I took the kids to one of the local parks today, and as I sat knitting a sock on the bench and they played on the slides and ladders, a couple of locals rested their elbows on a picnic table nearby. Every once in a while the smaller one in the Razorbacks sweatshirt said something funny to the bigger one in overalls, and I'd hear a phelgmy, wheezy laugh.
That sound reminded me of my fond history with smoking. I've never smoked -- not even a puff. My family considered smoking a vice akin to drinking, which meant that I was convinced for a long time that no Christian did either. (This led to some headscratching when I saw a member of our church hanging out at the porte cuchere between Sunday School and the worship service, grabbing a quick smoke.)
But as a teenager I started to know personally people who smoked, including at least one boyfriend. I found it rebellious and romantic, of course, but preferred to get just a contact high. (What was I scared of? Coughing, I guess -- in any case, I've always been sure I just wouldn't be able to breathe the stuff in.)
Now I disapprove, with all the power of my maternal and mentoring positions, of the students and staff members who gather at the doorways and puff away, ignoring the stencils on the doors reading "No Smoking Within 25 Yards" and dragging the gray plastic ash collectors closer to the entrances. I have a Puritan and upper-middle-class disdain for those who can't control their addictions.
But I also love the rasp of a smoke-ravaged voice, and the damp, breathy heaving of smoker's laughter. You hear it a lot around here, and despite its connection to an unhealthy habit, I associate it with a certain salt-of-the-earthness -- something real, like the solid, uncomplicated people of my state.