Writins of Weakeyes Cody
Talented and witty writings
A Natural Kind Of Thing @2002
I reckon it's all part of the educational process, like learning to walk on stilts or rolling a hoop with a stick or gigging for frogs along the backwater sloughs. But the art of coping with tobacco comes along at about that stage in a boys life. He has begun to follow his elders into the domain of erudition and sit among them where words of knowledge are vented by the minute. He hears, however, with the ears of a child while his eyes are attuned to every small movement of the men about him.
He admires how their hands sweep into their pockets to produce little bags of tobacco and thin white papers and how they sprinkle out the brown substance along the paper and skillfully spread it out and even more admirably twist it into a long tube like thing called a cigarette, then to drag a match across their shoe sole or a belt buckle cupping it with their hands and shielding out any breeze while they light it with fire on its tip. And how the fire glows as they puff on it and then blow the blue smoke from their mouth and nose. Sometimes both!
Then he turns around and watches the man with the pipe. Not so skillful as the cigarette twirler, but still enticing, is the gentleman who stands and ponders or speaks between each step as he loads, packs, and lights his pipe. Why it takes him sometimes a full seven minutes to complete this ceremony. It's miraculous and astonishing to a small boy. It makes him feel somehow proud just to be near these giants of achievement. This is what men do. He is enveloped by the sounds and smells of ringing anvils, jingle of harness chains, leather, wood, grease, coal smoke, stale beer and tobacco.
But king among the men who twined the tobacco habits was the chewer of the substance. A boy never being allowed to carry matches, could easily become a part of that specific segment of the habit without bringing much suspicion on himself from the ever probing eyes of adults. And it wasn't too hard to obtain. For a nickel he could buy a plug of Days Work, Browns Mule, or a twig of Mickey Twist, among others.
The art of chewing tobacco was usually initiated by an older boy or even an adult. Indeed sometimes a father, uncle or brother. It was offered along with the words "Go on - bite off a chaw boy." And the boy, hesitatingly reaches for that one adult article that promises to lift him higher than he has ever been before. He bites off a chunk and clamps down on it to receive a taste more bitter than Aunt Mary's chill tonic, worse even than a green persimmon, and his throat struggles with the fact that this is something not to be swallowed - ever!
But does he spit it out? Does he take his fingers and pull it quickly from a mouth that heretofore has had only milk and cookies and brown sugar for its tangy titillation? No indeed! To do so would be to reject all that is masculine. All that is courageous, fearless and valiant! To admit to the world, and the neighborhood boys, that he is a coward, a wimp, a yellow belly and a sissy. So he stands mustering all his willpower, chewing on that brown bitter bit of misery as the eyes of analysis are focused upon him to his everlasting regret.
But wait! That isn't all! Once he has touched the untouchable he must now continue to endure this day after day. Or has reached the age or size whereby he can stand up for his own opinions. Or becomes aware that he has one. Sometimes a boy continues on into manhood with his tobacco chewing. But usually tobacco chewers are a solitary lot with jobs or routines that keep them on the fringes of the community. On account of they have to spit you see. And they tend to leave a trail of brown mahogany colored spots in their wake.
Unless they happen to be snuff dippers, which is a surreptitious sort that takes the snuff between cheek and gum or in a place in his lower lip and holds it there while talking or anything else one does with the mouth. Personally I've always wondered what this person did with the saliva that naturally forms as a result of having a foreign object in the mouth, and have concluded that he simply swallows it.
But now before any of you ladies get spring loaded to comment that women folk don't do these things, I know for a fact that some do. I'm not qualified to comment on the ritual that girls endure to be introduced to tobacco. But for boys, it's just sort of a natural thing. Or it was back when I grew up. We had some good times back there in the early 20th century.
~ Weakeyes Cody