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Jack McCall: Smoking in the Brim Hollow

Jack McCall • Updated Oct 13, 2018 at 5:00 PM

The story you are about to read is true. Names were changed or omitted to protect the innocent…or the guilty.

I grew up in tobacco country. My great-grandmother, Icey, was a snuff dipper. 

My grandparents on both sides of the family refrained from using tobacco products of any kind. My mother admitted she smoked a little corn silk and “rabbit tobacco” when she was a girl. On the other hand, my father enjoyed a good chew now and then. It was not unusual for my father, as he walked down the hallway of a tobacco barn, to reach up and grab a “tip” leaf, blow the dust off, roll it up and stuff it inside his jaw. When he did buy chewing tobacco, he preferred Red Man.

My experience with using tobacco products is rather limited. When I was 10 or 11, I smoked a big cigar one time right after eating two big bologna sandwiches. It made me sick as a dog. I pretty much laid off cigars after that.

Will Herod Brim, my maternal grandfather, died Nov. 12, 1963. My grandmother, Lena, moved out of Brim Hollow later that winter. The following summer, four of my best buddies and I camped out in the Brim Hollow. I say we camped out. We actually held up in a house long abandoned in the head of the hollow. The house was big…and spooky after dark. One night, we had to halt telling ghost storied because one of my buddies got scared.

I was 13 years old in summer 1964. My buddies and I were well prepared when we entered Brim Hollow that summer. We had packed extra clothes, sleeping bags, cooking utensils, a four-day supply of food and cigarettes…lots of cigarettes. And we had matches, too. Not just any matches. We had two big boxes of those Strike Anywhere matches.

We smoked to our heart’s content for the first two days. I say we smoked. We actually puffed. We were too young and green to tolerate inhaling cigarette smoke. Whenever I did accidentally suck smoke into my lungs, it made me feel sick.

The first two days of camping were uneventful except for two happenings. My mother had packed supplies for cooking purposes in baby food jars. There was sugar, salt, pepper, Trend dishwashing powder, etc. The first morning, upon tasting my attempt at scrambled eggs, one of my buddies cried out, “Oow, these eggs are awful.” He had seasoned his eggs with dishwashing powder instead of salt.

The other happening was more serious. We ran out of cigarettes. This called for some serious discussion. We decided to walk the two miles to downtown Riddleton and attempt to buy more.

I’m sure it was quite a sight when all five of us, just barely teenagers, strolled into that country store that morning. If we had had the slightest bit of cool, we would have requested a carton of cigarettes under the guise of making a purchase for one of our parents. But oh no, smoking different brands was half the thrill. 

The proprietor, whose name will go unmentioned, had the slightest hint of a smile come across his face as we began to rattle off brands. One of my buddies had the nerve to ask one of the others, “What kind did you father say he wanted?” The proprietor turned his head to one side to keep from laughing. He had us dead to rites. But, surprisingly, he went along with our charade. 

We left the store that day with a pack of Marlboro, a pack of Winston, a pack of L&M’s, two packs of Kool, a pack of Salem, a pack of Newport, and one pack of Sir Walter Raleigh.

I suppose we got smoking out our system that summer. To this day, none of the five of us are cigarette smokers.

But I will say this. You won’t catch me running for political office or accepting a nomination for a judgeship, because somebody will go back 54 years and accuse me of illegally buying cigarettes. I bet they would have a hard time finding witnesses. 

Jack McCall is an author and also writes a weekly column for The Democrat.


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