Walking in downtown Boston the other day with my niece Molly, I saw, flattened on the sidewalk, an empty package of Lucky Strikes cigarettes. I immediately stomped on it, whacked Molly (lightly, of course) on the arm and said "Lucky Strike, no strike back."
Molly, being 11, naturally looked at me as if I had just sprouted a second head.
I explained to her that this was the 50's and 60's equivalent of "Punch Buggy, no punch back" which kids do when they see VW Beetles. (Or the equivalent of Molly's own invention: giving someone a mini-poke in the arm when she sees a Mini-Cooper.)
I do have to say that seeing that dead packet of Luckies gave me a colossal jolt.
For one thing, I didn't realize that they even made Luckies anymore. And not that I'm going to get nostalgic over a tobacco product that was likely responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people, but it did throw me into the wayback machine for the Lucky era.
I remember their not very good ads: The tobacco auctioneer who ended each sale with a ringing "Sold America". The announcer intoning L.S.M.F.T.: Lucky Strike Means Fine Tobacco/Taste. (Or the "joke" version: Loose Suspenders Mean Falling Trousers.) Lucky Strike signage on the sides of the Railway Express trucks that delivered the Christmas gifts from Chicago.
Cigarettes and Christmas - how they went together....
I remember buying my father Woolworth's plaid bean-bag ashtrays and, as I got older, chipping in with my sister Kathleen to buy him a carton of Luckies, his macho, unfiltered smoke of choice before converting to the relatively mild Marlboros. (And while my father did die young - he was only 58 - he didn't die of lung cancer or anything even vaguely tobacco related. He had, in fact, given up smoking well before he died.)
But people smoked "then" - and then lasted for a good long time. It's hard now to remember just how gaspingly ghastly it was to sit near the smoking section on an airplane. Or at the movies. Or next to a smoker in a restaurant before they instituted smoking sections. Or at a business meeting where it was OK to smoke. All this was not so very long ago.
People smoked in hospitals, too. On his deathbed, my father had to ask my Uncle Charlie to step out of his room if we wanted to have a cigarette. Imagine: it was OK as recently as the 1970's to smoke in a hospital room! (Years ago, I watched a re-run of Dr. Kildare, a TV show that was popular in the 1960's. There were the young interns, buying their packs of smokes from the vending machine on the ward. There was the venerable Dr. Gillespie, Chief of Staff at Blair General Hospital, walking off the elevator puffing away. Inhale deeply and tell the patient, "I'm afraid, madam, that you have lung cancer.")
Seeing the Lucky packet also reminded me that, as trash-littered our sidewalks and gutters can be - and Boston is not the cleanest city on the face of the earth - there does, in fact, seem to be less littering than when I was a kid. This can't be true - there are just so many more litter possibilities now, what with all the fast food meals eaten on the run. But when I was a kid, people routinely tossed litter - bottles, cigarette packs, banana peels, trash - out their car windows. The sides of roadways were just strewn with trash. Today, I'm shocked when I see someone casually littering or hurling trash out the car window.
(There was, by the way, no littering out the Rogers' family car window. The only thing we could toss was an apple core, which were OK because the birds would eat them.)
But litter there was when I was a kid, thus we had many opportunities on the way to and fro school to stamp our foot on those empty packs of Luckies and whack the nearest kid.
All I can say is, lucky us that we no longer have to put up with smoking, or litter, the way we used to.