As a little girl, I hated long car trips in the station wagon with my parents. They would smoke cigarettes at the same time and only crack the window. It made it hard for me to breathe. They were wrapped up in their own stresses from the car trip, while I was preoccupied with my desire to avoid the heavy tobacco smoke. One of them smoking would have been a challenge for me, but both at the same time was too difficult.
The culture surrounding smokers was not as restrictive as it is today. Adults could smoke anywhere and anytime. Even though they were in the car, not in a classroom, my elementary school teacher’s health lesson on the dangers of smoking went round and round in my head like a vinyl record on continuous play.
Finally, we stopped for gas at a gas station that had a general store filled with toys, trinkets, and souvenirs that would amaze any child. I was no different.
My mom saw me cruising the aisles of the store and approached me putting her arm around my shoulder. “Choose one thing,” she said with a smile. I was their only child, so they often indulged my wishes.
She must have understood how a toy from countless options would tempt any child. She reached into her wallet and pulled out a crisp bill, “Keep it at one dollar.”
Fantasizing about what to buy was almost as exciting as choosing the toy and playing with it. I went up and down each aisle again, doing mental gymnastics over what I would purchase.
After what felt like a blissful eternity, I had narrowed my choice down to two things: an empty corn cob pipe and a little monkey that would puff smoke from a fake, small cigarette of rolled paper that would require an adult to light the paper first.
Since the corn cob would not need adult help and supervision to enjoy and play with, I eliminated the monkey and chose the pipe. “Why did you choose this, Desi (my mom’s nickname for me, a shortened version of my middle name)?”, she asked. “It’s a gift,” I decided, beaming with a smile. I had a new and bigger reason to choose it that came to mind at that moment. The cashier put it in a small bag and handed it to me.
Once we were all three back in the car, but before they were ready to go the distance with more