It’s funny but now that I’m writing about grandma’s house it just came to me I never thought of it as grandpa’s house. Maybe it’s because grandpa had a little studio in the backyard where he set up a bed and spent much of his time. It was part of the garage he’d modified into a little bedroom. It was called the “Little Room.” I think Ellen lived there for a while too after grandpa died but I’m not sure. Anyway maybe that’s why I think the house was grandmas and the “Little Room” was grandpas.
I rode my bike to grandma’s one summer morning. No one was home so I let myself in to wait. I used the bathroom and ended up in the back bedroom looking at grandma’s colognes spread out on her dresser. I noticed a pack of cigarettes on the dresser. Someone was always smoking in that house. In fact, when I think of that house, the odor of smoke is one of my memories.
At that time many popular movie stars did commercials for cigarettes. I picked up the pack and slid out a cigarette taking care not to break it. I planned on putting it back so no one would ever know I’d played with it. I held the cigarette up to my lips and looked in the mirror. I tilted my head to the left and to the right. I held the cigarette just the way the movie stars did and admired myself in the mirror.
Thoughts of putting the cigarette back unspoiled left me as I picked up a little book of matches and began pretending to light the cigarette. I tried holding the lit match to the end of the cigarette but it just burned the paper and wouldn’t light. I put the cigarette between my lips. What an unusual taste. It burned my lips. I noticed I’d wrinkled the cigarette by now and figured I was going to through it away so I might as well light it and see how I looked actually smoking a cigarette. I put the cigarette in my mouth again and held a match to the end. I puffed air into my mouth, not inhaling the smoke to my lungs, and after several tries managed to get it working.
I admired myself in the mirror thinking about the luxurious lifestyle of movie stars. Big houses, fancy cars, and their names on Broadway. Again, I tilted my head back and forth, I held the cigarette gently between my fingers with the smoke now curling its way toward the ceiling. I thought of diamond jewelry and the cameras flashing as the movie stars walked in the crowds of fans. I put the cigarette in my mouth again and without thinking drew a big breath down into my lungs.
Not even one second passed before I was choking and gasping for breath. I couldn’t believe what I’d done. Surely I’d be caught. I knew everyone would be able to know just by looking at me what I’d done. It was just then I heard the backyard gate squeak. Grandma and grandpa were home! I straightened the dresser, pushed the chair in, and ran to the back porch to meet them. As I went through the bathroom I tossed the cigarette in the toilet and flushed. I made it to the backdoor just as grandpa was reaching for it.
Grandma and grandpa came in with arms full of groceries. Grandma started putting the groceries away and grandpa disappeared into the other room. I helped grandma peel some potatoes for lunch and just when we started fixing sandwiches grandpa called me into the living room. Grandpa was sitting in his chair with his little dog, Spookie, sitting on his lap. He had the TV turned on and was just lighting up a cigarette. I don’t know why but the way he looked at me my heart sank into my stomach.
Grandpa looked me right in the eye and asked, “Have you been smoking?” There was no way I could lie to grandpa so I told him exactly what I’d done. I told him every detail including flushing the cigarette down the toilet. He smiled at me pinching off the end of his cigarette and calmly said, “We don’t waste cigarettes in this house, you said you couldn’t smoke it so here you go…eat it.” Grandpa didn’t joke around too much as I remember and I knew he wasn’t joking about eating his cigarette. I could feel my face become red as I bent the cigarette and put it into my mouth. I chewed just a couple of times and began chocking and gasping for breathe. Grandpa picked up his “spit can” from the floor next to his chair and held it in my direction. “Here, spit it out and let that be a lesson for you. If you think having one of those “cigs” hanging out you mouth makes you pretty think again. Go look at yourself in the mirror without one. Hold up a bottle of your grandma’s perfume instead. You’ll look prettier than any movie star with a cigarette.”
I loved my grandpa. He was a great support to me, he loved me unconditionally, and he never found fault in any of his grand kids. He didn’t set out to “teach us life lessons,” he just taught us how to be nice by the way he lived. I can guarantee he taught me well with this lesson.
I don’t know why that summer I was at my worst but I remember walking to the old Better Way grocery store for grandma one day. I was nearing the back of the store and saw a mountain of returned pop bottles. I thought no one would notice as I grabbed a six pack of empty bottle and took them around to the front of the store. I cashed them in for sixty cents and spent the money on candy. I was right that I didn’t get caught but honestly, that candy went down hard and didn’t taste good at all. I never did that again. That was the end of summer and the end of my outlaw career!