I knew a true leader named Jake when I was a kid and he led me into many good things and one not so good. It was not at the bar where I smoked my first cigar, but in a hole in the ground. And that event led to a long term habit that I was ashamed of and seemingly unable to escape for many years.
Jake’s dad ran a very successful nursery in my home town on about 10 acres at the edge of the city limits. He sold a lot of sod, trees, landscaping items, birdbaths, birdhouses, etc. I can’t remember how many brothers and sisters Jake had, just that there were a bunch of them. I do remember that Jake was the oldest and a kind of father figure himself.
Jake took the lead in everything, including his rare Saturdays off. He put us all to work one Saturday morning digging tunnels and caves in the soft rich dirt on the back side of the nursery. What started out as World War II trenches and foxholes ended up as elaborate underground caves and bunkers with fireplaces and innovative furniture. When I see old movies such as “The Great Escape,” about ingenious English speaking peoples outwitting German guards by tunneling out of the Stalag, I think of Jake’s old underground network.
I’m thankful I’m not a smoker now, but I had my first cigar in Jake’s “mother-pod” back there. In it, we had developed a good fireplace with a bottomless bucket for a chimney and we had dug some holes so the draft would allow a fire. Each member of the underground construction team had an assigned seat on the sod bench along the wall opposite the fireplace. When Jake passed out the Roi Tans, I didn’t want to be the only one to decline, so I lit up and smoked that stogey with abandon—to get it over with. When we went to our regular above-ground homes that evening, the distaff side of each household had one query: have you been around a fire? I told my mother all about the project (but not the cigar) and she accepted it with a benign grin.
However, Jake’s dad stopped the project the following day. He called us all together after church and let us know how unchristian it was to partake of nicotine products. (He, himself, chewed Red Man on the sly, but that was an era in which you didn’t argue with elders—about anything). I don’t think it was my mother, but someone doubtless notified Jake’s dad after one of our crew confessed to the stogey sin.
The next year, Mother found a pack of Luckys and a penny box of matches in my supposedly fool-proof hiding place. She shamed me into abstinence by saying, “Son, you know how I hate it when your step-father drinks whiskey? Well this is 10 times worse.” Like Job of old, I fell to repenting right then, but the allure of that nicotine buzz plagued me for many years to come.