For the first time this year I saw my breath while outside with the dogs. Exhaling a plume of steam was always a thrill as a child. We'd giggle and pull out our pack o' cigs. They were in all the stores along with Snicker bars or Butternut bars. Candy cigarettes. While pretending to be grownups we would slip one out of the pack and poke it in our mouths. A heavy inhale of powdery sweet would be followed by a slow exhale producing a thick cloud of fog. It was our breath's moisture condensing in the cold outside our warm bodies. Maybe that was the reality but to us we were grownups in a make believe world and it was smoke from our cigarettes.
We all baought them. White sugar sticks with a dot of red food coloring at the tip. They came in a pack similar to the real thing. The names might be cute knockoff ssuch as Lickies for Luckies or Carmels for Camels. A child's introduction to the physical comforts of smoking. Half the addictive power of a cigarette in the adult world was the action of smoking the cancer sticks. How to hold one we learned by observation. We became familiar with the space between the first two fingers holding the candy stick. A quick flick of the thumb would rid the end of accumulating ash. Held between the forefinger and thumb hid the fake red glow as if we smoked in an open battle field. Palming a smoke kept those WWII snipers from zeroing in our our glowing ends.
We saw Germans in movies holding their cigarettes between tuhmb and forfinger facing outwards from the palm. It gave us a hint when one of our friends might be a spy in our war games. It was a tell tale move forgotten in a moment of high pressure at which point we would point our fake guns directly at him shouting, "On the ground Kraut!"
I lit one once. I sneaked a box of matches from the kitchen and ran out side behind the garage. I slipped my smokes from my top pocket. It rattled as my last two shook inside the pack. I flipped the top and removed the next to last one jabbing it into my mouth. Returning the pack to my left breast pocket I then pulled the box of matches out. Pushing the tiny drawer our revealed layer upon layer of wood sticks with a round glob of red at one end. They were safety matches that could only produce fire when scratched along the side of the box. It was a relatively new type. I had wanted the big ones with the red ends tipped by a white portion. They were the coveted strike anywhere matches. In any Western movie the cowboy had a pocket of these. After he rolled a smoke he'd pull out one of these sturdy bits of wood and pop his thumb nail across the whte portion to release a spark igniting into flame which he would bring up to his tube of tobacco. They didn't have to use their thumbs. These beauties could be struck along their fannies, shoe soles, trees, desk tops or even the five o'clock shadowed chin of the bad guy. They were the best.
I could only find the safety match which worked fine when used against the specially prepared side of the box. Anyway, I took one out and changed the phosphorus to fire and stuck it to the end of my candy cigarette. You see I was a bandit in the old west, my horse tied to the tree beside me heaving from being chased by the town's posse. My saddle bags held the cash from the bank vault. Both my trusty steed and I needed a breather. Here behind this rock on a hill I waited to bushwhack those varmints hot on my trail. While looking out for them I need a smoke and my new fangled safety matches, ones I disdained being a bad guy, "Pshaw! I don't want matches that are safe! I want the dangerous kind!" No self respecting bad guy wanted anything that was safe but in a pinch...
I brought the small flame to the tip of my cigarette leaning my head to the right and cupping the flame the way I had seen my dad do in the wind. Did I mention it was windy on this hill where I awaited the dreaded good guys? Well, it was windy which played havoc trying to light a cigarette that had no draw to it. My match went out. I lit another. It whipped away with the wind. I scratched another. Gone with the wind. And another. Finally the wind died enough to hit the end with the heat of the flame. It melted. White drops of goo dripped onto my pants. Not only did it drip but it shortened the stick of candy set between my lips. I continue to follow the shortening candy stick as the drops fell one by one. I kept trying to light it til I burned the tip of my nose and dropped the match with an expletive heard round the neighborhood.
The wind contributed. The self indulgent concentration contributed. I dropped the matches. The cigarette had flown far away with the shout. I raised my hands as the good guys surrounded me. Caught. In the act. My mother began fussing as she removed the box of matches from my hands. I was told repeatedly that I was not to play with matches and blah blah blah...
"Ah, ma. They were safety matches. It says they are right there on the box." Us bad guys gotta uphold an image. A confusing thought for a five year old only trying to be grown up.