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Sir Walter Raleigh

A tin of Sir Walter Raleigh pipe tobacco is seen in November 2016.

Years ago, when we lived on a farm in northern Minnesota, I ran out of cigarettes. The thought of quitting drifted into my mind. Then it drifted out.

The time to quit is definitely not when you’re out of cigarettes. It has to be voluntary. Besides, panic is not the state of mind conducive to ending a firmly entrenched habit.

The nearest store was 14 miles away and my husband had our only car at work. The thought of an entire day without nicotine was not pleasant. And then I saw it: A spare can of my husband’s Sir Walter Raleigh pipe tobacco.

All I needed was paper, preferably thin paper. Aha. Airmail stationery — and I had some. So I cut it to size and proceeded to make a cigarette. The first attempt resembled an emaciated Virginia Slim with a slow leak. I lit it and it flashed flame. When the flame went out, I inhaled. Ah, that old familiar sensation of smoke coursing through my system. Then the whole darned thing fell apart. And I was holding a small piece of paper twisted on one end and charred on the other. The tobacco was scattered on the table.

So I tried again, with a little more spit. It was encouraging. After a few days, with the help of some real cigarette papers I bought, I’d learned the fine art of rolling a cigarette. Some of my friends knitted, or crocheted afghans; some excelled in making pies. I rolled a pretty good cigarette.

I admit it didn’t seem very lady-like. Men seemed to get away with it, but a woman who rolled her own in public is rated by strangers as being just one step above a woman who uses a spittoon, and one step below a woman who wears combat boots.

But eccentricity sometimes has value. Once, on a drive to the Twin Cities, I stopped to get gas. In those days, the attendant came out, pumped your gas and washed your windshield. As the young man was wiping the windshield dry, he peered in at me and saw me rolling my own. He looked amazed, broke out in a grin, leaned near the open side window and said, “You want to come to our party tonight?”

I hated to disappoint him and his friends, but I told him it was just cigarette tobacco. “Oh, then never mind,” he said. The habit also resulted in an amusing telephone conversation I had one afternoon. In the good old days before robo-calls, we answered the phone whenever it rang. There was no caller ID on my wall phone and, if we were lucky, none of the neighbors on the party line would be listening. So, on that bitter cold afternoon when the chores were all done and the children were napping, I snatched up the phone as soon as it rang. A very polite, Boston-accented, female voice asked me if I was willing to participate in a survey regarding cigarettes. Realizing that I had nothing pressing to do at the moment, I agreed. It went like this:

Lady from Boston: What brand of cigarettes do you smoke?

Me: No brand. I roll them with Sir Walter Raleigh pipe tobacco.

Lady from Boston: Oh. That’s not on my list. I’ll just write it down. OK, so how would you rate the moistness of your cigarettes?

Me: It depends on whether or not I have an apple peel in the can.

Lady from Boston: (tittering a bit) Um, well, that’s not on my list, either. I’ll have to write that down, too. Now, I know this sounds strange, but do you ever buy your cigarettes from a vending machine?

Me: Not possible.

Lady from Boston: I knew that before I asked, but I had to ask. We’re almost done. My last question is — do you think the brand you smoke is more, less, or equal to the price of other brands?

Me: I never did the math, but it’s probably about a quarter of what I’d pay for packaged cigarettes.

Lady from Boston: OK, now I have a personal question — does an apple peel really make a difference?

Me: It sure does. Otherwise, dry tobacco just falls out the end.

Lady from Boston: Well, that’s good to know. I think. Goodbye now and thank you for the most entertaining call I’ve ever made.

I still roll them sometimes. I know I should quit, but then I wouldn’t have any dirty habits and I’d be perfect. On the other hand, I’ve always wondered if I could hit one of those spittoon things.

Pat Nash has lived in the Baraboo area, off and on, for more than 35 years. Contact her at patnash5149 @gmail.com.

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