Cumberland Times-News

April 5, 2014

Who knows how many times she poisoned him?

Jim Goldsworthy, Columnist
Cumberland Times-News

— My dad used to say that if tobacco and coffee tasted as good as they smelled, the world would be a better place.

(This was years ago, when I was a kid and we didn’t know any better, so spare me your politically correct modern thoughts on tobacco.)

My dad smoked unfiltered cigarettes from the time he was a teen-ager until he was 60 years old and lived to be almost 90.

That said, it wasn’t until he had just a few weeks to live and finally was subjected to a chest X-ray for the first time that we found out only one of his lungs was operational.

He’d had polio when he was 2 years old. You may remember that people who had polio often wound up in iron lungs because their diaphragms were paralyzed and couldn’t work their lungs.

Dad’s diaphragm was paralyzed on his right side, so that lung atrophied. However, his left-side diaphragm functioned normally, and so did that lung.

He survived almost 90 years in that condition — pushing around a heavy old wooden-framed reel-type lawn mower and doing other things that required exertion — oblivious to the fact he had only one usable lung.

He also smoked a pack or more of unfiltered Camels, Lucky Strikes or Chesterfields each day for half of his life.

I’ve heard it said by folks who’ve been around for a while that what passes for cigarettes today aren’t real cigarettes, which used to be made out of first-rate tobacco, with no cigar-factory floor sweepings, chemicals or anything else added.

That’s not something I can testify to. I don’t know what a good old-fashioned cigarette tasted like, but I do know this:

When I was a kid, I loved the smell of the tobacco in my dad’s unsmoked cigarettes. They don’t seem to have much aroma at all, today ... or much taste, for that matter.

I also loved the smell of coffee. When my mom took me to the A&P Store on her grocery shopping trips, she just dropped me off at the coffee grinder — knowing that the aroma of freshly-roasted and ground coffee would entertain me until she was finished and ready to come and collect me.

My parents, grandparents and I used to go to Wildwood, N.J., for two weeks each summer.

Grandfather Goldsworthy’s two-tone green 1952 Buick was roomy enough and had a big enough trunk to hold five people and everything we needed for two weeks ... except for food, of course, and my mother and grandmother washed clothes every couple of days.

Granddad’s Buick was one of the grandest automobiles in Keyser, with a big, powerful engine, power steering, power brakes and an automatic transmission. There was more room in the back seat than you find in the interior of most modern automobiles.

It had a visor over the windshield and a radio antenna that lay flat on the front of the car’s roof until you wanted it raised. A nob over the windshield inside the car allowed you to do this without having to get out.

Grandmother Goldsworthy always fried a pound or more of bacon and wrapped it in foil for us to eat as a snack on the way.

Unlike coffee and tobacco, bacon is one of the few things that tastes as good as it smells — if not better — and to my way of thinking is equally good when it’s cold.

I have heard on at least three different cooking shows that bacon is responsible for corrupting more vegetarians than any other meat product.

We were at the beach when my grandfather remarked how good Dad’s cigarette smelled and bummed one from him.

He was in his mid-60s and hadn’t smoked since he was a teenager, having quit because he couldn’t afford it.

So far as I know,  both of Granddad’s lungs worked. After lighting an unfiltered Lucky, he cheerfully filled them with something they hadn’t experienced for more than 40 years.

They were none too pleased by this treatment. Their reaction was so spectacular and went on for so long that the other grownups thought they might have to take Granddad to the hospital.

Neither my father nor my grandfather had any use for cold or lukewarm coffee.

Granddad would snort and say, “(Mild expletive)! That tastes like warm (what any beverage ultimately turns into)!” I never had the nerve to ask him how he knew what that particular substance tasted like.

My father took his coffee with milk and two sugars. If my mother put milk in his cup at the dinner table but forgot the sugar, he would snort and say “(Same mild expletive)! I’ve been poisoned.”

Mom, on the other hand, preferred her coffee black with NO sugar, the same way I do.

On a sweltering afternoon when I was about 9 years old, my one-lunged father came in from heavy old wooden-framed reel mower mowing the lawn.

He could not have been more drenched if someone had turned a garden hose on him.

He spied a glass filled with ice and a brown liquid and assumed it was a Pepsi that my mother had left behind. It was a big glass, too, probably holding more than 12 ounces.

Dad was correct that it was a drink my mother had left unattended. He was incorrect in his assessment of its contents.

It was a glass of unsweetened iced coffee, and he shotgunned it.

My father’s reaction, when the awareness sprang upon him after he’d downed virtually all of it, could serve as an example to put beside the entry for “unpleasant surprise” in our audiovisual dictionary.

I wish I could remember all of what he said. It was impressive, and there have been occasions when I could have used it.

One reason my dad probably survived all those decades of smoking unfiltered cigarettes is because he smoked most of them at his office desk.

He invariably lit one, took a puff or two, then put it down, forgot about it and it went out. When he was ready for another, he just took a fresh one from the pack; cigarettes were cheap, back then.

I’m the same way with coffee. I get a cup at work, take a sip or two and forget about it.

It gets cold, but I have gotten to the place where I don’t mind drinking cold coffee.

After all, I’m my mother’s son, too.