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Why I Love Tobacco by Crad Kilodney

Why I Love Tobacco by Crad Kilodney

September 2001
Tobacco is the greatest plant that God ever set upon the earth. No other plant has given more people more delight. It is as American as apple pie and Thanksgiving. Tobacco is comfort, pleasure, tradition, and civility. It is a gift of Nature.

As I write these words, I’m enjoying a pipeful of Sail Green, a popular, inexpensive tobacco I can smoke all day. If you want to give me a present, however, treat me to MacBaren’s Plum Cake or Latakia. Yes, I smoke cigars, too. I like good, cheap American cigars — White Owls, Phillies, King Edwards, and Wolf Brothers Crooks (soaked in rum and dipped in wine, or is it the other way around?).

I took up smoking as a 17-year-old college freshman in Ann Arbor, Michigan, in 1965. My first pipe was a simple, sturdy Comoy King’s Cross, which cost all of $5. A small package of pipe tobacco cost less than 50¢. You could buy perfectly acceptable cigars for a dime. Many an evening I would stroll over to the Union with a neighbor from the dorm and buy a few.

In the 60s, it was considered very cool for a college man to smoke a pipe. (We all wanted to look smarter than we really were.) Pipes were fragrant, and you didn’t inhale. In fact, I have never been an inhaler in all my 36 years of smoking. My lungs are clear, and I have the X-rays to prove it.

In the 60s, no one made a fuss about smoking. Second-hand smoke? The term had not even been coined. If the room got too smoky, you opened a window. I was never once told that I couldn’t smoke in someone’s home. You could smoke at work. You could smoke on an airplane. You could smoke in some classrooms. Michigan’s undergraduate library allowed smoking.

When I was a child, cigarette cases fascinated me. We had several old ones lying around. No one in my family used them, but I came to love them as beautiful objects. So, too, the fancy lighters with no flints or fuel, which just sat around the house. They were familiar household objects that were decorative. Cigarette commercials on TV were among my favorite commercials. I miss them. And cigarette vending machines were everywhere. So many brands to choose from! And when you got up the courage and no adults were paying attention, you’d nervously drop two quarters into the slot, pull a handle, and walk away quickly, the sweat pouring down your brow!

All these things were normal. They were part of the American way of life.

Of course, everyone knew that smoking too much could kill you. Our gym teacher lectured us about it. But who was ever influenced by his high school gym teacher?

My father was a heavy smoker of Pall Malls and died of emphysema at 66. He was determined to smoke. The fear of illness would never have deterred him. He didn’t stop until he was already diagnosed. It never would have entered his mind to sue the American Tobacco Company.

I never inhaled an entire cigarette, but I smoked them sometimes anyway. When I first discovered roll-your-owns in Houston, Texas, I sat in my apartment all day smoking Bugler tobacco until my fingers turned yellow.

In my literary career I produced 32 books and numerous other works, and they would never have come into being without my two stimulants of choice — caffeine and tobacco. All real writers smoke. That’s my bias, and you won’t disabuse me of it. Tobacco is the thinking man’s vice. It’s a natural mood regulator: when you’re hyper, it calms you down; when you’re depressed, it picks you up.

So many great people were smokers: Gen. George Patton, Gen. Douglas MacArthur, Winston Churchill, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Albert Einstein. (Hitler, on the other hand, didn’t smoke.)

My old boss at Exposition Press, Ed Uhlan, chain-smoked Kents all day long. Our Vice-President, Ben Paskoff, always had a pipe in his mouth. I smoked all day at my desk. It was the best place I ever worked, with the smartest, most interesting people.

I associate tobacco with reading and books, especially old books. My heart leaps when I see old movies featuring rooms lined with books. Proper homes always had studies or libraries, and men’s clubs always had smoking rooms with comfortable chairs. This was the way a man’s life was supposed to be: sitting in an armchair, smoking a pipe, and enjoying a good book. Such venues still exist, but there are fewer of them.

And even the humblest of men anywhere in the Western world have sat across a chess board, blowing smoke at each other and pondering their next moves. From the lowest social stratum to the highest, tobacco has been entrenched in our civilization. It is part of our heritage.

I know that I was meant to smoke because I’m sure I smoked in my previous life. I must have had a fine reading room lined wall-to-wall with books, no shortage of ashtrays and lighters, and a rack of at least a dozen pipes. I sat in my favorite arm chair night after night, enjoying a pipe and a fine, old book. And if I was brave enough, I might have picked up a handsome fountain pen and some paper and tried to write a story, essay, or poem. But I would never be satisfied with the results. And so I prayed to God to give me another life on earth, so I could have the literary career I craved so deeply. Meanwhile, I steeped myself in books with strong, cloth-bound covers, letterpress printing, and elegant engraving, preparing my soul for my next lifetime. I think most likely I was a minor scholar at some northern university where the winters were long and snowy and perfectly suited to quiet evenings at home with my pipe and my books. And every night, before my housekeeper went to bed, she would see the light on under the door of my library and knock and poke her head in. “Professor, would you like anything before I go to bed?”

“No, thank you, Martha,” I replied, blowing a little cloud of Latakia above the pages of a particularly amusing novel. “I have everything I could possibly want.”

 

 

 

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