Watching old movies, the ones I love, the ones from the forties and fifties, I now understand, sort of, why my beautiful, savvy mother smoked. It was sexy and made her look smart and modern.
They even smoked in my very favorite Breakfast at Tiffany’s, the movie I watched three times a few months ago in preparation for a bridal shower that I was supposed to attend looking like Holly. The frustration factor of trying to turn my curly blond senior self into Audrey Hepburn would have been awful even thirty years ago, but…
Our super clean house (my crazy mother made me dust the furniture the morning before we left for each vacation) really smelled bad but, fortunately, the smelly smoke doesn’t come through when I watch old movies. In addition to my mother’s cigarettes, Marlboro, I think, my father smoked cigars. Yuck.
When my daughter Elisabeth was very small, I remember her saying to my mother as she smoked, “Nanny, you’re going to die tomorrow.” I guess I got through to her. Fortunately, none of my children smoked, so I may have gotten through to all of them. If you ask my son why he never took up drugs, his interesting answer “I was afraid of liking them.”
My mother did eventually quit smoking cigarettes and my father quit smoking cigars. One day my brother in law, who was a pediatrician and lived two doors from my parents, arrived at my parents’ house and ceremoniously placed on my mother’s kitchen table a jar containing a lung from a patient who had died of lung cancer. That was all it took.
The cigars took a bribe. My father quit smoking cigars after my mother gave up drinking scotch.
It sounds like I grew up in a dysfunctional family. No, they weren’t drunks or addicts. My mother only drank at social events and wasn’t even a chain smoker. My father’s cigars only came out during his weekly card games.
The cigar smell drove my mother so crazy that one night she collected every alarm clock she could find and set each one a minute apart, starting at 11 PM, hiding them in drawers, under pillows, under furniture, just enough to drive my father and his friends crazy. How long it took her to amass the ten or so alarm clocks, I have no idea, but the story made the rounds of our town for years.