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Tuesday, 15 May 2007

The Cover-Up

By Frank Paynter of listics

It was probably June. The bleeding hearts were blooming just outside the bedroom window. The weatherman had delivered crisp morning air and bright sunshine. The road that ran between our place and the Von Allman's had been freshly graveled. Looking up that way I could see that the Von Allman kids were hanging out by the corn crib.

It must have been around 1950, and I was about five years old. The Von Allmans were teenagers, but our neighborhood supported equal opportunity mischief. There was no age discrimination. There couldn't be. There weren't enough of us.

The Village was a proto-suburb across the lake from the City of Madison. There were a few farms, streams, marshland, woods, a river and hills just steep enough to discourage field crops and encourage apple orchards.

There were some lake front developments that had been there for years, expensive housing for the Chris Craft set. There were fishing shacks along the river, permanent housing for the people who were more into cane poles and rowboats than Chris Craft cruisers. Since the twenties and thirties, farmers had made a little money building spec houses along the roads for the city folks.

We lived in a little cluster of three houses up the road from the river, modest two bedroom places with coal bins and wringer washers in the basements. The Von Allman farm was at the top of the hill. They had two houses on the sunny south slope, the old farm house and a newer one built for the daughter and her husband who also happened to be the Village sheriff, and they had a scatter of outbuildings - machine shed, small barn, corn crib and a chicken coop. Their corn fields, pasture and woodlots spread out to the north away from the farmstead.

One of the Von Allman boys owned a motorcycle (pronounced "motorsickle") and he had been known to give us little kids a ride sometimes. It was a big bike, all blue enamel and chrome with a huge leather saddle and I was hoping for a ride that day when I ran up the hill to see what was happening by the corn crib.

Of the little group gathered in the sun on the south side of the corn crib, I'm sure I was the youngest. But I wasn't entirely innocent when one of the Von Allman kids produced a pack of cigarettes.

My dad smoked Luckies. He'd picked up the habit during the war. Cigarettes came with the K-rations. Cigarettes invoked some secret adult ritualistic mystical phenomenon. Dad would take a fresh pack of unfiltered Luckies, the kind with a red bulls eye logo, and he'd maybe whack it on the table a couple of times to pack the tobacco tighter. Then he'd catch the thin red cellophane tape with his thumb nail and open the outer packaging, and open the inner package. He'd extract one cigarette, put it between his lips and light a match from a cardboard matchbook one-handed in order to light the cigarette.

That one-handed match lighting thing wasn't the only trick he knew. My dad could blow smoke rings.

I don't remember any of the nuances of that morning smoking behind the corn crib. Were we indulging in some secret and forbidden practice? I don't think so. I certainly had never had any warnings about NOT smoking. And the Von Allman boys were pretty much free agents. They did, after all, have their own motorcycle. Looking back, it seems likely that they had swiped the smokes, and that was what had driven them out of sight of their house.

Regardless, I had my first smoke that morning and I would certainly have told my mom about it when she called me home for lunch. But I didn't get the chance.

"Frankie," she said. "You've been smoking!" I could tell that she didn't think my first cigarette was such an important milestone. In fact, I gathered she thought it more a transgression than an achievement.

"How did you know?"

"I can smell it on your breath."

She forbade me to smoke another cigarette, ever.

The next day the kids were back by the corn crib and I was there with them, and yes, we smoked more cigarettes. When it was time to head home for lunch I had to think quickly. I was not supposed to smoke, but I had and mom would smell it on my breath. My solution seemed like a good idea at the time. If she didn't smell it on my breath... I clapped my hand over my nose and mouth and went inside.

What is it about moms? She saw right through me.

Posted by Ronni Bennett at 02:14 AM | Permalink | Email this post


You gave me a good chuckle, as I remembered the first time I smoked (I was about 10).

Wonderful, Frank! My dad like yours came home from war a smoker, and thanks to you I'm remembering how fascinated I was by all the little details of his cigarette packs. He could even make mini smoke rings--pull the pack half-way out of its cellophane shell, burn a hole in the cellophane, blow some smoke into it, and then tap it gently. Thanks for a lovely story.

hehe, you remind me of my younguns, although the worst they've done so far is sneak a flashlight into their bedroom for surreptitious under-the-covers reading after lights out.

I don't know what stopped me from smoking when I grew up...I guess I just didn't like the smell of it. Both of my parents were smokers...pretty heavy ones. I remember finally trying one to see what all the fuss was about...but I was about 18 or 19; and it just didn't appeal to me....I'd much rather have junk food. Well, one vice or another, huh?

I experimented with smoking in high school. A younger girl asked me to teach her how. We snuck into her bedroom with my cigarettes and I taught her the finer points on lighting, puffing and especially how to hold and tap off the ashes in a sophisticated manner. My smoking didn't last long. I didn't enjoy it.
A few years later, I saw her again.
She had become a regular smoker. I've always felt very guilty about that.

Clever fellow that young Frank. I'm picturing it now and laughing my ass off. Moms.

Thanks to everyone who commented. I just want to say to Norm, that I learned a lesson that day... the lesson? I am too simple-minded to get away with anything.

Good story. Thanks for the memories.

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