Unfiltered Pall Mall and a Can of Schlitz

“Come on in” he said,
“but pardon the smell
of smoke and cigarettes.
We try to air it out but the smell
won’t go away”.
I told him it didn’t matter
that I was immune
after a childhood and many years
of sitting next to my father
who never had a waking moment
without an unfiltered Pall Mall
burning from the fingers of his left hand.
The right hand being kept free
for the can of Schlitz.
Three or four packs a day
starting as soon as he slide his feet
out of the bed
coughing and wheezing
and coughing some more.
With the last cough came the click
of the cigarette lighter
and the first one of the day.
No further need of the lighter
for each successive cigarette
would be lit from the previous one,
then a stub held between
two nicotine stained fingers.
No.  After all those years
I was immune from cigarette smells.

He was not wrong.
His place did indeed reek of cigarettes.
But I helped with the little chore
he asked me over to do.
Then when I left
the smell lingered and my thoughts flew
to riding in the car
when I was boy
or maybe later when I was a man grown.
When doesn’t matter
just the scene that plays in my head
of riding in the car,
his window cracked a little
to let the smoke out for me
but it didn’t really help much.
The smell was always strong but it never bothered me.
The radio was always on
and now for some reason
I think of hearing it play
“I’m Leaving It Up to You”
by Peaches and Herb. 
He usually sang along no matter
who was in the car.
It was his and Bunny’s song, my “other” mother
we called her.
His girlfriend of at least thirty years
between and during
many other girlfriends and a few wives.
Where we were going didn’t matter.
He was always on the go
running to the bar or the car lot
or off to who knows what next.
Maybe to go pick up Uncle Russell
who shared his joy of unfiltered Pall Malls
and a can of beer in his other hand.
In the car with the two of them
was like being in a forest fire.
Ah, but we forgot one ingredient
to the whole scene. 
Life was always funny.
There was always something to laugh about,
some funny story to tell,
some silly memory to make.
How I remember the smoke
as I sat between them in the front seat
as a boy
or from the back seat as I grew older.
It didn’t bother me then.
It doesn’t bother me now
for the smell brings back the laughter.
It makes it all come alive
for just a moment
through the fog of cigarettes and time.

Michael Mathews
November 10, 2014
11:03 AM, Monday
As close to home as I ever expect to be