"How are you doing Darryl?" Maria asked. She took a cigarette from my brother's mouth and took a puff. She handed it back to him and exhaled. He finished it and tossed the butt to the pavement. "Thanks for letting Mary visit with us for the weekend."
"I'm fine Maria, considering everything going on with dad and all. Mary loves hanging out with Sarah when she can so thank you too."
"Steve, I'm heading off to work. You two look after each other okay." She gave him a kiss then got in her car and drove off. Mary wandered over to the playground somewhere.
"What do you think mom will do when the old man is gone?" I took a long slow drag from a Marlboro cigarette. I passed it to my brother and he finished it drawing it all the way to the filter. He flicked it to the ground with his thumb and pointer finger where I snuffed out the cherry with a twist of my boot heel. I reached down to the yellow parking line stripe and picked up two butts and added them to the collection in my windbreaker jacket pocket.
"That the last one then?" He asked. I reached into the pocket on the other side of my jacket and revealed an empty red and white pack by flipping the lid. I looked around the parking stall where we were standing to make sure I hadn't missed any butts. It was nice having a park next to my parents house, my brother and I had so many memories here. "Well I'm headed inside to check on the old man, you coming?"
"Yeah I'll be there in a minute." He answered. He took a few steps back into the wood chips and sat on a faded blue swing with chains so rusted it was a miracle it remained able to hold either of us. I crossed the small lot and entered our parents house. Mom was in the kitchen and dad was half-assed listening to Drew Carey tell a contestant she just won some lame bedroom set.
Time certainly wasn't on his side. Dad, or 'the old man' as my brother and I affectionately call him, reached into the pocket of his twenty something year old paper thin yellow cigarette stained T-shirt and took out a pack of Camel's. He sat up best he could on the portable hospital bed that sat in the corner of the living room straight out of the 80's. He placed the pack in my hand, while pushing the oxygen hose back into his nose. His voice was rough and raspy as he spoke.
"Share that with your brother when he gets here. I'm giving them up. Doctor says its best." He looked around the room, and began to laugh hysterically.
"Since when do you listen to doctors, or anyone for that matter. Mom has been asking for some upgrades to the house for years. We can see how that has worked out dad." He slumped back down and laughed again just as my brother Steve entered the room.
"What's so funny 'round here? You guys starting the party without me?" He shuffled over, sliding his feet on the worn wood floors. He gave dad a hug and patted his empty shirt pocket. Noticing the pack of Camel cigarettes in my hand, he stood straight up and pointed to the hand holding them. "You plan on sharing them I hope?"
I gave him a courtesy nod. "Yep, they are all ours he's giving them up." Mom entered the room wiping her hands on a well seasoned apron that said “I'm a HAG” with the words “hot ass grandma” in smaller print underneath it. There were tears falling from her eyes.
"What's wrong, is everything okay?" She looked at me a little confused. My mom Edna, who we were duly warned by dad to never call 'the old lady', was eighty-four years old and didn't look a day over ninety.
"What are you hollerin' about Steeeve? What's wrong with you boy? I was cutting the onions for that one's liver tonight?" She pointed over to dad who lifted his leg and farted like he was commanded from on high. She finished her sentence like all this was absolutely normal.
"These are the tears of love son!" She hustled over and embraced me in a hug that was beyond the strength of any eighty something woman I ever met. I took a strong whiff of her Cacharel perfume from Walgreens and took a step back.
"Whoa mom, you been drinking again? She released her death grip and whispered in my ear. She had definafly been snacking on some raw onions while preparing dad's dinner too.
"Darryl, you and Steve need to stop this nonsense, with the cigarettes. Now hand me the pack and nobody gets hurt." Dad sat up quickly in the bed again, and yelled some expletives at a (air quote) stupid moron, for not bidding $1 on his showcase showdown when the bedroom set winner obviously overbid hers.
"Edna, what nonsense are you whispering to the boy. Leave ‘em alone already!” Isn't my life great? My dad is 'the old man' while my brother and I are 'the boys.’
Mom took the pack from my hand. She walked over to the garbage can that sat next to the old man's bed and tossed them in. She gave Steve a hug, he noticed the mixture of cheap perfume and onions too, then whispered something in his ear. He shrugged his shoulders, sighed heavily and walked in my direction with his head slumped down.
Steve had a "good job", an over the road trucker with two ex wives, three kids, a dog named Bo Jackson, and a face only a mother could love. I never married and also had three (just say it Darryl -uhummmm) wonderful children, a not so "good job" as a manager at the Chicken Shack and a rabbit named Houdini. My face was beautiful, if you like a wide nose and oversized ears. I am currently involved with the mother of two out of the three kids, not bad in my humble opinion.
Life is funny sometimes, and then not so funny when it gives you the proverbial lemon. It's tough to make good lemonade without sugar. Sometimes we need the sugar too. Having my brother here with me was that sugar. "Steve do you remember the first time mom caught us sneakin’ a smoke?" His posture changed and his shoulders straightened up. Thinking of the hell we raised together over the years always brought us a little joy. The smoking story was one of our favorites.
"Of course I remember, that's the day we learned to never call mom 'the old lady'!" He smiled and asked me to tell the story again.
Mom had spent her tips for the day, a few dollars, about $6 if I remember the story correctly, on a carton of Cigarettes for dad. She came home from her shift at Denny's and placed the carton in the G.E. avocado green top freezer.
I was 12 years old and Steve was 14. Dad smoked Lucky Strikes back then and worked nights as a bartender. He arrived home late one night ,or is it early one morning? Anyway, his green 1970 Chevy Nova with the 307-V8 that he named ‘O.J. Simpson’ was very loud. O.J. was nicknamed ‘the juice’ and V8 was a juice so the old man said it was the perfect name. Dad loved watching O.J. run through defenses. He said that the car reminded him of his favorite player; speed and strength. He was beyond himself in 1994 when the whole O.J. arrest and subsequent trial went down. He sold the Nova and everything, it would probably be sitting in the garage today if that never happened. He said sometimes Icons turn out to be "not so good dudes".
Steve, still awake from dad's late arrival, had snuck out to meet… Betty? No no, it was Jenny? That's right, he wanted to impress Jenny and show her how cool he was. He stole a pack of those cigarettes from the carton mom had put on ice. I watched him and Jenny light up from our bedroom window. He even got a little kiss on that faded blue swing. I fell asleep sometime after 4 and he wandered back to our shared bedroom about 6 A.M. He was on cloud 9.
I was startled awake to him jumping up and down on my bed. I nearly fell out. He bounced the pack of Lucky Strikes off my forehead, laughed then plopped down next to me. He pulled one out of the pack and lit up right there in our room. He told me he had his first "real" kiss, unaware I saw the awkward moment. He took in a huge drag and exhaled like he was royalty. The smoke wafted through the room and clung to the ceiling above our heads. He opened the pack again and tossed one of the sticks to me. "Share this moment with me." He said, "I think I'm in loooove."
Reluctantly I put the cigarette in my mouth and motioned for the lighter. Steve pulled it out, turned it around, and then lit the open end for me. He took another drag to show me how. I held it with my thumb and pointer finger and sucked in a lung full. He exhaled smoothly and looked cool puffing out in small bursts. I tried, and got less than stellar results. I coughed, and hacked, my throat was on fire. I remember thinking that would be my last cigarette. For that moment though it was me and Steve. So I took another drag and tried to play it cool like him.
"One more, before we get some sleep. Good thing it's Saturday." He tapped the pack in his hand and two more slid into the palm of his hand. He placed one in my mouth and stuck the other one behind his ear. He lit mine. "Take a nice long drag and see how much you can blow out there, Darryl."
"Okay, here goes 3-2-1." I inhaled long and slow, I opened my mouth to exhale when the bedroom door flung open and mom entered in a rage.
"Darryl Lee Murphy what in tarnation are you doing?!" Seriously, she actually called me by my full name and said tarnation. Steve lost it when I exhaled the full breath of non-filtered Lucky Strike smoke directly into mom's face.
"Are those the cigarettes I got for your father?" She pulled it from my mouth and grabbed me by the ear. At this point Steve must have removed the one tucked neatly under his bowl cut and tossed it aside.
Mom stood me up stretching my lobes. Steve was rolling on the bed laughing hysterically until Mom put me in the corner under the Millenium Falcon that hung precariously by a single strand of fishing line.
"Now you stand there while I deal with him." She turned toward Steve and reached for him. He slipped under her reach and tried to get to the door. She swiped again, but he was quick. Missed again. She fell into the bed bouncing the pack of Lucky Strikes up into the air. It was confirmed those were dad's. Steve bolted out the door and took a step right into the old man's grip. Dad picked him up by his arms and pinned him to the hallway wall.
I was never as scared as I was in that moment. Mom regained her composure. I stood in the death trance afraid to move. C-3PO and Luke mocked me from the gunners booth of the ship.
Dad yelled at Steve. "What the hell are you doing Steve?" His feet were still dangling off the floor. His heel struck the wall as he tried to wiggle away. "I asked you a question boy, what is going on here?"
What he said next only God knows why. "The old lady just burst in on Darryl and I dad, maybe she lost he-" It's probably a good thing he never finished the sentence. Mom was on him now.
"I'll show you an old lady! Disrespectful little, ungrateful," she stopped herself for a moment then blurted out, "this one, and that one in there, stole a pack of your cigarettes and lit up in the bedroom!"
Dad's chin slumped into his chest. Steve's feet were finally back on the floor. "Edna get my belt." It was simple and pure. Mom walked away and Steve was led, by his ear, back into the room next to me. If I didn't know better I would swear that Darth Vader was chuckling behind that mask. As mom entered the room with that tan leather belt in her hand. I could hear the music playing in my head. Dun dun, dun dun… She handed him the belt. "Edna, please leave us." We stood for what seemed like an hour.
Dad closed the bedroom door, and let's just say, that dad was upset about the Lucky Strikes but he was livid about disrespecting mom. He "explained" to us without a single word, and very certain terms, that we would respect our mother and her hard work. If we were lucky we might live to see a couple of our own children act "like a couple 'o damn fools" like us. I'll end that story by saying we went back to bed that morning but we did not sleep on our backs, and possibly left one eye open.
Dad sat up again, his wrinkles disappeared and his hair was thick. I saw a strong young man ready to take on the world. "You know I still have that belt, son. Good leather belt'el last you a lifetime." We laughed. Mom went back into the kitchen. He leaned as far forwards as he could. Checking to see where mom was. "Get me one of those smokes in the can eh, Darryl."
"I already got them dad. Here you go." Said Steve. He tapped the pack and eased one into his hand. Dad opened his mouth with a crooked smile Steve placed the cigarette in.
Mom called me from the kitchen. "Hey Steeeve, would you come and take a look at this?" She was peeking out the window.
"What is it mom?" I opened the curtain wide and I couldn't believe my eyes. My 13 year old granddaughter was sitting on that old blue swing, a cloud of smoke swirling around her head.
She was smoking a cigarette and talking to a boy. I opened the window and yelled."Welcome to the family Mary, your mother will be so proud." She flicked the cigarette to the parking lot where it came to rest on a yellow parking stripe.
She yelled back, "Please don't tell the old lady." Some things never change.
We may not have grown up rich, and our lives may not be perfect now, but we did learn respect. We still smoke and raise hell. We teach our kids to respect others and live well. Most of us could use a few more dollars in our pockets but we have each other. Being here with mom and 'the old man' brings us back to a simpler time. A time when technology didn't rule the day, family's could eat together without checking for likes, watching videos, or texting. Most importantly you could smoke indoors and that’s pretty funny in retrospect!
Dad lit that Camel in the bed and took it in slow and easy. "Hey Edna, what's the weather like outside?" He asked.
Mom and I took another look at Mary on the swing for a moment then mom responded to Dad. "Harry I'd say it's cloudy with a chance of cancer." I shrugged my shoulders as she closed the curtain.