“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.
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.
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.)
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