Thank you for Timothy R. Smith’s review of Gregor Hens’s book “Nicotine” [“The emotional up and down of lighting up,” Jan. 18, Book World]. It was shocking to read Smith declaring that he was looking forward to smoking his cigar. These days, admitting to anything but contempt for tobacco is practically a criminal offense.
I say this as the son of a woman who smoked for 70 years, beginning at age 12. Aside from her family, Pall Malls were the joy of Mom’s life. Nobody believes or understands this when I tell them, so I’ve stopped telling them.
Mom smoked while pregnant, she smoked while nursing her three children, she smoked while cooking us dinner. She smoked. All. The. Time. Few are the family photos that show Mom without a cigarette in her hand or at her lips. In fact, a Post photographer found her puffing away at her favorite restaurant, and she was pictured on the cover of the Montgomery Extra, for a story about Montgomery County’s proposed smoking ban.
Toward the end, Mom was buying cartons of cigarettes in bulk, to save money. Sin taxes had pushed up the price of a pack to cumbersome levels for a retiree. For a while, she switched to cheaper generic brands, but they lacked that special oomph of Pall Malls. Not enough nicotine, I guess.
Mom died at 82, but not from cancer or even emphysema. She died of a broken heart two months after her husband of 56 years passed.
At her funeral, we emptied cartons of her unsmoked cigarettes into a basket and set it next to the guest book, with an invitation to pick up a coffin nail in Mom’s honor. Many did just that. Of course, nobody lit up. Because, while it was a gratifyingly large crowd, almost no one was a smoker.
And none of Mom’s three kids smoke. One reason is that my folks were smart — they never forbade us. Indeed, whenever we showed any interest, Mom would casually put the cigarette to our lips and let us inhale. Oh my God! We would cough and run away thinking, “How can adults be so crazy?” Today, of course, someone would call Child Protective Services.
So while I do not mourn for Big Tobacco or decry the decline in smoking, I do sometimes miss the smell of secondhand smoke. It smells like home.
Dave Nuttycombe, Silver Spring