I mentioned in an earlier blog that I had a story about the last time I smoked a cigarette, which was in Grade Seven. In retrospect it really is a story about my parents and particularly my Mom.
On a family vacation to the Rockies from Fort Churchill, Manitoba, my Dad had wandered into an employment office in Calgary, Alberta on a whim. He walked out with a job in Olds, Alberta. Just like that over the summer, we packed up and moved.
Despite the fact that as small fry I could lose myself in books for days, I missed my Churchill buddies and as I entered Grade Seven that fall, I was eager to make new friends.
I quickly learned that Olds was a cliquier town than Fort Churchill. Maybe it was the transient nature of a northern community that made it so much more open and welcoming to newcomers and it was just the contrast between the two towns that made the difference seem so dramatic. Or perhaps the little prairie town populated by so many people whose roots went back to pioneer days had learned to circle the wagons ages before.
In any case, the whole concept of the “in” and the “out” crowd was uncharted territory for me. While I was shy, I was not about to forsake one side for the other. On the other hand, my stance to befriend individuals from either side of the line seemed to be perceived as suspect by both groups.
I found myself constantly having to prove something. With the “out” crowd, I had to prove my knowledge of books and school topics and genuine interest in them as individuals.
The “in” crowd laid down quite another gauntlet. Although they seemed amused by this small fry who had walked among polar bears and had an older brother who was quite talented at playing hockey, they didn’t completely trust me. So, when I told them that I had learned how to smoke in Ottawa when I was five and really had no interest in sneaking behind granaries to partake in that activity, they just didn’t buy it.
While they got used to this strange girl who insisted on being friends with the “out” crowd even though the “in” crowd had let her in, they just wouldn’t drop the smoking thing. The peer pressure permeated our every outing. Finally, I was challenged, “You are a chicken. You just don’t want to get caught smoking by your parents!”
It was a leap of faith but I knew what I had to do. I said, “Give me a cigarette and let’s go home to my house.”
We entered through the back door, which led almost directly into the kitchen where my Mom was busily preparing dinner. The girls hung back a little as I boldly stepped right up to Mom at the stovetop and took a big drag of the cigarette. No reaction – other than a brief hello greeting to the entire group. Did she not notice?
I dogged her through her kitchen rituals like a puppy eager to play ball, sucking back deeply and inhaling the vile cigarette. No reaction. How could she not notice?
The girls were hovering, wide-eyed and confused as they watched me take puff after puff, blowing smoke almost directly into Mom’s face. I thought time stood still and unhappily executed the dare completely unsure of what to do next.
Finally, when there was just a short stub left between my lips, Mom scooped up an ashtray from a cupboard and offered it to me to butt out. Without blinking, she declared, “Thank-you. It’s much better if you smoke at home. It is so unbecoming to see young ladies out in public sucking on a cigarette. Anyone want to stay for dinner?”
Stammering no thanks, the girls bid a hasty exit. I could hear their comments buzzing as they left the yard. It was the last time anyone in Olds ever confronted me about why I chose not to smoke.
As for Mom, I don’t know exactly how she knew. She was so in tune with her motherly instincts, and a bright woman to boot, she pretty much always figured these things out. When I quizzed her about it later, she shrugged it off as common sense to figure out what was needed. Truly, the older I get the more incredulous I become of her genius. I’m afraid I just haven’t witnessed such pure common sense in many other people!