Writing stories to pass values from one generation to the next

Cigarettes in the Teepee

“Cigarettes in the Teepee” is an excerpt from my book Lines in the Gravel. The book promotes generational legacy through story by sharing the stories of one Mississippi family.

One thing I notice when I drive through rural Mississippi is the number of outbuildings that seemed to randomly spring up around a given house. My parents’ house is no different. In addition to my dad’s shop, he has multiple sheds, lean-to’s, and various and sundry other buildings. He once threatened to “throw a roof over the whole 28 acres and be done with it.” It was the sheer number of these buildings that allowed me to get away with “Cigarettes in the Teepee…” for a while.

Click here to read the title chapter: “Lines in the Gravel”

Cigarettes in the Teepee

When I was in seventh grade, I encountered peer pressure suddenly and with very little warning. It all started when I spent one Friday night at a new classmate’s house. Jeff’s dad and my dad had been friends in school, so my parents thought everything would be fine with my spending time at their house. They probably would have been right, too, if we had actually stayed in the house. Instead, we decided to be adventurous and sleep in the camper in the backyard. Throw in Jeff’s neighbor Pat and a pack of cigarettes, and I was facing more than I had bargained for. I wanted to fit in, so I joined them in smoking a few that night.

I suppose I thought that I was not only cool at that point but that I was also then a smoker. Dad quit smoking over 30 years ago, but at that time, he had a two-packs-a-day habit. I swiped a pack of his cigarettes and some kitchen matches to feed my new habit. I would steal out behind Dad’s shop for a smoke when no one else was home (not very often in a household of six). My hiding place for the cigarettes was just inside one of Dad’s sheds, against the wall and out of sight.

Now, you might get the idea that just to the side of a door of a shed was a bad place to hide contraband, but you have to know my parents. They were post-Depression kids who watched their parents struggle to make it through those lean years; as a result, they are very reluctant to throw anything away. Now, I wouldn’t classify them as hoarders, but they have numerous rooms and an increasing number of sheds full of stuff that the rest of us would have thrown away years ago. Maybe Dad was serious about “throwing a roof over the whole 28 acres and being done with it.”

cigarettes in the teepeeBack when I was a smoker, there were several outbuildings available from which to choose as a hiding place for “my” cigarettes: Dad’s shop, the air compressor room attached to the shop, a small metal building with sliding doors behind the house, the 4-House (a open-front shed with a large number 4 painted on one of the sheets of plywood), and the teepee shed (a small A-frame outpost near the shop). The shop and air compressor room were definitely out as Dad was a regular in both of them. Nobody frequented the metal shed, but it was right behind the house and its doors made too much noise—too conspicuous. The 4-House’s open front was too much of a risk for someone’s stumbling upon my stash. The teepee shed was small, unlit, and rarely used. I figured it would be the best hiding place for “my” Viceroys.

The cool factor of sneaking stolen smokes alone behind the shop wore off pretty quickly. However, I was in too deep now; I was a smoker, after all. One day, as I should have anticipated, the gig was up. Dad called me out to the teepee shed, showed me the cigarettes and matches he had come across, and asked me if they were mine. I suppose I could have truthfully told him no; to be exact, the cigarettes were his and the kitchen matches were Mom’s. I knew better than to try to slide on a technicality, though, so I ‘fessed up.

To my shock and great pleasure, Dad did not appear to be angry with me, as I had expected. He just nodded and seemed glad just to have identified the culprit. Then, in what had to be one of his riskiest moments ever as a parent, he suggested we light up and smoke one together since I was a smoker.

cigarettes in the teepeeI never saw it coming. He had started smoking when he was about 13, so I figured this was simply a coming-of-age ritual. Right out there by the teepee shed, I took a cigarette, exhibited a proficiency in lighting it, took a deep drag…and exhaled. I discovered that that was precisely the moment for which Dad was waiting.

“No, boy, if you’re gonna smoke it, smoke it right. Inhale!”

Inhale?!? Wait, that wasn’t part of the deal. I was just a boy; I couldn’t be expected to smoke like a grown man, could I? In that moment of creative parenting on the part of my dad, my identity as a smoker was gone more quickly than the puff of smoke that was still rising toward the sky. Though I must confess that I smoked a stray cigarette from time to time over the next few years before promising my lungs a poison-free life, I never again considered myself a smoker, no matter how many cool points that distinction may have been worth.

There are chapters of my book that have stood out to people who didn’t grow up in my hometown because the stories are so universal (at least the part of the universe in the South…and to some points beyond). I have heard from others who rummaged through the church closets to find something to make into a ball and something to hit it with after family night suppers. I have laughed as others have recounted their first-time experiences with smokeless tobacco. And though I haven’t heard from another reader who hid his cigarettes in the teepee, I know I’m not the first or the last kid to get caught smoking his daddy’s cigarettes.

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About Al Ainsworth

Al Ainsworth is a values storyteller. He works with individuals, businesses, churches, and other organizations to pass along their values through the stories they tell…and re-tell.

Al is the author of Lines in the Gravel, Stories from the Roller Coaster (of a Faith Life), and the Coach Dave series. Subscribe to his email list for more values storying.

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