My mom smoked three packs of cigarettes a day for at least 40 years. My childhood memories revolve around my mother surrounded by a shroud of Smoke. When I was young, I thought my mom was magical. The smoke made her look more magical.
As I got older, I found the smell of smoke annoying. Yet I didn’t even notice the smoke was embedded in my clothing. People at school were convinced that I smoke cigarettes. No, I’ve never touched a cigarette I tell them. I’m not sure if they believed me. Because my mother smoked so much, I never had any desire to try a cigarette. I did smoke a little pot With my friends, but that’s about it.
I remember going to the local grocery store around the corner from my house or I grew up in San Francisco every evening. I always got the same thing from my mom. Three packs of Benson and Hedges and a six-pack of Tab. At times she wanna diet Pepsi instead. But it was always one or the other. I didn’t even have to bring a note because Ned and Jack who worked there knew who I was and knew who my mom was. Mom would write a check with a blank amount, and they would fill it in. I often wondered why since I almost always got the same thing.
I’ll never forget the day my mom freaked out because I rode down the hill down 2nd Ave. on a skateboard holding a bag with glass bottles of tab and the coveted three packs of cigarettes. She was never outside or not usually. She was usually in the kitchen reading a book and smoking cigarettes. Sometimes she did other stuff like cook or clean. But that’s where she usually was when she wasn’t at work. Or she was in her bedroom laying down in the dark.
When mom laid down in her bedroom all you could see was the orange cigarette butt waving around because that’s what she did. I thought it was funny she freaked out about my riding a skateboard. I wanted to tell her that it’s not as bad as smoking cigarettes even then at the age of 11. But I didn’t. Mom tried to quit many times. But it never lasted long. She was so hard to live with those times that we almost wanted to hand her a cigarette. She paced back-and-forth and freak out about every little thing until she got her cigarettes back. We just accepted that my mom smoked and we really Couldn’t do anything about it. It was just a part of who she was.
When I moved out at age 19, I am mediately noticed that I could breathe better. I had allergies since I was a young girl and it was most likely due to the constant secondhand smoke. I never told my mom this though. Maybe I should have.
Fast forward to when I had three kids of my own. Whenever my mom came over she would light up a cigarette in the house and complain that there were no ashtrays around. She claims that she should get me an ashtray so that it would be available whenever she came over. By that time I didn’t allow people to smoke in the house. But when I tried to tell my mother this, she’d say I’m your mom and I’ll do what I want. And she did so I’d open the window behind her and get the fan going. What else could I do except kick her out of the house?
Mom smoked until the day she passed away at the age of 64 of bone cancer. Ironically, she did not have lung cancer. Her lungs were as clear as can be and she breathed on her own until she passed. We don’t really know the primary source of her cancer because she decided to die at home. We were even lighting up cigarettes for her at the very end because we figured why not let her have what she wants.
Don’t get me wrong. I love my mother fiercely. And I know she loved me and all of us. She had faults but she was my mom and I loved her and it’s been 23 years. I still miss her. I am about to turn 64 next July. I’ve never smoked in my life and I’m still hanging in there. No one can predict the future. My love for my mother lives on.
By Mary (Melody) Cryns
On January 29, 2021
Today is the 24th anniversary of my mother’s passing…how fitting that I share this today!