In 1949, while a freshman at Oklahoma A & M College, I roomed with Nelson C., who was a smoker. I was eighteen at the time and it seemed to be the right thing to do, so I asked Nelson to teach me how to smoke. My brother had started a few years before, and my father also smoked, so it wasn’t a new and revolutionary idea in the family. I learned how to tap the pack before opening and how to light up, but instead of inhaling, I was taking a mouthful of smoke and trying to swallow it. Well, as you all may not know, that’s not how it goes. After a few fitful tries, I did manage to get the smoke inhaled, and continued the practice for the next eighteen years. At times, I was burning up two packs a day, between the frustrations of earning a living and the joys (and the few frustrations) of raising a family.
During the eighteen years, I had toyed off and on with the thought of quitting. There were some times when I switched to cigarillos and cheroots, even a pipe, but always migrated back to the beloved/damned ciggies. One thing that was always visible in my doctor’s office was an ash tray with pictures of a healthy lung and a smoker’s lung; when he and I talked about smoking, he suggested switching to a pipe, which he used. The idea was that one could never keep a pipe lit, so there was no danger of damage to one’s system; he always punctuated the point by trying to keep his pipe lit.
Toward the end of the eighteen years, I kept vacillating between quitting and not. It began to get on my nerves, so I finally said to myself: “Self, you’ve got to decide whether or not you’re going to quit; the indecision is making you a nervous wreck.” So the decision was reached to continue smoking. At least the pressure was gone. However, after another three months, I said, finally: “That’s it, self, we’re giving up the habit!” And into the trash went all the accoutrements. To this day, forty-some years later, I’ve been true to that declaration.