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JIM ‘PAPPY’ MOORE: Smoke ‘Em If You Got ‘Em

By Jim “Pappy” Moore

My first experience with smoking cigarettes happened at age five, shortly after my family moved from West Texas to East Texas. I quickly became friends with Mike Capps, whose immediate and extended family attended the church where my father preached. Mike was seven and therefore older and wiser. His sister Ileene was my age. I was six weeks older than her – just enough to allow me to start school a year earlier than her.

Their dad was William I. Capps, a World War II veteran of long campaigns in the jungles of Southeast Asia. He was a big man who smoked unfiltered Lucky Strikes. Although he was only a few inches taller than my dad, he seemed like a giant of a man to me. He was married to Faye Bridges, of the Herty, Texas Bridges family – a fiery but kind-hearted young woman.

One day Mike snuck a cigarette from his dad’s pack and told me we should try smoking. He grabbed one of those long wooden matches which sat in a dispenser in their kitchen. Everyone had one of those. The stoves were mostly gas. We headed to a patch of high grass not far from their house. He lit the cigarette, puffed on it a bit without inhaling, and handed it to me. As he told me later, he forgot to tell me not to inhale, so I did. Immediately my throat and lungs were on fire, and I took off like a spooked deer running to his home’s backdoor and into the kitchen, where I stuck my head under the kitchen faucet and attempted to “put out the fire.” Needless to say, my actions outed us and I don’t recall our punishment, but a whipping would likely have been in order back then.

Over the years, we would try smoking again, always in a non-serious way, until we were mid teenagers. Mike’s younger sister, Patricia Ellen, delighted in sniffing out and exposing our smoking in our early teen years. “Mama! Mike and Jim’s been smoking!”

I started smoking regularly in high school, mostly to look more adult. We had a smoking circle at high school where teachers and students (only boys) would gather after lunch for a smoke if they felt like it. My how times change.

Off to the military in 1968, where basic training introduced a whole new world for 18 year-old smokers. During a smoking break the Drill Instructor would stop us and shout out: “Smoke ’em if you got ’em. Pop the cherry out, field dress ’em and put the tampax in your pocket.” The cherry was the hot ashes, which you would step on and extinguish. Field dress ’em meant to shake all the tobacco remaining out of the cigarette onto the grass. Put the tampax in your pocket meant to take the remaining filter and paper and stuff them in your pocket for later disposal at the trash can.

I used to tell people cigarettes were so cheap in the military I couldn’t afford NOT to smoke. Of course, moochers exist everywhere. Everyone had at least one buddy who claimed he quit smoking, when all he really did was quit buying. Moochers who begged both a cigarette and a light were told “all you’ve got is the habit.”

I mostly smoked for the next thirty years, taking breaks of a year or more when I decided to do so, but it wouldn’t take much for me to pick one up and get started all over again. That ended one day in the early 2000s when suddenly I started getting a regular throbbing under my scalp at a place on my head when I would smoke. Suddenly, it became easy to put them away and never smoke them again. If you really want to quit, you can.

I have not regretted giving up cigarettes. Now the smell of the smoke anywhere bugs me. They are cancer sticks. When I see people over seventy who have smoked for fifty plus years, they look like it. The hacking cough. The gray, oxygen-starved skin. If someone you love smokes, tell them to kick that nasty habit and stick around longer.

Copyright 2023, Jim “Pappy” Moore. All rights reserved.

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