“PACK OF CAMELS, PLEASE.”

By: James F. O’Neil

“Nostalgia is the product of personal memory; it is an expression of fond regret for time lost” (Jeffrey Simpson, Chautauqua: An American Utopia, Abrams, 1999: 10).  “Missing” something–or someone–can cause a kind of pain.  And “nostalgia” is a pain, bittersweet: bitter for reminiscence of the reality, yet sweet, for it was good or fun.

Sights, tastes, and smells evoke the past, sometimes just a quick sentimental journey for a brief moment.  I remember my psychology prof telling us that the SMELL of Crayolas brought about most memories of happy times and places. 

Do I have some regrets now, missing some things of the past that provided pleasure?   

At times, after a good meal, or in a moment of relaxation, I MISS MY CAMELS.

Camel-Cigarettes

(Picture Credit: biggone.com)

That missing, but not needing, is my “perfect” example of nost + algia: the “return home” and the “algia,” the pain (like fibromyalgia or neuralgia).   I MISS MY CAMELS. 

“Severe bronchitis”: in 1972, my doctor told me.  There I was, a pack-a-day smoker.  Since 1959-1960, I had begun to smoke. Lucky Strikes, then Camels, and other brands I cannot remember.  (I do recall those days of pilfering: removing a Chesterfield from a pack lying around on a table at home.)  My bout with bronchitis, however, brought me to awareness: not of lung cancer or other smoking-related illnesses, but to just good breathing.  The doctor told me to stop smoking.  I do not know how I did it.  But I did, cold turkey, as they say, yet with the help of my wife’s chicken soup.

Nevertheless, my Camel senses linger: feel, taste, and sight: nostalgia.

No matter where I am, drug store, grocery store, airport–any place where I see Camels sold (no longer 25 cents a pack)–I can taste the tobacco flavor, smell the smoke, see the wisps of smoke I exhale (or try to make into little smoke rings).  However, probably the most particular memory-impression is my sense of feel, the smooth paper–and that white cigarette between my fingers.

Nostalgia, when I hear “Don’t Bogart that…  [cigarette].”  Or hear lyrics “…Bogart and Bacall…” or see them: Oh, how he and she blew smoke at one another, and held those smokes.  

220px-Humphrey_Bogart_by_Karsh_(Library_and_Archives_Canada)

(Photo: Karsh: Library and Archives, Canada)

I am certain I was and still am addicted to cigarettes.  When I was teaching in a classroom with a chalkboard, I was careful not to hold my chalk like holding a cigarette.  If I did, if the chalk happened to roll out of my hand between my fingers, if I began playing with the chalk, I wanted to let the chalk rest there, then slowly I could put that piece of chalk (no matter white or yellow) between my lips, inhale, and blow.  Nothing.

Oh, the “algia”: the good feeling, the feel-good memory, but with the pain of loss.

I recognize this is an anecdote of such triviality.  Certainly, it is not equal to the nostalgic feelings and memories of the feel, smell, or sights of a former lover or beloved, to the feelings at the loss of a pet, or the loss of a child.  Certainly overwhelming nostalgia.

But then again, remembering the prom, the graduation, the wedding: pain, and happiness, as in the great movie Always.  There a song brings memory, and then the pain accompanies the awareness of loss.  Yet wonderful and fulfilling memories.  (I love that movie.)

Always poster

(Photo Poster Credit: impawards.com)

That movie contains the essence of nostalgia for me.

So, here I am, the non-smoker.  I miss my Camels, but I understand I cannot go back, cannot “go home again.” 

Besides, “The Surgeon General Has Determined That Cigarette Smoking Is Dangerous To Your Health.”  That works for me.

© James F. O’Neil 2013

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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