When I was young, my father loved cigars.
Dad especially liked to smoke cigars in the car, which was unfortunate for me. I sat up front between my father and my mother -- basically because my sisters would not sit next to me. I was nauseated most of the time. And nobody ever attributed this to my dad's cigars. They just figured I was a puker.
Well, okay, this was sort of true. I still can't sit in a car going backwards (even the length of a driveway) without my stomach turning over. And until recently, I used to go to New York once a week on business. I'd take the train. God forbid I didn't get a forward-facing seat. Of course, as I turned greenish, the gentleman opposite me would often generously volunteer to switch. Wasn't that sweet?
And forget amusement parks. I am okay with skeeball -- that's about it.
But I think my motion sickness is a Pavlovian response to all those years in the car with Daddy. All I need is to feel vehicular momentum and my body reacts: "Okay," my autonomic nervous system says, "Vehicle in motion = Let's get queasy."
After all, the other stimuli elicits the same response. "Cigar smell = Let's throw up."
But the cigar response is more complex. Sure the waves of nausea are like the incoming tide. But there's also another beachy reaction -- Sheer delight.
To this day, the smell of a cigar fills the air with images of my father (along with the stinky smoke).
My mother always hated cleaning ashtrays. Her solution was easy -- she never put any out. Dad would sit and watch TV in the evening, with his hand cupped under the cigar.
And there would often be a half-smoked cigar perched on the edge of the end-table near his chair, or on the lip of the sink. "Don't throw that away," he'd say. "I'm going to finish it later." And so the unsightly (but not too unsightly - he didn't chew the end) would sit, patiently waiting for the next evening.
(I think he got that habit of saving his stogie from his old relative -- not an uncle -- I'm not sure how exactly we were related -- but this old guy would leave his cigar perched on the step at the door of our church. He'd pick it up after Mass.)
When I was a teenager, I remember my mother wanted to hang some new sconces on either side of the picture window in the living room. My father put up the first one by measuring the distance from the window with his cigar. He popped back into the den for a few minutes to check the game on TV. Then he went about putting up the second sconce also by measuring with his cigar. "But your cigar is shorter now, " complained my mother. "Don't worry," said my father, "I'm allowing for the ash."
When I was in college -- I took my first big trip. I flew down to Mexico. (my first plane trip, and I did it alone. To another country! And I didn't throw up on the plane -- I waited till 2:00 AM at the hotel. Pretty good, I still think.) Anyway, I had a high school friend at the University in Mexico, and we met up and went to Acapulco for the cheapest Christmas Break adventure ever experienced.
Cuban cigars, though contraband in the U.S., were available in Mexico. And I bought my dad one. One. It cost the equivalent of six dollars. Which was about 30 percent of what I spent that whole week. Given the exchange rate at the time, I think the price on the label was about $40.00... this was what I liked best about the cigar. When I gave it to my Dad, he was impressed. "I'm going to save this and smoke it at your wedding."
I didn't get married right after college. I waited a few years. Like twenty.
And at my reception, my Dad took from his pocket the twenty-year-old Cuban cigar and lit up. We practically had to evacuate. But it was one of the highlights of my day.
As my father grew older, he cut down on his cigars, and eventually in his old age, he gave them up completely.
I'd like to say I miss them - but honestly...no.
But I do miss Dad.
Happy Father's Day, Daddy. I hope there are lots of cigars in heaven.
But for God's sake... (LITERALLY, Dad!):
Open a window.
Dad and I on my wedding day, 1991. Behind my head is the cigar-aligned sconce.
**Read more from Nancy on her blog, "Not Quite Old."