My two-and-a-half-years-older-than-me brother came to me one day with an evil secret. We were behind the barn, and no one was around. Reaching into his pocket, he produced an almost empty pack of Kool cigarettes. Then he stuffed them back into his pocket and started talking.
“Wanta go down in the woods and smoke?” he asked with a nervous smile and persuasive gesture toward the woods behind our house.
At the time, I was 7 or 8 years old, and I had already heard about the evils of tobacco. Daddy smoked a pipe. He didn’t inhale, but the pipe tobacco was very strong, and the smoke bit his tongue. Riding home from visits with family on Sunday afternoons, I hated being stuck in the back seat behind him, because he would spit out the window when he bit his pipe stem, and the smoke bit him back. Unless I was paying close attention and was able to duck very quickly, I would get showered. His spitting habit was almost as bad as if he had been a tobacco chewer instead of a pipe puffer.
With all that and more running through my mind, I should have said, “No indeed, I’m not smoking those nasty things! I’m telling Mother on you.” Then I should have run to the house screaming for my mother or grandmother to protect me, so I could live long enough to tattle.
Instead, sucked in by temptation, I took a step toward the enticing offer.
“Where in the world did you get them thangs?” I drawled, straining to sound indifferent.
“I found ‘em. They was just layin’ there on the sidewalk. Somebody musta dropped ‘em. Nobody was lookin’ so I picked ‘em up…come on let’s try ‘em.”
Well, my conscience bothered me, but the cigarettes were Kool and I wanted to be cool, too…so I yielded to temptation and joined him in going down the wrong path.
When we got to the creek, an unnamed stream that my grandmother referred to as “The Branch,” we ducked under the washed out bridge where a road used to cross the little stream years before. He struck a match and showed me how to “light up.” It was pretty obvious he had been practicing!
Bell, our jenny-mule, was there, too. Bell watching me commit such a terrible sin really made me feel guilty. I suppose I was afraid God might give her the ability to speak, like He did with Balaam’s donkey, and she would tell on me for being so bad. Still, my guilty conscience failed to snuff out the craving. We repeated our transgression several times over the next couple of years.
I always wondered why my brother only found Kools…never Camels, Lucky Strikes, or Chesterfields. The fact that they were mentholated with a cork tip – that was before filters – made them quite mild, so I never complained. In my mind, I speculated that he got them from the machine at the Town House Hotel, near Playl Electric. Quarter a pack. I figured he smoked half the pack then said he had found them on the street.
Decades after the fact…years after a cigarette touched my lips…I made a connection, in my mind, between those “cancer sticks” and the Kools our piano teacher, Mrs. Taliaffero, smoked. Hmmm…is it possible that he actually stole some of her Kools, or maybe she sent him to a cigarette machine to buy her a pack of Kools, and he bought two – one for her and one for us?
Whether he stole, lied and smoked…or just lied and smoked…is not my concern; I am responsible for MY actions. I should have resisted temptation and run the other way.
To be honest, I have done much worse things throughout my life. Thankfully, God is a forgiving God. I have prayed for His grace and forgiveness more times than I can count.
John said, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
--Steve Playl can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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