When I think of smoking in Hastings I think of three things. The first involves my father. He owned an auto shop at 3rd & Lexington and owning a business means you have long hours so he’d often go in early and once in a great while I would come along. I learned then that he didn’t always go right to the work but occasionally went to The Islands Cafe.
When I think of the Islands Cafe an image like a modern commercial comes to mind. It’s a monochromatic blue with the only other color being golden brown pancakes. The air is filled with blueish cigarette smoke, the walls seem blue, enhanced by the fluorescent lights. The many shirts on the men are blue with white ovals over the pockets that say “Ed”, “Wayne”, “Roger”, “Lloyd”, and the like, while the middle-aged waitresses move around in blue uniforms with blue pads, and say things like, “How are you doing honey!”, and “What can I get for you today!” It smells in a cacophony of hot griddle grease, butter, engine oils, coffee, pancakes, toast, sausage, hair oils, and tobacco smoke.
This was the world of men. Men who, when barely older than I was, carried guns into war against the “Japs” and “Krauts”. Most of them had seen the hardest days of the depression and dust bowl. These experiences didn’t harden them but quite the contrary, they had easy smiles and a gentleness. They welcomed me with a smile and seemed interested in what I was doing which was confusing to me at that time in my life when I still felt awkward even about shaving.
They would chat about the important things in life. Who was having babies, what the children were doing or not doing, and who might be getting a divorce. Cars were important too with new features like automatic transmissions, air conditioning, and power brakes beginning to appear and compared. Weather too would come to mind and how it might affect the crops. And what was I going to do today and with my life? At the end of the food was just enough time for a cigarette, then plans for a coffee (and cigarette) break at the lounge at 10:00. Sustained now, off we’d go.
One of the more startling things to me now is to watch old movies, and TV shows and seeing all the smoking. Yet at the time this was a normal and casual part of life. For instance, when the snows were so bad that even my father didn’t go to work I felt cabin fever fast and wanted a snow adventure. My dad’s pack of cigarettes a day habit left him short of smokes more than once and my pleasd to walk or ride my bike to the store, three blocks away, became a childhood mission. With a note from my dad (I was too young to legally buy cigarettes) that he needed a cartoon of cigarettes and please let my boy bring them home, I went to the store. No problem with the cashier who was there. I was soon trudging back home with a carton of cigarettes, my black buckle up galoshes, and snow up to my knees, or trying to ride my bike through the drifts, carton in the carrier on the handlebars.
My father had a heart attack that nearly killed him when I was about five or six. Perhaps that made me sensitive to health dangers early and strongly. When I heard that some scientists had proclaimed cigarettes were dangerous to health I began a campaign with my father to quit. It was in the form of urging, suggesting, and making faces about how these things were disgusting. All seemingly to no avail for many years.
Imagine my surprise then when I was almost old enough to drive. Dad and mom were in the front seat of our car and I was in the back. It was early morning and we were returning from a Thanksgiving trip to aunt Lizzy and Oscar’s home in Mt Home, AR. From the back seat I saw my mother suddenly look over at my dad and say, “Clifford! When’s the last time you had a cigarette?!”
“Two days ago!”
“You quit!!! I didn’t even know. No wonder you’ve been in such a bad mood! Why now?”
“I reached for my pack and realized it was empty. I thought if I need to smoke more than one pack a day that’s enough.”
And that was the end of the matter. I felt at that moment that my goodness, life would now be different and I’d succeeded! He never smoked again and eventually got tired of even being around people who did. Over the next few years all his friends and family also gave it up. I imagine even the Islands Cafe got more color in it. As for me, my disgust of a product that addicted people and killed them carried on in my life so that I’ve never even tried a cigarette.
When I think of smoking in Hastings there are two other things that come to mind. One occurred for a couple weeks in the fall. I’d be out riding my bike as the leaves fell, and I’d be attempting to dodge them, or hit them so they’d stay on my jacket. With the sound of rakes people would be clearing their yards of leaves and slowly feeding the fires they’d set along the curbs. The air would be filled with the acrid smoke of burning leaves. Though it was a comforting return of the cycle of the seasons I didn’t like it so much. It was certainly not like the smell of pipe tobacco. It burned the throat and made my eyes feel dirty.
Do not be shocked by this ritual cleansing since it was a time, in my earliest memories, that people could still burn their trash in burn barrels in the city. Our burn barrel was rarely used but available in the backyard. It was a rusty oil drum and occasionally my mom would burn the hair from her beauty shop along with other things in it. That smelled even worse than the leaves and no one liked it. Sometime a couple years later others were using their barrels in the neighborhood, with my mother and her customers talking about how that was now illegal and they shouldn’t be doing it.
The Joy of DDT
There was one more thing that smoked in our neighborhood. Not grills as you might imagine. In fact I only remember them on camp outs or at the trailer house at the lake. They had not seen their ascendency in the realm of cooking yet.
What I remember was far more interesting. Generally it would be late in the day or early evening, the sun turning the houses golden. The boys of the neighborhood would be out riding bikes or trying out their new skate boards when the shout would go out that the fogger truck was in the neighborhood. The nomenclature is important. If it was the spray truck then a truck with a trailer would pull up next to the elm tree. On the trailer would be something that looked vaguely like a large cement mixer, only it had a fan with spray coming out the middle spraying high into the tree. They would show up about once a year for a few years in a vain attempt to save the elm trees under beetle attack in the city. One could only stand back in wonder at the height of the spray when this arrived.
But the shout of fogger truck meant fun! Our gang of Jacobis and Deals joined by other visitors from the area would hop on their bikes and ride off to intercept and follow it. Again a trailer would be pulled behind a pickup, only this machine had oil drums and something that looked more like a motor on it. At the back was the magic. It had this extension sticking out with about a 6-inch diameter cone of spray that met 4-inches out, roared, and turned into a thick gray-brown smoke.
For many years two, three, maybe four times a summer it would go through the neighborhood and we’d be riding through this smoke. It smelled of kerosene and maybe something else, probably the DDT, a wonderful new insecticide that was riding the world of disease carrying mosquitoes and other noxious bugs. No, parents did not warn us about the chemicals. Their only concern was for how hard it was to see cars. “Be careful!!!” they’d shout as we rode away, the princes of adventure.