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. Continue reading