It was the first week of June, and I was 12 years old. Over Memorial Day weekend, my family made the trip from our one-bedroom apartment in Brooklyn, NY, to Laurence Harbor, N.J., on Raritan Bay. Our purpose was to move some stuff, principally clothes, to our little bungalow on the beach for the summer months.
As the weekend came to an end, my mother asked if I’d like to stay there while the rest of them returned to Brooklyn. Although there was still a week of school left, I had already locked in A’s in all of my subjects. Mom said she’d write a note to the school principal and have me excused for the remainder of the semester. Naturally, I jumped at the chance to be on my own for a whole week.
After everyone left, I noticed that someone had left an open pack of Chesterfield cigarettes on the table. The next morning, I awoke, made a pot of coffee, took it and the cigarettes out to the porch, and lit up for the first time. Because there was nobody else around, there was no peer pressure. None of the kids I knew who were my age smoked cigarettes. But, I had plenty of role models.
Every adult in my life smoked, with the exception of my maternal great-grandmother. So, I had lived with second-hand smoke all along, although nobody thought of such exhalations as we do today. By the time the next weekend rolled around, I was hooked. Unfortunately, I did not get sick from that first cigarette, as so many kids did. If I had, perhaps I would not have taken another...