college, I was away from his habit, but I did swipe Dad's trench coat because it smelled like him (Old Spice and cig smoke). Even though I technically had a "non-smoking" room, I encouraged the filthy habit. It was strange, but I didn't care. It made me a little less homesick.

It was funny the lengths to which he would go to smoke those things. He went into the hospital at Christmas time in 1992 with severe back pain, and he'd hide in the bathroom of his hospital room to smoke, and even though the nurses would grill him about it, he'd just have this innocent, "who, me?" look on his face. Other times, I'd take him to the parking garage to smoke (or my mother would), and we'd get dirty looks from people coming in and out because of my dad, seated in a wheelchair, in the cold, SMOKING. It embarrassed my mother no end, but I thought it was kind of funny because people didn't know that it was better to take him out to smoke than leave him in the hospital room and NOT let him smoke.

I remember when I smoked my first cigarette...it was for "Grease", in 1997. I must admit, it didn't bother me much at all, other than a little throat rawness and such. I even found I had the genetic "groove" in my bottom lip that Dad had. My 2nd husband, Ed, didn't think too much of the habit even though HIS mom smoked. I can't say he was wrong. However, it still felt comfortable. While I know that's not a good thing, I can't deny the easiness of slipping into the groove.

Then Dad went into the hospital with a collapsed lung in late November 1998. Wow.

You could have knocked me over with a feather that weekend. Mom came by the apartment we lived in back in Iowa City (we lived in a security building so I had to let her in). She said that Dad had a collapsed lung and was in Mercy Hospital, and could she sleep for a few hours on our couch?

We all found out at the beginning of December that Dad had lung cancer (don't ask me what kind because I never remember). He was a trouper and started chemo/radiation right away, and what's more...he gave up his cigs.

Dad. Gave. Up. His. Cigs.

Now, you may think this is an obvious circumstance, but COME ON! How many people do you know that, even in the face of cancer, still light one up? I know of a couple...even one who smoked while he was on OXYGEN.

He still had the oral fixation, though, and to combat it he sawed off a little piece of dowel rod and made a "dummy" cig. It did look like a clove cigarette at a distance, so a couple of Ruthi's friends chewed him for smoking those, but then he'd show them and they'd be really sheepish.

Dad coped without cigs, and I got used to the stick in his mouth (and yes, it rested in the genetic groove the same way). What was really funny was how much he noticed cigarette smoke when he went out to bars or restaurants with my mom. He'd say, "My God, Mary...can you smell all that smoke?" Mom would just roll her eyes and shake her head slightly. If she were so inclined, she'd say, "Well, DUH! What do you think I've been smelling for the past 35 years?"

I don't think he gave up his stick until he went in the hospital the final time.

He was even buried with it.

I wish I still had one of them to keep...I'd try to balance it on my lip to see if the genetic Dawson lip groove was still present, and think of my dad.

I wonder if he can smoke in Heaven now, or if they'd kick him out? Just in case they'd stop his smoking in the Heavenly City, they'd better have sticks or lemon drops, otherwise they'll be sorry.

Thus endeth today's Moment of Dad.

(non-smoking, but I still miss the smell...)