A lesson courtesy of Beechnut Chewing Tobacco

Published 11:28 pm Saturday, April 9, 2011

I had the kind of traumatic experience that many other kids have had. Whether it is from smoking, dipping or chewing tobacco the lesson generally lasts a lifetime. The following account is from some notes I wrote years ago about lessons I learned early in life. The year was 1932 at the depth of the depression when I was just 12 years of age. We were living in a log cabin in a valley of the Ozark mountains. My best friend was a kid from a big family that lived on a mountain that loomed over our valley. We were attending Round Mountain, a tiny grade school down the hollow a ways. I was a newcomer and in need of a friend.

Shurd Junior was an amiable kid and we soon became companions. He and I paired off on the long walks to school with the rest of the kids. We sought one another out during recess and at noon, but our best times were on Sunday afternoons. On several occasions we explored the surrounding mountains and valleys. The one trip I cannot forget was made on a bright sunny Saturday morning. I don’t remember why I was not cutting wood with my brother Bob, nor why he was not working with his Dad in the field as we usually did on Saturdays.

Anyway, a personal misfortune came about on that beautiful Saturday morning. This, like most misfortunes, came about as a result of error in human judgment. Shurd Junior’s mother gave him a dollar and told him to go to the store and get a can of Calumet baking powder. She also cautioned him to be careful and not lose the change. He asked me to go along. We walked the two miles, and after he bought the can of baking powder and got the change we stood looking at the assortment of quarters, dimes, nickels and pennies, then we looked at each other.

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“She said not to lose it, but she didn’t say we couldn’t spend any of it,” Shurd reasoned.

“What could we buy?” I asked.

“We could take home some chewing tobacco. Would you like a chew?” Shurd asked.

“Sure, why not?”

We looked over the different brands displayed on the counter. There were the brown squares of Days Work, Brown’s Mule, and Apple, but we chose a package of Beechnut which Shurd Junior explained was his mother’s favorite. As soon as we got out of the store Shurd Junior opened the package and stuffed a big chew into his mouth. I dug out a smaller amount and tucked it under my tongue.

It had a strong but almost pleasant taste because the tobacco came thoroughly soaked in cane syrup. While I appreciated the sweetness, I had heard about the effects of swallowing tobacco and determined to resist the temptation to do so.

We strolled along talking and spitting. Soon the world began to get a little wavy, then it began to move around. Since I was feeling a little poorly, I spit the wad of tobacco out and we stopped at a clear stream where I bathed my face and took a cool drink of water.

I felt too weak to walk and by now the moving world had begun to turn over. I lay on my back for awhile just looking up at the billowy clouds moving along below the blue sky and wished they would stay still. I wished I could just go on to heaven because I could not imagine ever being able to walk the remaining mile home. Finally, with Shurd’s help, I got up and made it to the cabin.

Mother came out of the cabin and found me stretched out on the warm earth. At first she was alarmed because I was so pale. However, when I confessed the error of my ways, she began to grin. When I put on my best hurt expression her response was, “you’ve learned a good lesson. We generally create our own misery.” It was somewhat later in life that I learned the rest of that truth: While we generally create our miseries, we also create our own periods of happiness.

This was the lesson I learned well that Saturday afternoon when I was twelve years of age: Never put anything in your body that makes you sick; only something good to eat or drink or else the laws of nature and the hand of God will punish you. In addition to tobacco I could go on to mention drugs, alcohol, or too much of anything including junk food (or even healthy food). As the good book says, “Whatsoever a man sows, that shall he also reap.” Galatians 6:7