Little Sister's Big Christmas

(by slimv2001@yahoo.com, 17 December 2006)


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Little Sister's Big Christmas
By:  slimv


My wife and I just returned from celebrating Christmas at my parent's house.
It was a family reunion of sorts.  My sister, her husband and their two kids
came.  Their daughters and my sons get along well as far as cousins are
concerned.  My parents live in the suburbs of Atlanta in the same house where
my sister and I grew up.  We spent two days there and I relived a lot of
memories from my youth, memories I think about often but rarely discuss.

I'm 44 now.  My sister is 40.  We're closer now than we were when we were
growing up.  It wasn't that we didn't like each other.  It's just that she
was a girl and I was a boy.  There was also the age difference.  She was a
kid and I felt so much older, at least for the first part of our youth.
Things changed when she was ten.  That's when I started to see her as
something more than a kid.

My sister's name is Pam.  She's a beautiful woman.  Her hair is dark brown
like our mother's.  She has more gray hair than our mom but that's because
our mother dyes hers, something she wants Pam to start doing.

Pam is a smoker - like our mother.  Her daughters and her husband are always
after her to quit.  She tells them the same thing our mother told us when we
were young.  She tells them she'll quit some day, but not now - she just
isn't ready.  At sixty-four, our mother still isn't ready to quit, though our
dad gave it up five years ago.

Pam smokes Benson & Hedges in the gold pack, the same brand our parents used
to smoke.  Our mom switched to ultra-lights after our dad quit, but I saw her
smoking my sister's cigarettes at Christmas.  She really seemed to enjoy them
and I wouldn't be surprised if she bought a carton after we left.

This story, for the most part, has to do with smoking.  It's something I
think about a lot and I can't think of a better place on the web to share my
memories.  Smoking is socially taboo these days, but it wasn't like that when
my sister and I were growing up.  It was just a bad habit that our parents
wanted us to avoid like the plague.  It was something they were very vocal
about and I expect that had a lot to do with fueling my fascination for the
habit.

You'd think I'd be used to it by now, after growing up in a house where both
parents smoked and marrying a woman that smokes like a chimney, but I'm still
fascinated and intrigued by the sight of a woman inhaling noxious fumes into
her body.  I never felt that way about men smoking, but it did seem grown-up
nonetheless.  Any way, seeing my sister smoking with my mom brought back a
lot of incredible memories that I treasure to this day.

This story is primarily about my sister but it starts with me.  If you're
like me and if I'm like you, you'll understand.  You might not be able to
explain it but you'll understand.  When I was a kid, I wanted to smoke like
my parents.  I thought it would be so cool to light up in front of them and
other adults.  Look at me, I'd think.  I'm smoking like a grown-up!  Aren't I
cool?  But of course it wasn't that simple.  My parents told me that smoking
was bad.  Bad?  How could that be?  How could something that looked so cool
be bad?

My parents would tell my sister and I that only bad kids smoked.  Okay.  So
maybe this was true.  All the kids I knew that smoked when I was younger were
on the bad side, but in hindsight, I think I thought they were bad because
they were sneaking around.  There were a few kids my age that smoked openly
with their parent's permission and these kids were exceptions to the rule.
My parents told me they had a made a mistake and were living with the
consequences of the actions.

A mistake?  How could this be, I wondered?  Consequences?  I was confused.
Being good parents, my parents tried to ease my confusion by explaining the
word "addiction".  I listened intently as they told me how they didn't want
to smoke but they couldn't help it.  They were addicted to cigarettes.  They
wanted to quit but they couldn't.  They had to smoke.  I nodded, pretending
to understand, but I didn't.  I could think of a million reasons why someone
would want to start smoking but I couldn't think of a single reason for
someone to quit.  All I could think about was starting.  Trying to quit was
the last thing on my mind, especially since I hadn't started yet.

Being good parents, they came up with the brilliant idea to dissuade my
sister and I from starting.  Actually it wasn't their idea.  It was a concept
they had borrowed from one of their friends.  They decided to discourage Pam
and I from smoking by encouraging us to try it.

This happened during Christmas break.  I was 14 and Pam was 10 when our
parents called us into the kitchen for our lesson.  I was older and the
lesson was meant for me but they thought it would be in Pam's best interest
to suffer along with me.

"Have you ever wondered what smoking is like?" asked my mother.

I had wondered, but didn't admit to it.  My sister shook her head vehemently.
She was a nice girl, young and innocent.  I didn't think the thought of
smoking had ever crossed her mind.

"We want you to try it," said our father.  "Just so you'll know what it's
like.  Of course we hope you won't like it, but that's the idea."

"But I don't want to smoke," cried Pam.

"Your father and I don't want you to either.  That's why we want you to try
it now.  We think you'll hate it so much; you'll never want to do it again.
We hope this will be your first time and your last time."
 
Pam seemed reassured by our mother's words.  I was just plain damn excited.
I couldn't wait, but I put on my best poker face, trying to seem nonchalant.

"Take one," said my mom, as she offered me her pack while Dad gave Pam one of
his.  I fought the urge to laugh as I caught a glimpse of my sweet little
sister with the big cigarette between her small fingers.  Me on the other
hand, well, I'm sure I looked cool.  I was fourteen after all.  

My mom lit a cigarette for her self and held the open flame for me to dip the
cigarette.  I took a small puff and blew out the smoke without inhaling.  The
smoke was hot and bitter and I was somewhat disgusted by the taste.  I can't
remember exactly what I expected, but it was not the "rich" flavor that was
touted in the magazine advertisements.

Pam gawked as I took another gentle puff from the cigarette.  Her cigarette
was still unlit and I wholeheartedly expected her to talk mom and dad out of
making her smoke. 

"You're not doing it right," said my dad.  "You have to breath the smoke in
like this," said my father, as he demonstrated for Pam's benefit and mine.

"Like this?" I asked as I returned the cigarette to my lips and took a drag.
This time I opened my mouth and inhaled.  Any thought of being or looking
cool sailed right out of my mouth with half my lungs.  I felt as if I had
inhaled fire.  I didn't have a mirror to look at, but if I had, I'm sure I
would have seen the eyes pop out of my face.  Nausea leapt up my throat as I
dropped the cigarette to the table and clutched my belly in a coughing fit.

I heard Pam scream.  The last thing she wanted to do was end up like me.

"Do it," said my father firmly, as he held the lighter to her face.

I was wiping the tears from my eyes as I saw my mom nod her head.  Pam was
not getting out of it.  Knowing what was in store for her, my heart bled.  I
wondered if this was somehow my fault.  Perhaps I had unwittingly telegraphed
my curiosity for smoking and this was punishment.  At the same time, I was
almost thrilled to see the tip of the long cigarette catch the flame from my
father's lighter.

"Suck on it like a straw," said my mother.

"And remember to breath in," said my dad.

Pam's eyes grew large as her cheeks caved in, making the end of her cigarette
glow hot and red.  I watched as her small mouth opened to introduce the smoke
to her lungs.  I saw the fear in her eyes and waited for the eruption that
was soon to follow.

Her little chest expanded and fell as she inhaled and exhaled her first puff
of smoke.  The cloud of smoke was heavy and cone shaped, just like when our
parents did it.  The look on her face said she was afraid but she was
definitely not in pain.  If anything, she seemed sad.

My dad tried to explain it by saying she hadn't taken a big enough puff or
maybe she hadn't inhaled deep enough.

My mother demanded that she do it again.

I watched as Pam returned the cigarette to her lips and took another puff,
this one was much deeper than the first, but yielding the same results.  My
sister inhaled and exhaled.  My sister was smoking!

"Have you done this before?" asked my mother.  "Tell us the truth Pam!  Have
you been smoking behind our backs?"

Pam started to cry.  "I'm so sorry Mommy.  I won't do it again."

This time it was my parent's turn to look afraid.

"Oh honey," said my mother as she reached for Pam's hand, the one that wasn't
holding a cigarette.  "When did you start?  How long have you been smoking?"

Pam admitted to starting two years earlier at the age of eight.  We were all
dumbfounded.  How had she been able to do it so long without getting caught?

"Why didn't you tell us earlier?" asked my father.

"I thought you'd be mad.  I didn't want you to know.  I tried to quit," cried
Pam.  "But I couldn't.  I'm so sorry Daddy.  It's like you and Mommy said.  I
don't want to do it.  I really don't!  But I keep doing it even though I
don't want to."

"Oh sweetie," said my mother as she got up from the table and threw her arms
around Pam.  "Its not your fault.  The reason you can't stop is because
you're addicted like Mommy and Daddy.  Oh Baby!  I'm so sorry.  If only we
had known earlier.  We could have helped you before it was too late."

Too late?  Too late for what, I wondered?  What were my parents going to do?
She was only ten years old for crying out loud.  They couldn't just let her
keep smoking, could they?

"I think you better go to bed now John," said my father.  "Your mother and I
need to talk to your sister alone."

"What are you talking about,?" I asked.  "Its only 9:00.  It's Pam's bedtime,
not mine.  I don't go to bed until ten."

"You heard your father," said my mother.  "Go to bed."

I left without looking back as I walked up the stairs.  What were they going
to do to Pam?  What were they going to say?  I had to know.  This was too
weird.  It couldn't be happening.  I'd just seen my little sister smoking.
And she'd been doing it for two years.  My mother said she was addicted like
her and Dad.  I knew what it meant but I didn't want to believe it.  If what
I was thinking was going to happen for real then everything would be
different.  It was too weird to think about it but I did think about it.  I
lay in my bed and wondered what was happening in the kitchen beneath me.  I
wondered until my head hurt so bad from the pain of not knowing that I had to
close my eyes to make it stop hurting, all the while tasting the residue of
my mother's cigarette as it clung to the insides of my cheeks. 

I woke up the next morning, wanting to believe the night before had been a
dream.  I threw on a tee shirt and some jeans and went down stairs.  I heard
voices from the kitchen and I turned the corner.  Everyone was awake.  I
wondered if they had stayed up all night.

Pam and my mother were still in their nightgowns.  Dad was dressed and
sitting at the table, his face hidden behind a newspaper.  Mom was pouring
herself a cup of coffee.  She asked me if I wanted some orange juice.  I
shook my head no and looked at Pam.  She looked miserable so I guessed she'd
really gotten into trouble.  My dad's pack of Benson & Hedges was sitting
next to her.  

My dad said good morning as he laid the paper on his lap.  There was another
pack of cigarettes on the table in front of him, beside his mug of coffee.
My mom reached into the pocket of her silk housecoat and pulled out a pack of
Benson & Hedges and a lighter.  She told me to sit down, saying they had
something important to talk to me about.  My stomach felt funny, almost sick
as I pulled out the same chair I had sat in the night before and took a seat.

A feeling of numbness came over me as my dad lit a cigarette and started
talking about the night before.  My mom was already smoking.  I was halfway
listening to my father but most of my attention was directed to the pack of
Benson & Hedges in front of my sister.  Pam's right hand was lying
precariously close to the pack.  It looked like her's even though every brain
cell in my head tried to convince me otherwise.  The cigarettes weren't
Pam's.  They were just there, probably empty - waiting for one of my parents
to throw it away.  She's only ten I reasoned.  But what about last night?

"We have to talk about last night," began my father as smoke crept past his
lips, punctuating his syllables.  "I'm sorry you had to go through that.  I
know you didn't like it, but your mother and I felt it was for your own
good."

"Smoking is so bad," interrupted my mother.  "You're father and I have
worried about you for some time now.  We've seen the way you look at us when
we smoke.  We could tell you were curious.  It's just that we thought we
could put an end to it if you tried it your self."

"We didn't think you'd like it," said my father.  "And you didn't.  You're
mom and I were halfway afraid you'd already started."

"We never thought about Pam smoking," said my mother.  "We thought she was
too young.  It was the last thing we expected.  If only she had come to us
sooner, before she became addicted, maybe we could have done something to
help her stop."

I looked over at my sister who was fidgeting in her seat in front of the
cigarettes.  She looked embarrassed but she didn't look surprised.
Apparently mom and dad had briefed her beforehand on what they were saying to
me.

"Your sister made a mistake John," said my father.  "She started smoking and
now she can't stop."  He was going to say something else, but a tear formed
at the corner of his eye and he choked on his words.

"She's addicted," said my mother, as if the word would help me make sense of
things.  "It's too late for Pam, but its not too late for you.  We want you
to learn from her mistake, and ours."

Pam, who had been sitting quietly like a mannequin, reached for the pack of
Benson & Hedges in front of her.  What was she doing?  Was she really putting
a cigarette between her lips?  She was.  But why?  I saw it but I couldn't
believe it was really happening.  Why weren't mom and dad saying something to
her?  Why wasn't someone yelling?

I watched as my dad picked up his lighter and solemnly did his duty by
lighting his daughter's cigarette the way he did for his wife. Pam hallowed
her cheeks and pulled on the cigarette causing the tip to glow an angry
menacing shade of red.  The cigarette looked so dangerous with its hot end.
I thought that if she wasn't careful she could hurt herself with it or maybe
even burn the house down.  Little kids and fire just don't mix.  Everyone
knows that!  So what was going on?

Pam fixed her young eyes on me and exhaled across the table in my direction,
the way my mother does when she wants to get my attention.

"I don't want to smoke," she said to me sincerely.  "But I can't help it.  I
feel so bad when I don't do it."

"I know you don't understand," said my mother.  "You can't, because you're
not a smoker like we are and none of us ever want you know.  Isn't that right
Pam?"

"That's right," said Pam as she exhaled a generous amount of smoke into the
room.  My parents didn't see her smile, but I did.  That's when I knew the
power had shifted from me to her.  And she knew it too.  "It's awful to be
addicted to these things," she said as she held the cigarette out for me to
study before returning it her lips for another puff.  "I feel like a slave to
them.  Mommy and Daddy say I'll have to smoke every day for the rest of my
life, just like they do."

"Its true," said my father.  "She won't be able to go anywhere without her
cigarettes now.  Isn't that awful?"

"But what about school?" I asked.  "She can't smoke in school.  She's only
ten."

"She can when she gets too high school," said my mother, "but until then,
I'll have to home school her so she can smoke."

"She doesn't have to go to school any more?" I asked incredulously.

"Its still school," said my father.  "It's just at home.  This is going to be
a real hardship for your mother."

"How much are you going to let her smoke?" I asked.

"What do you mean?" asked my dad.

"I mean.  She's only ten.  She's just a kid.  You aren't going to let her
smoke all the time like you and Mom, are you?  What about other people?  Its
Christmas and grandma and grandpa are coming over.  You're not going to let
her smoke in front of them and our cousins, are you?"

If I had any questions about Pam's lack of remorse, it was suddenly put to
rest as Pam shook her head and grinned as if I'd said the most stupid thing
in the world.  She inhaled deeply and exhaled through her nose.

"Of course she's going to smoke in front of your grand parents and your
cousins," said my father.  "She's a smoker now.  We called your grand parents
and your aunts and uncles last night after you went to bed and explained the
situation to them, so they could tell your cousins."

"Mommy and Daddy said I don't have to sit at the kid's table this year for
dinner," said Pam as she blew her smoke in my direction.  "They said I could
sit at the grown-up table."

"What?  You can't do that," I said.  "I'm the oldest.  If anyone sits at the
grown-up table, it should be me."

"But all the grown-ups are smokers," said my dad.  "You wouldn't be happy
eating at our table and you and the other kids wouldn't be happy with Pam
smoking at your table.  It's the only way," he said.

"What about after dinner?" I asked.  "Won't Pam have to help us clean up the
dishes while you and the grown-ups smoke cigarettes and drink coffee?"

My mom looked at me like I was crazy.  "Honey, you know the grown-ups always
smoke and chat after dinner.  It's the way we've always done it.  The
grown-ups make dinner and the kids clean it up.  Don't you understand honey?
Your sister isn't a kid any more and you have to stop thinking of her as one.
That's why we're having this conversation."

I watched my mom's face, searching for the smile that never came.  Surely she
was joking.  Had they gone insane?  I watched as my sister put out her
cigarette in the ashtray and removed a fresh one from "her" pack of Benson &
Hedges.  My dad smiled lovingly at her as he lit her up.

"Thanks Daddy," said Pam as she exhaled.

"Any time Pumpkin," said my father.

"What about me?" asked my mother as she held her cigarette for my father to
light.

As I sat across the table watching the three of them smoke, I realized the
gravity of the situation.  I was dumbfounded but awed at the same time.  I
felt humiliated.  I was no longer Pam's big brother.  She was a smoker like
my parents.  She was an adult and I was a kid.  It was too much to digest all
at once so I stood up from the table and began to leave.

"Are we clear about this?" asked my mother.

I nodded my head yes.

"There are only three smokers in this house young man," said my father.  "If
any of the three of us catch you smoking, there will be hell to pay.  Do we
understand each other?"

I nodded my head and left the kitchen for my room.

*****

This was turning out to be the most memorable Christmas of my life.  In two
more days, our extended family would come for the annual celebration.  Our
house was the biggest and most central to everyone, so that's why we had it
at my parents and why we still do to this day.  I wondered what grandma and
grandpa would say when they saw Pam smoking.  What would my cousins think?
For that matter, what did I think?  I was still stunned.

It wasn't fair.  I was fourteen.  Pam was only ten.  If anyone was going to
be a smoker, it should be me.  But I had tried it and failed.  Of course my
parents hadn't done it as a test.  They had done it to prove a point, and in
a way they had succeeded.  My lungs still burned from that night in the
kitchen.  

I still thought smoking looked cool and grown-up, but I couldn't comprehend
how anyone could do it without coughing his or her lungs up, much less enjoy
it.  But I knew for a fact that adults like my mom and dad enjoy smoking.  It
gives them pleasure.  And over the next two days, I convinced my self that
Pam enjoyed smoking as well.

At first I thought Pam might smoke just a little bit.  You know, every now
and then, but it wasn't like that at all.  After the first day, it became
very clear to me that Pam was smoking as much as my parents.  It was
difficult, but I slowly began to accept the fact that my little sister was a
real smoker.

Later that night, my dad tried to ease the sting by taking us out to dinner
and a movie.  But it felt like salt being rubbed in my wounds.  It was a big
night for Pam.  I guess you'd say it was her debut as a woman.  I never saw
my little sister again after that night.

My mom taught Pam how to use and wear make-up that night.  I have to admit
she looked very pretty.  She caught a lot of people's eyes that night.  It
wasn't that anyone would mistake her for a thirty-year-old woman or anything
like that.  But all it took was one look to know she wasn't your average ten
year old.  I don't know if it was because of my age, I was only 14 at the
time, and my admiration for opposite sex was in its infancy, but Pam had a
look of style and respectability about her.  The make-up had a lot to do with
it but the cigarettes were what pushed her over the edge and made people
stand up and notice her.

That was also the night she traded in her little clear plastic toy purse for
one of our mother's real purses.  The thing was made of brown leather and was
half as big as she was.  My mom told her she needed a big purse to carry all
the things ladies need, like make-up, money and of course cigarettes and
lighters.  My mom gave her two packs of cigarettes that night to put in her
purse.  She showed Pam how to place the open pack and the lighter in the
upper pocket so that the top of the cigarette pack would peak out of the
purse so she could find them easily.  Otherwise, she'd have to rummage
through her purse to find them and that was just too inconvenient.  Pam tried
not to show it but I could tell she was excited about people being able to
see the cigarettes in her purse when she had it slung over shoulder.  And
people did see them.  I noticed them looking when we were standing in the
restaurant lobby waiting to be seated in the smoking section.

It was such a big night for her since it was the first time she'd ever smoked
in public.  The first thing she did after we were seated was to take her
cigarettes from her purse and place them on the table in front of her like my
mom did.  My dad kept his in his shirt pocket.  I thought about the night
before and maybe if I hadn't coughed my lungs out and acted like a baby, well
maybe I could have had a pack of cigarettes in my shirt pocket as well.  But
things hadn't worked out like that and my shirt pocket was empty.

She looked so self-conscious and excited.  I felt as if I could read her
mind.  When should she light her first cigarette?  Should she wait until our
parents did it first?  Was it really all right if she did it?  Would they
change their mind?  All these questions and many more flashed across her eyes
as she looked at her pack of Benson & Hedges sitting on the table.

My dad lit up first but my mom waited until after she given her order to the
waitress.  Pam and I both knew that this was her cue.  I watched as she
placed her small hand on the big gold pack.  That alone was enough to send
shivers across my spine.  I was living the moment through my sister's eyes or
at least I believed I was.  I felt her fear.  I felt her excitement and I
urged her on mentally.

She picked up the pack and looked around the restaurant to see if anyone was
watching her.  Not surprisingly, several people were, but none of them looked
disgusted or annoyed.  I think they shared my fascination.  Not that I think
they had a fetish, but it isn't every day you see a well dressed ten year old
girl smoking in a public placein front of her family.  Maybe it would have
been different if we looked like trailer trash, but we were a good family.
We went to church every Sunday and were active in our community.  Pam was a
good girl.  A good girl that smokes, I thought to myself as she removed the
long white cigarette from the pack.

Several thoughts flashed through my mind as Pam placed the cigarette between
her lips and picked up the lighter.  The first thought was that practically
every eye in the restaurant was focused on my sister.  I'm fairly shy, and I
don't think I could have lasted through the attention she was receiving.  I
thought about the things my parents had told me at breakfast when they broke
the news of Pam's new status as a smoker.  They told me that Pam needed to
smoke.  So this wasn't something she wanted to do?  The look on her face
betrayed my parent's explanation.  I was torn between the idea of Pam wanting
or needing to smoke.  Which was it?  What would happen to her if they stopped
making cigarettes tomorrow?  Would she melt?  Would she get sick?  I
remembered what my mother said about not being able to help herself.  My
sister is an addict.  It made me kind of excited to think my sister couldn't
quit smoking, even if she wanted to.  But why in the world would she want to
quit?  

Her cheeks grew red with embarrassment as she lit her cigarette in front of
us and in front of the world.  I watched as her small mouth opened.  I could
see a creamy ball of thick white smoke and then it disappeared down her
throat only to reappear seconds later in the form of large gray cloud that
that began at her lips and spread across the table.  How could she do that, I
wondered?  It had been so hard for me but Pam made it look so easy!  My
sister is a smoker!  I was so proud of her.

The words came out of my mouth without thinking.  "You look pretty when you
smoke," I said.

My comment made her smile.  It made my parents smile too.  It was important
to them that I accept my sister as one of them - a smoker and a grown up.
They had drawn a dividing line between us and it was important that I respect
that line.  I was beginning to see my place in the pecking order and it was
well below my sister's place.  She was one of them now.  

As I sat through dinner, I wondered what it would be like for Pam when the
relatives arrived for Christmas.  Mom had said she'd told them.  She may have
softened the surprise by giving away the punch line, but watching her as she
sat across the table from me smoking, I couldn't imagine them not taking
notice.  How would they react?  What would they say?  Would they ostracize
her or would they embrace her new habit?  Would the adult smokers accept Pam
as one of their own?  What would our cousins say?

***Christmas Eve***

My grandparents on my mother's side were the first to arrive on Christmas
Eve.  They were in their early sixties, I think.  Grandma was a good looking
woman for her age.  The things I remember most about here was her dyed red
hair stacked high on her head.  She wore glasses with a chain around her neck
and her breasts were massive.  She also smoked those long brown cigarettes
called More that come in a red pack.  She always left remnants of her red
lipstick on my cheek, which she wiped away with spit-covered tissue from her
purse.  It was a kind of gross, but I loved the way she smelled.  My grandpa
didn't smoke cigarettes.  He smoked cigars - the big smelly kind.

My sister and I were watching TV on the couch when they came in the front
door without knocking.  I was more reserved.  After all, I was 14 and
supposedly cool.  It's not cool to get up from the couch yelling and
screaming in a rush to hug your grandparents.  But Pam, being 10, didn't
abide by the same rules.  She was up in a flash, running across the room with
her big gold pack of Benson & Hedges in tow.

"Guess what I can do now Grandpa?" shouted Pam as she bounded across the room
to give the old man a hug.

"What Pumpkin?" said my grandfather as he picked her up.

"I can smoke," shouted Pam enthusiastically as she shoved her pack of
cigarettes in front of the old man's face.

"I believe you," said Grandpa as a chuckle escaped him.  "You smell like a
little chimney.  Do you like it?"

"I love it," squealed Pam.  "It makes me feel soooo good!  Wanna see me do
it?  Can I show you?"

"Of course you can sweetheart."

"Come on Grandpa.  Come on Grandma," said Pam as she took them by their hands
and led them to the couch where I was sitting.  "Lets all three of us smoke
in the living room."

"What about your parents, honey?" asked my grandmother.  "I didn't see their
car when we pulled in."

"They're at the store getting some things," said Pam.  "And I'm watching John
while they're gone."

I groaned and blushed.  It wasn't as bad as it sounded at least I hoped it
wasn't.  It was true that my parents had left Pam in charge, but I really
think they were joking.  I sure hoped grandma and grandpa thought it was a
joke.  I got up and gave them a hug.

"Do you smoke too John?" asked my big breasted grandma as she sat down and
removed the red pack of More cigarettes from her purse.

My cheeks burned with shame as I shook my head no.

"That's a good thing," said my grandfather as he removed a cigar from a
plastic tube he carried in his pocket.  

"Smoking will kill you," said my grandmother as she held the long brown
cigarette to her lips for my grandfather to light.

"That's what I told him too," said Pam as she removed a long white cigarette
from her pack of Benson & Hedges.

"I bet Pam wishes she never started," said my grandma as she exhaled.
"You're a smart boy John.  Don't make the same mistake we did."

I nodded as my grandpa lit my sister's cigarette and followed up by lighting
his own cigar.  The room quickly filled with smoke.  The door opened and my
parents walked in with groceries in their arms.  

Greetings were yelled across the room as my parents placed the bags on the
kitchen table and joined us in the living room.  After hugging and shaking
hands, my parents lit cigarettes.  Everyone was smoking except for me and
everyone was talking about Pam and how mature she was.  All the fuss over Pam
and her smoking made me feel invisible and small.  And things didn't get any
better when Pam took an interest in Grandpa's cigar.

"What's it like to smoke a cigar?" asked Pam.

"Cigars are a lot different than cigarettes," said my grandfather in a
knowledgeable tone of voice.  "They're stronger, so you don't inhale them."

"But I like to inhale when I smoke," said Pam.  "Can I try a puff of yours?"

The question seemed to surprise my grandfather and he looked at our parents
for an answer.  My mother shrugged and my father said it was okay with him.
I watched as Pam put her cigarette out and took the big cigar from my
grandfather.

"Wow!  It's so big," she said as she tried to fit the thick cigar in her
mouth.

Judging from the looks in the room, I wasn't the only one fascinated by the
sight.  It was like nothing I've seen before or since.

"Oh my God," exclaimed my grandfather.  "Look at her smoke!  She's actually
inhaling it.  Stop it Pam, or you'll get sick."

Pam grinned wildly; thinking all that talk about not inhaling was some kind
of joke.  "But I like it," she said.  Our family watched as she hungrily
attacked the cigar with her lips and lungs, feeding on it the way a lioness
feeds on gazelle.

"Okay sweetie," said my mother.  "I think you've had enough.  Give the cigar
back to your grandfather."

"Oh mom, do I have to?" pleaded Pam.

"Maybe your grandpa will let you share one with him after dinner or
something," said my dad in an attempt to appease her.

Pam grudgingly removed the cigar from her mouth and was in the process of
handing it to back to our grandfather when I reached for it.

"Can I try?  I won't inhale like Pam did."

Everyone, including Pam, laughed as my grandfather took possession of the
cigar.

"Maybe when you're a little older," said my grandfather.

Mom sniffed.  "Yeah, like when he's 105," she said as she rubbed my head, a
half smoked Benson & Hedges dangling from her lip.  "My little Johnny is
never going to be a smoker," she said proudly.  "Now why don't you run off
and find some of your friends to play with," she said.  "I'm sure all this
grown-up talk is boring you to tears."

So this is how it's going to be, I thought, as I dismissed myself from the
group.  Maybe things would get better when my cousins came over.

As it turned out, things did get better, after the rest of the family
arrived, but not for me.  The spotlight belonged to Pam and her gold pack of
Benson & Hedges.  While I played with our younger cousins, Pam hung out with
the grown-ups, smoking cigarettes and drinking coffee.  She looked so
glamorous and sophisticated, wise beyond her years.

When it came time for dinner, I took my place at the kid's table with my
younger cousins while Pam sat at the grown-up table.  It all made sense to my
cousins.  Pam had grown up and moved on.  She looked so happy and confident.
Every now and then she'd look over at me and smile through one of her
exhales.  There wasn't any malice in her expression.  It was more like a post
card from France.

The End


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