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Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Tzzzz-tzzzz-tzzzz The initial strike of the phosphorous-tipped match sizzles and emits an indescribable odour. And it is a scent that I will forever associate with my mother.

It’s a conflicting scent. On the one hand, I connect it with Shabbat. Each week, we usher in the Jewish Sabbath with the lighting of the Shabbat candles. Shamor and Zachor — keep and remember. One candle for each side of a single utterance. The sizzle. Brings warm, Shabbos memories from my youth to the surface.

Contrast that with that same scent of the match that is followed by a smoky, suffocating stench. At the height of her smoking, my mom blew through smoked through a pack of cigarettes a day. Benson & Hedges. The entire house smelled like cigarettes.

Amazingly, not one of us suffered from the risks associated with smoking during pregnancy or secondhand-smoke. Not a premature birth or low-birth rate among us. No asthma or related breathing problems. And none of us grew up to be smokers.

Having a parent who smokes creates its own conflict. Growing up, lots of people smoked. Parents, scout leaders, characters on television. When then-Surgeon General, C. Everett Koop released his landmark position paper, “Toward a Smoke-Free Society by the Year 2000,” to the Minnesota Coalition for a Smoke-Free Society 2000 in the year nineteen hundred eighty-five, things began to change. Cigarette packaging began to carry a warning from the Surgeon General. School anti-drug programs named tobacco a gateway drug and encouraged kids to get their parents to quit.

Sometimes she would finish a pack and ask one of us to go get another one from the far right drawer in the kitchen. I hated that. I hated that because I felt like an accomplice. But to disobey was breaking a pretty major rule. I certainly didn’t have enough knowledge to know that getting cigarettes for someone addicted to nicotine might fall under the category of lifnei iverplacing a stumbling block before the blind. All I knew was the emphasis placed on honouring one’s parents.

Sure, she tried to stop. More than once. She stopped when she was pregnant with her first child. But it was so stressful that her obstetrician encouraged to her continue smoking. “The stress isn’t good for the baby.” Several attempts to participate in the Great American Smokeout yielded some very short-term results. Until…one ordinary day in November 1987…my mom quit. She quit. Cold-turkey. After twenty-five years, my mom became a former smoker in a single day.

Don’t be impressed. It wasn’t by choice. You see, hospitals have rules about smoking. And while there are designated smoking areas, it isn’t possible to get to one of those locations when hooked up to oxygen and with drainage tubes protruding from a collapsed lung.

Much to our surprise, my mom’s primary spontaneous pneumothorax was not believed to be caused by her smoking. Examination of her lungs showed several weak spots that her surgeon felt were congenital. [For my money, I think the surgeon should have lied and blamed it on the smoking.] Contrary to the majority of patients with a PTX, my mom required surgery and a somewhat lengthy hospital stay. During which time, they still refused to allow her to smoke. Which she rather resented.

No. To quit smoking in a single day is not impressive. Especially when one is connected to machines. What is impressive is the daily decision to remain a non-smoker. Though for years after her release from the hospital my mom would reach for phantom pack of cigarettes, she never took up the habit again. She could have. Millions of times. But she didn’t.

It’s the choice that is impressive. Each and every day.


Remembe(RED) is a memoir meme. An image prompt this week. Non-fiction and 700 words or fewer. When others become entangled in my story, is it fair to share the story with the world? I’ve never really talked about how it felt to grow up as the daughter of a smoker. I leave you with this: my mother was a shell of herself when she smoked. Now, she is a beautiful, shapely woman whose (relatively) newfound culinary skills are stunning. As always, constructive criticism is welcomed!

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19 Comments leave one →
  1. Tuesday, 17 May 2011 6:55 am

    My mother quit cold turkey after smoking for 30 years. Getting pneumonia a weeks after burying two family members with pulmonary issues was a very effective catalyst. That was in 1998 and she hasn’t smoked since. You’re right–it’s the choice to STAY a non-smoker that is impressive.

    • Frume Sarah permalink*
      Tuesday, 17 May 2011 12:21 pm

      Kudos to your mom for renewing her commitment daily.

      And thanks for stopping by!

  2. Tuesday, 17 May 2011 8:29 am

    My Dad, z”l, smoked from the time he was 13 until he went into the hospital for the last time (although he didn’t know it would be for the last time). He had some success with quitting (when my Mom underwent treatment for her breast cancer)but for the most part, he would end up just cutting back. He smoked Marlboro and I can still smell the combination of Old Spice and cigarette smoke from when he would kiss me goodbye before he left for work. Although smoking isn’t what killed him, had he lived longer, it probably would have.

    • Frume Sarah permalink*
      Tuesday, 17 May 2011 12:22 pm

      Funny how certain scents have such strong connections. May his memory always be for a blessing.

  3. Tuesday, 17 May 2011 8:58 am

    Kudos to BubbeGiraffe…every single day!

    • Frume Sarah permalink*
      Tuesday, 17 May 2011 12:27 pm

      Thanks, Jane

  4. Tuesday, 17 May 2011 11:46 am

    I agree that getting forced into quitting isn’t brave, it is deciding every day to stay smoke-free that is brave. But so, so important.
    Good job.
    And thanks for all the great links.
    Came from TRDC.

    • Frume Sarah permalink*
      Tuesday, 17 May 2011 3:48 pm

      Thanks. And thanks for stopping by AND taking the time to comment. I really appreciate it!

  5. Tuesday, 17 May 2011 5:09 pm

    I agree, it’s the choice every day, and not the act of quitting itself. I’m amazed the doctor said the stress was bad for the baby! .. must have been a different time.

    • Frume Sarah permalink*
      Tuesday, 17 May 2011 5:18 pm

      I just turned 40. VERY different times 😉

  6. Tuesday, 17 May 2011 7:30 pm

    you are so right. It’s the daily battle/choice to remain a non-smoker. I’m not a smoker, but my mom was and I know it was hard for her to quit, too.

    great read!

  7. Tuesday, 17 May 2011 7:58 pm

    Very well written. So proud of your mother.

  8. Tuesday, 17 May 2011 8:30 pm

    My father also quit cold turkey one day, but not until after he’d had some small strokes. I was in high school by then.

    I am sorry it took something so major for your mother to stop, but I’m so thankful she did.

  9. Wednesday, 18 May 2011 3:26 am

    This post brings back memories for me, since my mother was the one who smoked as well. She quit after 20 years when her own mother died.

    I’m glad your mother was able to quit.

  10. Wednesday, 18 May 2011 6:40 am

    Smoking through four children who did not consequently suffer the effects of pregnant-mom-smoking syndrome makes me think that those effects might be oversold.

  11. Wednesday, 18 May 2011 12:11 pm

    It’s amazing that the doctors do not attribute her lung issues to smoking! My uncle passed in the fall of 2009 from lung cancer and was a heavy smoker, however the doctors do not believe the smoking was the main cause for his cancer.
    Kudos to your mother for remaining smoke free!

  12. Wednesday, 18 May 2011 5:03 pm

    My husband quit cold turkey right before he asked me to marry him–because I told him that I wouldn’t marry a smoker. He hasn’t had a cigarette since, ten years ago.

    Very evocative writing–I love your imagery. It makes me feel like I am there with you!

  13. Thursday, 26 May 2011 10:07 pm

    I love reading it through your eyes. You grew up in an entirely different culture, I like that you explained how that felt. And you’re right it’s the day after day choices that matter.

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