The View from Writers Roost
Mar 28, 2013 | 945 views | 0 0 comments | 4 4 recommendations | email to a friend | print
GROWING UP as part of a farming-ranching family in the late 1930s through the mid-1950s, exposed me to the habits of those hard-scrabble folks who were the solid base on which Texas was founded and grew into its present expansive society.

Pleasures for those in that basic Lone Star culture were rooted in the simple and tough lives necessary to existence in a very basic family-farm-ranch economy. Long hard days behind a mule-drawn plow or on horseback riding herd on ornery cows dictated forms of induced relaxation that soothed body and soul, and required minimum hands-on preparation and application. Those pioneers turned to varied tobacco products.

Anyone who has hand-rolled cigarettes (and I don’t mean the “funny” kind) might argue that there is nothing minimum about the task, especially compared to simply placing “a pinch between your cheek and gum.” I’d be forced to agree since my scarce attempts as a youngster to pour Prince Albert tobacco from a rectangular can into cigarette paper and roll it up into a raggedy looking protrusion were awkward to say the least.

However, despite the fairly widespread oral use of tobacco products in that time, putting the uncovered, “raw” tobacco into my mouth was totally repugnant. I couldn’t force myself no matter the proddings of “sissy” and “’fraidy-cat” from my peers.

Reference here to “raw” tobacco is specific to snuff and chewing tobacco. Putting that stuff in your mouth as a “chaw” or “pinch” is so repulsive that refusing was absolutely no problem.

My father smoked all of his too-short life (death at 57 from what started as esophageal cancer and spread to his intestines and stomach). He came up in those tough times from the late 19-teens to the mid-1930s without either parent after age 11. His father succumbed in 1919 during a time when the entire world was dealt a devastating blow by the swine flu. His mother died in 1927 from an unknown (to my memory) malady.

DAD’S STEPFATHER, one J.L. Willis (thus my first name) and Dad’s older sister, Marie, tried to guide him, but other worlds tugged on him at their home in Brady. He tried being a jockey and rode in horse races for a couple of years.

He found his career niche at 13 when he rounded up and sold 100 donkeys to a Yankee resort owner. All of his life, he was a rancher-farmer and called himself a “hoss-trader.”

Having little “raising,” it was natural that he turned to tobacco at the early age of 11.

By the time he and Mother married (both at age 19) on Christmas Day, 1935, he was hooked on cigarettes. Dad smoked every day of his life until one week before his Jan. 25, 1974, death.

I managed to avoid the tobacco habit until mid-term of my freshman year in college when I allowed the social pressures of that life to hook me. I continued the cigarette habit for a dozen years. Nicotine seems to be particularly gripping via cigarettes. But, I escaped to the dramatic and distinguished (I was told by women of that day) look and taste of a pipe.

SOME PIPE tobaccos are wonderfully aromatic and generally less objectionable than cigarette smoke. I freely admit that smoking the pipe was pleasurable, particularly compared to cigarettes or (ugh) cigars. I laughingly told my friendly detractors that those smoking cigarettes were threatened with lung cancer and those who smoked cigars faced the possibility of throat cancer.

Pipes, I opined, only caused lip cancer and I’d be able to see mine as soon as it began to appear. Ha, ha!

I lived with that fallacy for another 13 years until the Great American Smokeout Day in 1980 and I laid down the pipe and tobacco forever.

However, in the summer of 2012, I was diagnosed with throat cancer, 32 years after I quit smoking altogether.

I have since been treated with chemo-therapy and radiation, and the cancer, according to doctors at the world’s best cancer treatment center — M.D. Anderson Hospital in Houston — is completely eradicated from my body. I’m blessed.

Tobacco is nasty, unforgiving stuff indeed.

Willis Webb is a retired community newspaper editor-publisher of more than 50 years experience. He can be reached by email at
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