His name was Floyd, but everybody called him Smoke. He was legendary--in his day the strongest man in town.
1965. Not yet sun-up, maybe 7:30. Foggy. Walking the couple of blocks from home to Bogue High School where I then teach English and journalism. Across the street from Elsie's Cafe comes the quavery voice.
"Bob...Bob!" Leaning against an old Chevy pickup, he waves. I cross over. Smoke is fighting for air.
"Bob. You mind...going.....Elsie's. Get me... packa Winstons?" I smoked then, too. Maybe that's why I obliged.
Not long after Smoke died, I watched my neighbor Vera come out, sit down on her front porch, choking and coughing, and slowly, sadly, suck in the smoke. Thin, gray as a ghost, she maybe got temporary relief. I dunno. They both died from tobacco addiction. But that wasn't on the death certificate, I'm sure.
As a high school sophomore, I remember how my grandfather Steve Stone lived his last few months with us before lung cancer got him. My mother was what then was called a "practical nurse" -- no degree but a big heart. Granddad had paid so many medical bills he was broke. He was proud, too. Didn't want us fussin' over him. We burned his mattress after he died. I don't know exactly why.