Talk about a milestone! On July 10, my husband says, he will smoke his pipe for the last time. And for the first time in almost 65 years, I will live in a smoke-free house.
Scott smoked cigarettes when I met him. I didn’t think much about it. After all, in the 1960s, smoking was considered “cool.” In the mid-70s he switched to a pipe. We’d heard the cancer warnings by then, and the pipe was said to be safer, because the smoker didn’t inhale.
Safer for him, maybe. The American Cancer Society hadn’t told us yet that secondhand smoke causes 46,000 deaths from heart disease and 3,400 from lung cancer annually.
Okay for Sherlock Holmes, maybe ...
Recently Scott’s dentist spotted a lesion (leukoplakia, termed precancerous) in his mouth, right where the pipe stem rests. He was ordered to stop smoking, and he’s been tapering off for several months. July 10 is his birthday, and he’ll treat himself to one last pipe before quitting forever.
I never wanted to smoke. I saw the bad side from the start. My parents smoked constantly. As a toddler I got burned by adults who carelessly held cigarettes at my level. My eyes swelled and stung in a smoky car. And I know smoking shortened my parents’ lives. Mom, in particular, couldn’t break the habit even after a debilitating stroke in her fifties. It was pathetic to see her try to light cigarettes with fingers that didn’t work anymore.
I observed to Scott that if he quit, the house would stay cleaner. “You’re right,” he agreed. “The windows in my office always have white film on them.”
“Your lungs probably do, too,” I replied.
“Oh, no,” he reminded me. “Pipe smokers don’t inhale.” Neither do windows, honey.
It always bothered me that if strangers asked Scott to put out his pipe because the smoke bothered them, he would always acquiesce politely, but he’d never do it for me. The situation escalated until it pushed me into song parody.
I’m breathing secondhand smoke,
Can’t get away from secondhand smoke.
Everywhere I go somebody’s puffing.
All that air pollution leaves me huffing.
Cough, croak, and choke.
It’s not a joke.
I never get to draw a breath that’s free.
Even Jake, my lover, he’s a total disgrace.
When we’re done, he lights up and blows smoke in my face …
(To set the record straight, I don’t have a lover named Jake. It’s a riff on “Jake the plumber” in the original song, which of course is Secondhand Rose, written by Grant Clarke and James F. Hanley for the Ziegfeld Follies of 1921 and popularized by Fanny Brice and Barbra Streisand.)
But those days are over. Scott’s going to get rid of his pipes and tobacco so he won’t be tempted. We can’t lose the ashtrays, though. Our son may be coming home for the holidays. Oh yeah, despite all my rhetoric, that’s our son at left.
Maybe I’ll make him stay in a hotel.