Anderson Family History

Trying Tobacco in 1930s South Dakota

Two early encounters with the evils of tobacco occurred when I was around seven years old. Many of the farmers in the area chewed tobacco rather than smoking, perhaps for the convenience of biting off a chew rather than rolling their own. Factory-made cigarettes were relatively more expensive so a chew of tobacco was the economical vice of choice.

My oldest brother, Laurel, had somewhere acquired a plug of tobacco, which he tried occasionally when he thought the folks wouldn’t find out. I think he decided to play a trick on me, or perhaps was getting even with me for something or the other, anyhow, he cut off a small chunk of tobacco and gave it to me to chew. I think the brand was called Spark Plug, which was a good seller at the store. I chewed for a little while, and after trying to spit like the big boys did, I accidentally swallowed. The whole chew went down my throat and immediately I started feeling somewhat woozy.

Drinking water didn’t help. In fact I think it added to the problem. As I was becoming sicker by the minute, I went to Mom for comfort and consolation. The truth came out as to what had transpired and I believe that was the last time I tried to chew. I’m not sure what reprimand or punishment Laurel got at the time – I was too sick to care.

My other encounter involved only myself and I could not lay the blame on anyone else. I had pilfered a cigarette from the store showcase that contained candy, cigarettes, tobacco and chewing gum. A few wooden farmers matches from the container by the cook stove, and I was off to find a place to relax with a smoke.

The outhouse seemed like an out-of-sight good place to try out this form of kicking-back, and so, after the second match, I got the thing lit. A few puffs later there was a harsh knock on the door, which I had carefully latched, and Dad’s voice demanding to be let in right now. He had evidently seen my peculiar behavior and guessed exactly what I was up to.

Not knowing what to do with the cigarette, (I hadn’t thought of dropping it down the hole), I carefully laid it on the seat, opened the door and ran for the house. Needless to say swift frontier justice followed.

 By Merland D. Howe, 2000.

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