Confession of a reformed smoker.

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Our first house in Balmain on harbour-waterfrontage bought for $12.500,- around 1968.

My first smoke was enjoyed by inhaling burning tobacco through a grass halm stuck into a hollowed out acorn. This pipe was handmade by me and the beginning of a promising artistic career. It was a primitive implement but it did work. That first draw was probably coughed out but I was hardened in persisting by the daily cod liver oil unguent given by my mum at earlier years. I was immensely proud of my resourcefulness even though the idea most likely came from other sources. I might have been about twelve or thirteen. A good age to explore. One can never be too young. A burning need the mother of all inventions.

From memory, my parents bought me the first real cigarettes in a packet of ten. It came after the pipe period. I am not sure what the occasion was. Perhaps a birthday or pure generosity of my parents wanting me to feel they thought I had reached a level of maturity cusping into an adulthood. We could question the wisdom but not the love of my parents. Smoking was almost obligatory and even doctors were quoted as promoting smoking in advertisement. Smoking was healthy. All movies showed smoking. I remember tapping the cigarette on the packet first before lighting up, with the élan of an Eva Gardner or even Humphrey Bogart.

It all happened while our family of eight lived here in a typical Dutch street in The Hague; We lived on the top storey and it had three bedrooms. Look closely at the steps going up! There were four entrances at the top of those stairs.

https://www.google.com.au/maps/@52.074276,4.26686,3a,75y,189.8h,90t/data=!3m4!1e1!3m2!1sX4t_DFwx_o1zKp1SGNZBQg!2e0

In those days milk would be delivered daily by a horse and carriage and the milkman. He would shout ‘milk’, not unreasonable because bread was delivered as well. He, the baker would shout ‘baker’. We also had a scrap- man coming around taking peelings and other food scraps away to be re-sold for animal feed. Most likely for contented pigs. He would make a living too. The scrap-man’s cart was pulled by a large ferocious looking dog that was tied underneath. I stayed well clear off his cart…

After the milkman shouted his presence my mum would shout back the number of litres she needed for that day. At the bottom of our internal stairs a bucket had been placed the previous night by dad. The bucket was enamel green in colour and covered by a cotton cloth. The same bucket used during the war to get soup from the communal soup kitchen! The milkman would then scoop the milk into the bucket and would do the same to all the occupants of the building at the top of those slated stairs leading to four apartments.

As the smoking got hold of me and not being able to fund the habit as readily as I would like, I had taken to buying single cigarettes with coins secreted away from out of the churches collection scoop. This scoop was connected to a long pole that would do the rows on Sunday church. I would put buttons in and take coins out. Many schoolboys would drop into the tobacco shop that smelt deliciously of rich cigars and pipes. We would light up in secret underneath stairs. There must have been some concern though, why did we try and hide it? It was a normal practise to do it in secret. It could be that this secretness added spice to this ritual of schoolboy smoking.

But let me get back to the milkman. One morning on my way to school going down those slated steps, I noticed an open cigarette paper holding some tobacco resting near the bottom of those stairs. Next to it was the almost full and bulging packet of Douwe Egbert’s tobacco. Was I finally being rewarded for having been so good? I did the washing up and laid the table for dinner. “Gerard is the best boy”, mum used to blackmail my brothers and sister with. Of course stealing money from the churches collection scoop was on a different level of ‘goodness’.

Without hesitation I pocketed in one swoop both the ready to roll cigarette paper and the whole packet of tobacco. What a find and how glorious a moment. I haven’t forgotten. However, and here comes the confession, the milkman who was a great aficionado and lover of tobacco, was scooping milk to the owners of the apartment on the right-hand side of those stairs and on the street. ( have a look ) He had just put his tobacco goodies to rest on the slates, ready for a nice reward afterwards. He was out of sight on those stairs going down. I instantly knew and understood the situation but also kept on walking! My heart was pounding. A significant event edged in my conscience. What should I have done? Confess my tobacco habit and dishonesty to the milkman, return sheepishly the tobacco? It wasn’t in me then.

I have always wondered since if the milkman had actually taken notice of me walking past. In any case, he would have been astounded discovering his tobacco had disappeared. If he did know who done it; would he confront me, or worse my father? We were a large family with great milk needs, a good customer! Did he chose to just let it go? I avoided eye contact with the milkman since.

A year later or so we migrated to Australia.

Ps. haven’t smoked for decades.

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37 Responses to “Confession of a reformed smoker.”

  1. Yvonne Says:

    Confession, they say, is good for the soul!

    Like

  2. M-R Says:

    CRIMINAL !😀

    Liked by 2 people

  3. berlioz1935 Says:

    Smoking is a nuisance. Our neighbour smokes outside only and the smoke drifts into our home when the windows are open.

    My father died of lung cancer. He smoked for a long time but had given up before he became ill. It did not save him.

    Like

    • gerard oosterman Says:

      I agree and gave up the habit many years ago. My dad smoked till the end but died of stomach cancer and other ailments at 78. My mum at 96 who never smoked but did like a glass of sherry or advokaat. I now see less people smoking but many do it while hiding it.

      Like

  4. Andrew Says:

    I was the only non-smoker in the family as an adult. I tried a few cigarettes and hated them A very occasional cigar did nothing to impress me. So I never pursued the vice. I did however drink copious quantities of milk. I think you chose the wrong route, Gerard. I do know that my mother started smoking at 14 and smoked until she died although she was down to maybe 2 a day in later years. My father smoked a pipe and I quite liked the smell but it all seemed too much hassle. I find cigarette smoke quite obnoxious now, even in the street. I will never be Humphrey Bogart.

    Like

    • gerard oosterman Says:

      I am tolerant of those that smoke as long as it is away from me and never inside my house. There are so many other bad habits. I mean, being addicted to xenophobia or admiring silly Knighthoods and/or pompous politicians.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. rod Says:

    Now we know the real reason you went to Australia – to keep well clear of the milkman!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. bkpyett Says:

    This is a wonderful post, capturing he it was back then Gerard. Thank you, too, for the Google picture of where you once lived.

    Like

  7. bkpyett Says:

    Why does my iPad change what I write? It should read ‘how’. Sorry.

    Like

  8. Silver in the Barn Says:

    I remember stealing “Old Gold” cigarettes from my grandmother’s purse at age 15. I put on some of her bright red lipstick and then lit up a cigarette and practiced my puffing in the dining room mirror. They found me later on the sofa, green around the gills, with the room swirling about me. Sadly, I persisted in spite of my body’s warnings, and ended up with a 30-plus year habit to conquer which I eventually did. It was beastly difficult and I still sometimes dream about puffing away.

    Like

  9. petspeopleandlife Says:

    Yep, cigarettes are bad, bad, bad! I’m glad you gave up the habit. I smoked off and on for many years.I was NOT considered a heavy smoker. Until 2 years ago when I became sick, I was smoking 2 per day.That was my evening reward. Stupid reward for the day and I wish that I had never begun the nasty habit.Now I can smell smoke and it makes me feel ill.

    Liked by 1 person

    • gerard oosterman Says:

      What do you reward yourself with now? I have a snack of cracker and cheese or a slice of salami, a glass of wine.

      Liked by 1 person

      • petspeopleandlife Says:

        I drink cup of hot peppermint tea and maybe a granola bar after supper. The tea is not actual tea. It’s made of peppermint leaves. I can’t drink even decaf coffee. Once in while I drink some decaf and then feel awful. I’ll be getting the afib fixed late February. Same procedure that Andrew had done 12/18/14. I should have had mine fixed about 2 months ago but I’ve been chicken and afraid something will go wrong. Can’t drink alcohol because that affects the afib too. But alcohol really makes me feel kinda awful. Not sure why. I can drink a tad and that is all.

        ~yvonne

        Like

  10. kaytisweetlandrasmussen83 Says:

    So many smoking stories! Mine began at 15 while watching for enemy planes atop a mountain in Oregon during the War, with a few Sen Sen afterwards to kill the smell. And of course, in those days, my mother was “clueless”.

    My grandfather called cigarettes “coffin nails”, but it didn’t stop my father from smoking everything during his life. My mother wouldn’t allow it in the house, but on the day she died, he sat in his chair and lit up.

    I stopped cold turkey 50 years ago, and Dr. A shortly after.

    Like

  11. Patti Kuche Says:

    What a naught boy!

    Remember when airlines had smoking sections down the back!!!

    Like

  12. Irene Waters 19 Writer Memoirist Says:

    Great story. Loved being able to see the actual building. Really added to the feeling of being there. I think you need something like this when you are young to let you know that you know it is not right to steal. For me it was beans when I was about 8 years old. Of course you should have given it back but if you had would you have had that attack of conscience that obviously makes you feel bad about it even today. If not for that you may have walked down the road to a life of crime.

    Like

  13. Master of Something Yet Says:

    My best friend in Grade 6 was a smoker. I was desperate to try but she tried to talk me out of it. One day she gave in, we hid in her garden shed and she lit one up for me. I took one puff, thought I heard someone coming and panicked. The ciggie was quickly disposed of and I never tried again. I don’t think I was cut out for a nefarious life. Maybe it’s a boy thing. (Although, mine primarily steal junk food from the pantry rather than tobacco.)

    Like

  14. Lottie Nevin Says:

    It’s an absolutely filthy habit and I wish that I’d never started. That said, I’ve not had a cigarette for 7 months😀😀😀

    Like

    • gerard oosterman Says:

      Good one Lottie. What an achievement. You are Ok now. Saving a fortune and above all your health. ( not compromising on your robust health) Winter almost over?

      Like

      • Lottie Nevin Says:

        No, not yet. It’s very cold here, snow on the ground and biting winds today (not mine) – in a few weeks it will be a different story. I’ve enjoyed this winter so far – much drier and crisper than last year🙂

        Like

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