I remember a collage of my father’s stories. I don’t remember then in complete form, although I wish I did. But I do remember some pieces.
When my father was young, I want to say twelve, although I don’t know if this is exact or not, my father started smoking homemade cigarettes. He and his cousin would hide in the sotano of his home and there, by a motorcycle, would roll up some cigarettes. What exactly he used, I’m not sure. I wish I would’ve asked him before he died, though. There’s so much I would ask now.
I remember another story. He was a priest now with a disdaining vice. This vice could get him kicked out of the seminary in a heart beat. He was a smoker. He would hide his cigarettes in his sotana and would sneak in a smoke whenever possible.
I remember him always smoking. He smoked Winston cigarettes or a Colombian brand. No other cigarettes would do. He wouldn’t smoke in the house, though; my mom had put a stop to that when I was young in our Westchester home. He would go outside. Of course, back when he drove, he would smoke in his cars: the beat-up old vomit-green Chrysler or the two-door once-white stick shift car. I don’t remember the make or model of that one. Los carros viejos, my mom used to call them. The old cars. My dad only like the old stuff. That was good stuff. Give him old cars, old furniture, old appliances, and he was happy. He didn’t like new things – new stuff didn’t last, wasn’t made well. He was an old man even then, clinging on to a past he could never get back. I wonder if being a priest made him that way, or perhaps, he was a priest because he was that way.
What I remember the most, though, was him in his wheel-chair, post amputation. He had gone almost three months without a cigarette. My mom and I whispered behind his back that he was finally cured. He had even stopped asking for them. Then, when he was let out, the first thing he said to my mom was: “Ole, bring me my cigarettes.” And he kept on smoking. If the doctors asked him, he’d get angry, saying, “What do they care anyway!” And he stopped wanting to go to the doctors because then he’d have to tell them the truth.
My mom took to restricting his smoking. He now received an allowance of three cigarettes a day, and an extra one for special occasions. After breakfast, lunch and dinner, he would call out to my mom: “Ole, my cigarette!” while he put his shirt on (he was always shirt-less at home). And my mom would sigh, slowly rise from the sofa, go to her closet where she hid them in a place only she knew (she had to change them a few times because my dad would look for them and, occasionally, find them) and grudgingly bring him his prize. He would chuckle, place the cigarette in his front shirt pocket along with the lighter, and roll his way out the front door. He would stay there for ten, maybe fifteen minutes, contemplating every inhale of nicotine, and then he’d slowly roll back inside, the scent of smoke lingering around him. Everything about him smelled like smoke.