My mother and father always smoked. Players light cigarettes were their favorites for a long, long time. When times and money got tough, they’d buy pouches or cans of tobacco and self-rolling machine to make their own. Always a fun time. You never knew if you packed the cig too tight and thus, end up looking like you’re sucking on a mc donald’s milk shake straw, or too loose and end up burning yourself in a shower of tobacco sparks. And then have the cigarette gone in two drags.
My parents met in a time when the hazards of smoking were pretty much still being questioned, and spent many years there on in being smokers.
When my mother was diagnosed with diabetes early on, they tried to tell her she should quit. My mother was well and truly addicted. This was a woman who would find a way to get her cigarette fix if it meant crawling over your dead body. My mother wasn’t a horrible woman. She was addicted.
During the last years of her life when things were getting grim, she made the decision to quit. But her heart wasn’t really in it. By that time, the doctors had made some pretty finalized statements, her kidneys were gone, and she was moving toward having dialysis.
She quit, but my father knew she was dying, slowly, and he did not want to be the one to tell her no. And while he had also quit with her, he still smoked his phillies chocolate cigars.
When I visited them several years ago to get my US Citizenship paperwork in gear, I had never smelled those cigars before. They were light, heady, the smoke did not smell like any cigar or cigarette I’d ever smelled. I asked him what they were–they clung to his clothing, his hair, the inside of his truck and smelled like some sort of incense.My mother did not like them, but my father offered me one–and I adored it. It was the smoothest, best tasting cigar I’ve had. My mother had stopped smoking cigarettes and was trying to cut down with cigarellos–Bullseye brand. The bullseye brand came in cherry, grape, raspberry, chocolate and so on and were good too. But my fathers cigars. It was such a distinctive taste. During that whole time I was up there with mom and dad it was part of my clothing, my hair and my skin. It wasn’t that gross smoke smell at all (being an ex smoker myself and knowing what that disgusting old cigarette smoke smells like on clothes, carpets, everywhere).
When I went home, I never forgot the smell. It forever became associated with mom and dad then.
When mom got sicker toward the end, Dad refused to deny her anything. She grew a taste for camels and corona. He tells me all the time she would grab a beer from the fridge and if in the summer, stand on the front porch, have a smoke and a beer–or go out to the garage in winter and have a smoke and a beer. And it was one of the few things that just made her happy.
When she passed away, thanks to the generous donations of friends and family, I was able to fly to Alberta to help my father get some of her things together. The house smelled like it did when I left it years ago–the faint smell of her, the spicy scent of my fathers cigars which I had always thought of the both of them with. Her blanket was still draped over the back of her chair; a sweater too. Slippers near by.
Her bedroom was waiting for me, and even there I thought I could smell it faintly.
Months later after her death and I am here, home in Florida, my father sends me a few of her things and mine to keep.
When I open the box, all I can smell is my father’s cigars, I think of the silent house I went back to. I think of a chair with no one rocking in it anymore. A blanket without legs behind it, a sweater with no arms. A bed with no one sleeping in it.
And I think of my mother. This spicey, earthen smell is in my nose and mouth as I hold onto her things–and I think of the years ago woman I know. I think of the good things and not the bad, and I think she may be smiling somewhere. At least, that’s what I would like to think. What all the romantic theories tell me.
My father says he’ll send me some cigars. I will have them and I will taste the things that I do not want to forget. I will smell my mother and think of my father. I will dream of things brighter, of my mother laughing and my heart, full.