Many years ago, my mother and I were walking home from the supermarket when we came upon a pack of cigarettes lying on the sidewalk. It was a warm Sept. afternoon in Terra Linda, California. I was not enrolled in the school across the street from where we lived, as my mother and father were preparing to move yet again – this time to a place called Canada, where unbeknownst to me, my mother was a citizen. Having been educated in the States, I had never heard of it.
Since our return to the U.S. after another in a series of half-assed attempts at moving to Germany, neither my mother or father had been able to find work. They were very nearly flat broke, down to their last $2,000 and the two-storey town-home we were renting was essentially barren. The property manager had loaned us some stuff abandoned by various tenants over the years. So we had a small kitchen dinette set, and two mattresses, one for my parents and the other for me. My room was a mattress and some cardboard boxes, which I used as a fort for the toy soldiers I’d been able to buy, when my mother gave me $3 one day and let me walk the couple miles to the Emporium dept. store.
My father was rarely home as he was “looking for work”, though he usually came home empty-handed, late, and stinking of drink. And my mother was simply broken. A former smoker, she was at her wits end, though I scarcely knew it.
So that day, when we were walking home and we came upon a brand-new, factory-sealed pack of Marlboro’s, just lying there on the sidewalk, she picked it up without hesitation. She smoked ‘em all that day and late in the evening, but still before my father had come home, we walked back to the supermarket and she bought another pack. She told me that they made her feel better. And she felt more sophisticated smoking, noting how stars like Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall, were smokers.
Years later in Toronto, when my mother came home early and found me smoking in my room – And before she could feign an outrage, I simply told her that they made me feel better about my failing grades. And that they made feel cool, like Humphrey Bogart (I had a picture of him in front of Rick’s Café American on my wall). Her expression changed and she went on to detail the events of that time long ago in Terra Linda, in addition to telling me how she thought it was nice that we now had something in common.