19 September 2019

Ellis Millsaps - Son of a Preacher Man, Ch VI: Preacher's Kid

 I can't say now, sixty years later, whether my escape of hell and my recoil against being the preacher's kid are causally connected. It's a temptation because they are close in time but that is a dangerous fallacy in logic.

 I do know that both happenings occurred in the summer of my eighth year. I can't now say which preceded the other.

I can say that before that summer my status as the son of our minister was  to my mind an elevated one, and that after that summer my status as the preacher's son became one which I was pressured to disdain as a stain on my street cred.

 As previously noted, my heroes had always been cowboys. Cowboys not only smoked cigars and hand-rolled cigarettes, but some of them did commercials for their tobacco sponsors. Dale Robertson of Tales of Wells Fargo hawked Pall Malls,” long lasting and they’re mild, and you can light either end.”.

 So it was Pall Malls that I first took to the woods at the age of seven to impress Neal Camp with my ability to smoke them, First a word about in Neal Camp, Pall Malls and a minor's access to cigarettes in the late 1950s.

 There were no age restrictions on purchasing tobacco until decades later. I was regularly sent to Camp’s store to buy cigarettes for my older relatives, so I'm sure Mrs. Camp took no particular notice when I plunked down my quarter for a pack of Pall Malls. You could light either end of a Pall Mall because they were unfiltered.

In the early sixties high schoolers smoked cigarettes openly. In the late sixties at my West Fannin High alma mater, chewing gum or growing long hair could get you sent to the principal's office, but students (male ones exclusively as I recall) smoked cigarettes outdoors between classes. I wasn't among them having earned my street cred in elementary school.

 But elementary school kids didn't smoke cigarettes unless you were an outlaw. Little Tommy Dunn, a year younger than I, walked down the street in front of my house with his father, Big Tommy, smoking cigarettes, but that was deviant behavior. Other kids smoked, if at all, in the woods away from any adult eye.

 Although his younger siblings, Jan and Joey, went to Vacation Bible School at least, I never saw Neal, three years my elder and two ahead of me in school, in church. Neil was an outlaw. He smoked cigarettes in the woods. Neil will get his own chapter later, but for now our focus is that I wanted to impress him.

 Neal was duly impressed that I had these cigarettes and was smoking them, but not very well. He used a racist slur tor describe how my cigarette disintegrated into my mouth as fast as the lit end burned down leaving me spitting out wet tobacco. I would not make that mistake again. The next time I met Neal in the woods I brought filtered cigarettes.

- Ellis Millsaps

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