October 13, 2014

Amanuensis Monday - The Stories That Should Be Told, Part 60

The following transcription is from a series of recordings my father made in the early 1990s:
Smoking, Chewing Tobacco and Dipping Snuff…
I remember how we used to smoke corn silk.  We would get the silk out of dried corn in the fields and wrap it in old newspapers or old brown paper sacks then smoke it. 
We also smoked cross vine.  Cross vine was found along fence rows.  It actually left blisters on your mouth.  I don’t know if the blisters were the result of some kind of chemical reaction to the vine being burned or if the heat from smoking it caused the blisters.  Other boys smoked it so I did.  Man, it left a big ole blister on my mouth like a fever blister.
Bernard Seal
I taught many of the boys my age how to chew tobacco.  I dipped snuff one time.  Junior, Bernard, Billy Pat and Lester were the sons of Walon and Addie Mae Seal.  They lived on what we called the Enright place.  It was north of town going towards Wisner.  About a half a mile out of town you would turn left and go back in there where we used to call the Chisum Deadening.
I used to go out to their house and spend the day with them.  Bernard and I were the same age but I often buddied up with his older brother, Junior.  There were a lot of boys that lived in that area; Hyman Cooper, Jr., the Coleman boys, James Smith and some Hutto boys. 
One day I was out at the Seal house visiting with the Seal boys.  Coot and Buddy Hutto came over while I was there.  We all went out in the backyard.  Coot had a little tin box full of snuff.  He was dipping it and offered us some.  Junior and the other Seal boys wouldn’t take any but I did.  Boy, I filled my bottom lip up with that snuff.  It looked like brown, fine dust.  All of them were admiring me and going on about me dipping that snuff. 
Junior Seal
After a while the snuff seemed to melt away in my mouth so I asked Coot for some more of it.  I pulled my bottom lip out and put me another good batch of that snuff in my mouth.  Within minutes of putting that second batch in my mouth I started getting sick.  Lord, I can still remember how sick I got.  My head was spinning so bad I could hardly stand up. 
Junior and Bernard put me on an old wash bench where Mrs. Addie Mae washed clothes.  They laid me on my stomach with my head hanging off the end of the bench.  I was out of it but I can remember Mrs. Addie Mae asking Junior what had happened.  Junior had to tell her that I had taken some snuff. 
Addie Mae Cooper Seal
She told the boys to get me up and bring me in the house.  Once inside, she said, “Little Bruce, I used to hear my daddy say that if you got sick on chewing tobacco or snuff, you should drink strong black coffee.”  She made a pot of black coffee and as soon as I drank a cup of that strong bitter coffee I wasn’t sick anymore.  I’ll always remember that.
As kids back in the 1930s we would make like we were dipping snuff.  We would take cocoa that came in a can and mix sugar with it then tuck it in our bottom lips.  It had a sweet taste to it and after it melted away in your mouth, you’d get you some more.  I reckon that’s what I thought I was doing with that real snuff. 
Cigars made me sick every time I smoked them but I kept on smoking them.  I got sick off of chewing tobacco a many a time but I kept on chewing to where it didn’t make me sick anymore.  I’ve been sick on beer and whiskey but kept on drinking.  Snuff?  I got sick that one time and I never tried it ever again.  That’s the sickest I ever remember being.
Rosemary Wilkinson Crawford
I chewed tobacco in class when I was in the seventh grade.  Back in those days, the seventh grade class was in the high school building even though we weren’t considered high school students.  I remember sitting in Mrs. Rosemary Wilkinson Crawford’s room.  I would sit right there in her class and chew tobacco. 
I’d make me a cup out of paper and spit in it when I’d catch her looking in another direction.  She and others probably knew I was chewing tobacco but they never were slick enough to catch me.
After boys got up to a certain age and had permission from their parents, Mr. Coney would let them go just off the school property and smoke during school recesses.  I couldn’t get permission.  My mother knew I smoked for years before my daddy knew.  There was no chance of me getting permission.  So I had to smoke down in the basement or in the weeds out behind the school house. 
When we would go down in the basement to smoke there would be four or five of us with one along to be the lookout for Mr. Coney.  The rest of us would get up in the big ole shower stalls and smoke. 
One day our lookout, Buddy Benge, must have looked off in another direction and when he looked back Mr. Coney was right up on him.  He couldn’t say anything to warn us because Mr. Coney was too close.  He had one of his hands inside the shower stall just flopping it up and down.  Lonnie Owen Stringer, Cary Francis and I knew something was wrong so we put the cigarette out. 
Cameron Coney
Smoke was just boiling up out of the stall.  Mr. Coney stepped in the stall and it looked more like a heavy fog instead of cigarette smoke.  He turned around and walked out.  He wouldn’t whip us unless he actually caught us with a cigarette in our hands or in our mouths. 
We almost got caught so many times.  Dodging Mr. Coney was not a fun game.  That was a survival thing; like your life was on the line in dodging him.  Many an ole boy got whipped by Mr. Coney if they got caught smoking.
We always had to line up before entering the school building at the beginning of the day and after each break.  Girls lined up in front and the boys in the back.  Mr. Coney would stand up on the steps and look over all the lines and everybody thought he was looking right at them.  Lord, he could look mean.  Once he was satisfied that we were all in line and behaving, he would say, “Pass”, which meant we were allowed to enter the building and go to our classrooms.
I remember on one occasion he stood up there for what seemed like ten minutes.  His face was blood red and he sort of rocked back and forth as he stared out over all of us.  Finally, he said, “Pass into the gym.”  If he had a special announcement to make, he would say, “Pass into the gym.” Instead of everybody heading to their classrooms, we would head straight to the gym and take our seats.   
He addressed several topics that day.  One topic was about boys and girls walking around the building and holding hands.  Apparently he had caught some boy and girl holding hands as they walked around the building.  That was a terrible thing and we were told it would not happen again. 
Then he had one more announcement to make.  He said, “We’ve got a smart aleck who lives here in town.  He comes back from lunch hour smoking and he tosses his cigarette out just before he crosses the cattle gap into the school yard.  Sometimes he blows smoke out of his mouth after he crosses that cattle gap.  One of these days, he’s going to make a mistake.  He’s going to step across that cattle gap with that cigarette in his mouth or in his hand.  He’s going to forget and that’s when the payoff will come.”
Everybody in that gym, including older students and ones my age, turned around and looked right at me.
Photographs of Junior, Bernard and Addie Mae Seal are courtesy of Derene Seal.

Note:  Parts 1-59 of 'The Stories That Should Be Told' can be found in the Tags List on the right-hand side of the blog.

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