Brody: Learning to roll cigarettes at age 6

By Jean Brody

The day after Granny Pete crawled under the bed and would not come out, I was pretty scared. Six-year-old girls think grandmothers are strong and afraid of nothing. However, she was terrified of the violent hailstorm that pounded our tin roof and tried to run for cover into the darkness under the bed.

At breakfast, Granddaddy Pete could tell I hadn’t slept well after all that. So, he took matters into his own hands.

“Jean honey, let’s you and me take a little ride,” he said.

Right away, the two of us piled into the beat-up old truck and off we went.

I still remember how riding on the bumpy back roads made every inch of that truck rattle, pop, spit and spew. I was glad to stand on the ground among the hundreds of trees Granddaddy Pete tapped for turpentine. He had brought me to his turpentine farm some miles from their house.

Here’s what he did.

“Watch me close, little girl,” he said. “I’m gonna’ show you how to roll your own cigarette. It will make you feel better. You can even show your friends how to do it.”

Putting one hand in a pocket of his overalls, he pulled out a small packet of thin papers. From the other side, he produced a little burlap bag of loose tobacco.

Being 6 and sheltered, I had never seen a cigarette up close, much less hold one or know what to do with one. Granddaddy Pete said it would make me feel better. So I watched him.

First, he made one. By holding one of the papers in the flat of his hand then he tapped the loose tobacco into a lineup and down the paper. Finally, he folded it all like a short straw, brought it to his mouth and licked the paper’s edge and stuck it closed.

“Now you make one Jean Honey,” he said as he placed a paper in my palm, sprinkled tobacco up and down it then told me to spit on it and stick it together.

“I did it,” I said, pleasaed. “Now what?”

“We light them. Ready?”

Grinning, he scraped a match along the bottom of his boot. It lit, and immediately he placed the flame to his cigarette.

“Now it’s your turn,” he said, leaning against a tree and grinning his toothless grin and taking another long drag.

He struck another match and lit the end of my too loosely filled homemade cigarette which I held between my lips. The thing is some of the tobacco was sticking out the end, and when that stuff caught fire, the entire cigarette caught fire. Not knowing what to do, I threw the whole thing on the ground, and as any 6-year-old girl would do: I cried.

“I want to go home,” I whined.

My grandpa got us back into the old truck and silently drove us home, hoping I would not throw up before we got back.

We walked in the front door and who should we meet right off but my mother. She bent to hug me. Then she put her hand under my chin and tilted my head up so our eyes would meet

“Jean Peters, what did you do and why,” she said. “You smell terrible.”

“Granddaddy Pete taught me how to roll my own cigarettes to make me feel better,” I said, teary-eyed.

Her look went to concern for me to absolute fury.

“You did WHAT,” she shouted at Grandaddy Pete. “Jean is 6 years old for heaven’s sake!”

She turned to me.

“Go sit on the front porch and think about this,” she said. “And then as for you Mr. Peters you sure have a strange way to make Jean feel better.”

We drove back to Atlanta that day.

Here’s the thing — you have to remember that this was a long time ago. Nobody ever heard that cigarettes were harmful to you.Granddaddy Pete was a product of the Deep South shortly after the Civil War. He was not educated and could not read or write. He rolled his cigarettes because it was cheaper. He was a good but poor man.

I have one last story about our south Georgia kin. This time it’s about Granny Pete. First of all, she never smoked cigarettes because she said it put wrinkles on her face.

One time when she and Granddaddy Pete came to visit us we discovered our little slightly bowlegged granny had taken up a new habit. She did not smoke, but now she chewed. She skipped lighting a match to cigarettes and put the tobacco right into her mouth. As she chewed it, it created a juice in her mouth that was dark and smelly. She would always carry an empty frozen orange juice can with her into which she would routinely spit this juice. When she waited too long to spit it drooled the lines of either side of her mouth, not a pretty sight. When the can got full, she would dump it in the toilet, turning the inside of our two toilets into thick, dark gunk that smelled like stale tobacco.

We loved them in spite of all of these habits. But as a lady who always kept a lovely home, it was hardest on my mother. But for some reason, I looked up to them as strong, independent folk who loved me a lot. Maybe now you know why even though I have come a long way from their lifestyle I still like my shoes and my bra off and nothing soothes me like sitting on a backwoods front porch in a bent rocking chair with country music on the radio.

I want to assure you that there is more than one side to all of us. I have several sides of me, and it’s been great fun to trace back to why I am who I am.

The view from the mountain is wondrous.

Jean Brody is a passionate animal lover and mother. She previously lived in Winchester, but now resides in Littleton, Colorado. Her column has appeared in the Sun for more than 25 years.