My father was a great dad. As a child, I was given love, encouragement, sustenance, and all the basic necessities of life. He would bring me fishing, hunting, camping, to our many sporting events, and always had us children in church. For all this, we boys were still forced to do without one basic ingredient that in our young minds would have made us men.
Dad had a strict policy at our house that prevented his twelve and under aged sons from freely spitting tobacco juice all over the place. In fact, he was violently opposed to us having any form of tobacco on our person. The violence would have involved the back end of three boys.
He also mentioned making it part of our diet if we were caught with the “disgusting stuff”. If I recall correctly, his exact words were “If I catch you boys chewing that tobacco, I’ll stick a plug of it between two slices of bread and make you eat it!”
You would think such a threat would have had a deterring effect on us, but it just made us hide our little habit a tad better. We still had to walk to the little country store about two miles up the road to buy our tobacco. It was a hardship on my little nine year old legs and anyone could see this was unfair. Thankfully, this was before store owners were prevented from selling tobacco products to minors and all he required was cash in hand. At least HE understood our need as children.
Finally it seemed the day had come that dad had been brought to his senses. The day hope was allowed to enter our tender hearts and the light was visible at the end of the tunnel. The light would turn out to be a runaway train that never blew its whistle as it ran over our dream of freely parading around with tobacco pouches in our back pockets and not down the front of our pants.
“Boys! Come here a minute. I want to talk to ya’ll man to men.” I was glad to see he had finally noticed our manliness. I hopped up in the chair, feet hanging rather unmanlyish, and waited for the lecture.
“I know you have wanted to chew tobacco for some time now, so if you have some go ahead and get it out.” He should have been proud that he hadn’t raised any fools, but he seemed mildly disappointed when none of us dug down our pants for our “stash”. The thoughts of a tobacco sandwich still loomed large in my mind at least.
“Well, I hate the thought of you boys doing something behind my and your mother’s back, so if you ever want to chew that junk, all you have to do is ask. Is that clear?” We all nodded and it was at this time that the light became visible.
It was a few weeks, but my two older brothers finally talked me into asking. We were in a large store for that day and time in 1976. It wasn’t like the supermegagigantic stores we have today, but very impressive for this age of my childhood. Also, they sold tobacco.
Dad was in the sporting goods section trying out the limberness of a fly rod, and my brothers and I were down the next aisle going over our plan for tobacco freedom.
“All you have to do is ask. That’s what he said. Come on, Chuck. You’re the bravest one out of all of us.” Note right here that bravest could also be interpreted as dumbest, but to have my older brothers pour this praise on me was all I needed to summon the courage to confront dad.
I sauntered around the tackle boxes, pretending to be interested in the fishing lures hanging on the wall. There he was. I wiped my sweaty palms on my jeans. “Dad?”
“Remember when you said if we wanted to chew tobacco all we had to do was ask you?”
“Well, can we?”
Silence. The kind that envelopes you when you know you have been suckered, not only by two brothers who were snickering in the next aisle, but by your very own dad who had moved on to pick up another fishing rod.
“But you said all we had to do was ask.” A whine had now crept into my voice.
“That’s right. You asked and I said no. Why? Do you chew tobacco? Do I need to pick up a loaf of bread?”
He blinked and so I took the interval to race away in pursuit of two brothers whom I would never trust again. At least not until the next time they would trick me.
Dad had the name of being a hydrologist, something to do with measuring flood stages and river flows, but I think he secretly worked as an interrogator for the CIA. He just had the knack for extracting the truth.
In many ways, my tender psyche was probably bruised, but in those days we didn’t know any better and so we just went on being pretty normal. Still, I feel better suited for raising my two boys. I can’t wait until I can try out my truth extracting techniques out on them. In fact, the oldest one looks suspicious now.