From the Relief Society Magazine, March 1941 –
By Martha Lu Tucker
That day, the day Mom caught Chuck smoking, was a bad day. The wind was howling around our house and shaking the loose screen. Mom was pretty irritable. She jumped like a scared rabbit every time the back bedroom door slammed. There was a hole in the window, see, that we made when Jack ducked instead of catching a fast ball I threw him. Mom had crammed an old shirt of Dad’s in it, but it didn’t help much, ‘specially since the latch on the door wasn’t very good. Finally she went into the bedroom to put something in the door, and she saw that Chuck had come in the car. She went to the window, and there, standing in the shelter of the garage out of the wind, was Chuck waiting for a cigarette he was smoking to burn down.
When Mom came back into the kitchen with a fiery light in her eye, I thought I was going to get it again for that window. She didn’t say anything, though. Chuck came in a little while later, and she lit right into him. “Charles Elvin Anderson, you’ve been smoking!”
Chuck banged his lunch bucket down on the table. “Well, come on, let’s have it. I’ve gone against your teachings and started to smoke, so now I’m sinful. That’s what you think, isn’t it?”
That set Mom back on her heels a little. then she started to get excited like she always does when one of us says something she doesn’t like. She calmed down a little and said, “You’ll stop, won’t you, son?” There was what you’d call an imploring sound in her voice.
Chuck scowled. “Not if I don’t want to.”
“Well, you will when your father hears about it. Now go get some wood – anything. I can’t stand that tobacco smell on you.”
I waited for the fun to start when we sat down to the supper table. Mom, though, sent me down the cellar for a bottle of peaches, and most of the excitement was over before I got back. Dad was saying, “You know most of the railroad gang smoke. His friends smoke, so I’m not surprised that he is trying it.”
Like most of the families on West Mountain, we depended on the railroad for our food ticket instead of the crops that were good or bad according to the rainfall. We rented a little dry farm, working it with Dad to tell us what to do after he got off work at nights or week ends. As it was, we had no easy time keeping us four kids in school. I figured on getting a job on the railroad as soon as I was out of high school, myself, though there were plenty of jobs I’d rather have.
Well, things went from bad to worse in the next few days. Mom kept insisting that Chuck quit smoking, but Dad said he was a man and didn’t have to unless he wanted to. Then it looked like Mom had lost. Chuck was too ornery to do anything anyone wanted him to do. After a while, Dad started to get a hangdog look from so much arguing. Jack and I couldn’t decide how the argument would end. He bet me one night that Mom would forget about it, and Chuck would go on smoking.
The next day when we got home from school, we found a note from Mom saying she had gone over to Provo to visit Lillie, our married sister, for a few days. Dad didn’t know what to think of that. After three days of Mary’s soggy fried spuds and boiled eggs, he was downright grouchy, especially with Chuck. Then I warned Jack to start saving that three bucks he’d bet me. That afternoon, though, we found Mom home baking apple pies. Boy, did we have a dinner! Everything a fellow likes best. Dad was pretty happy thinking Mom had changed her mind or forgotten about Chuck. He got on the outside of three pieces of apple pie, then pushed his chair back and loosened his belt.
“Oliver,” Mom began.
Something in her tone made Dad look at her a little suspiciously. “Yes, Mother, that was a mighty fine supper. Now what do you want, a new dress?”
Mom didn’t let that stop her. “Oliver, this fall we are going to move over to Provo. The lease is up then, and I’m not going to stand for all my boys going to work on the railroad and getting bad ideas.” Chuck gulped and grabbed his glass. Jack winked at me. “So … we’re not going to lease the farm again. Lillie showed me a place over there we could buy cheap. It doesn’t look like much, but you and the boys could fix it up. You could go to work as easily from there as here.”
You should have seen the look on Dad’s face. He settled his chair down on four legs and put his fists on the table. Mom went on before he could say anything.
“There is a very good high school. Wayne and Jack can go on with their carpentry and really make something of it with the woodworking classes they have.”
“Hot Zig!” I yelled. “You’ve got something there, Mom.”
She sure enough did. As soon as we got the crops in, we moved over here to Provo to fix up this old shack. Boy, it’s been a job, but I don’t mind much because I’m getting some good experience. Old Man Hansen has asked me to fix his porch for him this week end, so I guess my career has begun.
Chuck went on smoking, but Mom didn’t let him get away with it. When he came around her after he’d smoked a cigarette, she would pull a face like it pained her something awful to have to smell the smoke. Course, though, Chuck never smoked right in the house.
Just the same, I think moving to Provo helped Chuck a lot, just as Mom hoped it would. We didn’t live far from the church, and it didn’t hurt any of us to get in the habit of going. When Chuck got interested in Mutual, in playing baseball and basketball, and in learning the M.I.A. dances, he quit going to the pool halls, and his old gang didn’t call for him on Saturday nights.
About a month ago, Chuck came home from church in a really mean mood. He didn’t say much, but muttered something about old Olsen – he’s the basketball coach in our ward. Well, I wasn’t a bit surprised then that Chuck didn’t play with the team at their next game. He had been one of the stars on the high school team, but Olsen said he couldn’t play unless he kept training rules.
When Mom found out about that, she said to him, “You see, son, you are the one that’s being hurt.” Then Dad did the only thing I had seen him do that really showed whether he cared or not. he put his hand on Chuck’s shoulder as if to say he would back Chuck up, but he thought it would be a fine thing if he would quit smoking.
You remember that Chuck took Jean Allen to the Gold and Green Ball. Oh, she’s all right, but her kid sister, Dot, is more my speed. I think it surprised Mom that Jean would go with Chuck when he smoked, but I found out that she had plenty of backbone, anyway. I’ll tell you how.
After the dance, the Gold and Green Ball, Dot and I stopped at the grade school on our way home and slid down the fire escape a couple of times. Then Dot gathered up her dress so it wouldn’t get caught, and we climbed through a fence and cut through into the Allens’s lot. As we went around the house, we could hear that Chuck and Jean had beat us and were on the porch. Dot said, “Shh, let’s stay here and listen to them.”
I didn’t like to eavesdrop, but I agreed to sort of get even with Chuck for taking so much hot water that night. Then we heard Chuck say, “Yes, I guess I like frankness, better anyway than beating around the bush or hypocrisy. Let me have it. I can take it.”
“Oh, oh,” Dot whispered, “I’ll bet I know what’s coming.”
“You mean …?”
We were right. Jean said, “When I went with you the first time, I knew you smoked, but I figured I’d just go with you once or twice anyway, so it didn’t matter.”
Chuck put in, “But now if you keep on going with me, I’ve got to break my filthy habits.”
“I guess it amounts to just that. I’m sorry.”
“Just the same,” Chuck argued, “I’m a pretty good Mormon.”
“That’s just the point.”
“Oh, Jean, for Pete’s sake! Don’t be like that!”
Jean said, “Good night,” like she was mad but didn’t want to be, and went into the house. I took Dot around the house. We walked up the sidewalk a little way, and she went in, too. Then I caught up with Chuck. He walked along with his head down not saying anything.
After we got in bed, he started talking. “Wayne,” he said, “do you think that dope they gave us on tobacco in church the other night was clear stuff?”
“I guess so,” I answered. “Why, did it get you?”
“Mom thinks it should have, doesn’t she?”
I told him, “Well, you ought to know it would tickle her to death if you’d quit.” I added to myself, “And Jean, too.”
Chuck didn’t say any more then. I decided he was going to sleep so I rolled over on my right side and settled down.
After a while Chuck rolled over, too, “Wayne …”
“Yeah,” I answered sleepily.
“Does Dot Allen ever tell you anything Jean says about me?”
I wished I had acted like I was asleep, because I didn’t think Dot should tell things like that, but I had to tell him. “She told me her Dad wanted Jean to stop going with you a long time ago, and she said as long as she didn’t think any more of you than a friend it didn’t matter. If she started liking you more you’d have to reform or she wouldn’t go with you.”
A couple of days later when I was looking out of the kitchen window, I saw Chuck take a cigarette out of his pocket and light it. He puffed at it once or maybe twice, then all of a sudden threw it on the ground and stepped on it. The next morning before we went to school, Mom came down from making our beds looking as happy as I’d seen her look for a long time. “Look, boys,” she said, “Charles went to work without his cigarettes.” She held out a half-empty package.
When Chuck came home from the railroad that night, Mom looked up from the board where she was rolling pie dough. “Apple pies for supper, Charles.”
Chuck put his arm around Mom’s shoulder and said, “Gee, Mom, you’re all right. I’d have you for my best girl if Jean weren’t that already.”
Then Mom raised the cigarettes gingerly from her apron pocket. “Do you want these?” she asked Chuck. And I’ll be darned if he didn’t walk over to the stove and shove them in.
I won the part of the bet about Chuck stopping smoking all right, but I had to own up that it wasn’t really because of Mom that he stopped. Then Jack and I decided that it wouldn’t be right for either of us to profit from such a swell thing as Chuck had done, so we are each going to put half of the money in and get a new saw.