Several self-published books recently found their way to U.S. 1, something we actually appreciate. The reason is there just may be something in them that we can share with our readers that can inform, delight, or even unsettle.
One of the publications, Peter Erickson’s “Smoked Like Chimneys, Drank Like Fish: Raised Under the Influence,” manages to do all three. It is an informative personal account of American life in the not-so-distant past and promises to deliver plenty of knowing smirks from those who lived through it. Yet it also is unsettling in how it shows how social norms can change and how what is acceptable today can turn to being ridiculous tomorrow.
The Ewing resident shows this by revisiting the landscape of his youth — 1960s New Jersey — and writes about two things that stand out to anyone who watched the television series “Mad Men”: smoking and drinking.
He starts by talking about how the U.S. military introduced the joys of smoking to the “Greatest Generation” during World War II:
While in the fields of battle, soldiers sustained themselves with a handy little carton of portable nutrition called a K-ration. Probably somewhere in the neighborhood of two or three hundred million of these diminutive survival boxes were issued during the war. Inside each was a piece of chocolate, canned meat, energy bars, coffee, and a host of other important times chosen to get a soldier through each day in the field. Perhaps one of the most important items contained in these little packages, however, was the one thing that most service men and women couldn’t get by without: the cigarette. In this case, four of them, ingeniously tucked into a little package.
Men and women who had never before lit up now couldn’t imagine a day without their smokes. The habit soon became an ongoing ritual that shadowed them for the rest of their lives. It also shadowed a great many lungs. Then, one day, the war ended and about 10 million lucky veterans returned home, where they packed away their uniforms and got down to the business of finding a spouse, securing employment, buying a home, and starting family. These folks were to settle down in the Levittowns, Fullertons, Napervilles, and other postwar communities that were springing up all across America.
All of this was done in a veil of cigarette smoke and the din of highball glasses being filled with ice and booze. From the womb through adulthood, the children of my parents and their generational cohorts grew up in a permanent nicotine cloud: Chesterfields, Camels and Kents. Oh my!
Let’s not forget the booze. The clang of ice careening against the side of a liquor-filled glass was as much as part of our daily life as the stench of cigarette and cigar smoke that permeated most of post war American homes. Kids in the ’50s, ’60s, and ’70s became well acquainted with all kinds of cocktails. Scotch, rye, vodka, and gin were fixtures in most everyone’s homes. Usually large bottles of them were displayed prominently in the living room, den or kitchen. Like trophies of honor.
Oh my! Indeed. For more information, light up a Lucky, gulp down a Cutty Sark, and link onto www.smokedlikechimneys.com. And keep the books coming.