The Party Line: Listening in on Celina and Pattie
Johnny is a good brother. He really is, even though he teases me something awful, and we argue. I know he would stick by me no matter what happened. Our family is like that. Dad and Mom and their brothers and sisters are the same way.
Remember that time in high school when he threatened to let it slip that I had tried smoking? In the year 1950, nice girls did not smoke. And that was that. Just ask any older person my mom’s age. But we junior girls thought we’d be glamorous and give it a try.
That brother of mine and his buddies thought it would be funny to follow us beyond where the busses were parked and see what we were up to.
Five of us gathered around Ewa who brought cigarettes from her dad’s pack, one for each of us, and showed us how to hold the match and inhale to get a mouthful of smoke. I don’t know what I did wrong, but that smoke came out my nose and mouth and I coughed till my eyes watered. When that happened, I could feel myself turning green, and dizzy, and nauseated. Remember how you and Stella got sick too, but not as bad as I did. That’s when the boys jumped from around one of the busses laughing, and pointing, and teasing us. I was too sick to quarrel when Johnny said he would tell Andy and Dad I had been smoking.
When school was dismissed, and I climbed on board the bus, I was still sick as a dog and didn’t want to talk to, or look at, anyone. Johnny threw his books on the seat in front of me, and said, “Jeez, Missy you can’t still be sick from one little cigarette.” All I could do was reach for the latches on the window and put it down so I’d get some fresh air. When he checked out the black circles around my eyes and my ashen tinged face, he turned around and raised his eyebrows at Mike, his best friend.
I should have known better than to dread what he was going to say to Dad. When we got off the bus he shook his head when he glanced at me, and said he wouldn’t tell Andy or Dad. I can still hear him saying, “But I don’t think girls should smoke.” When I told him I would never light up another cigarette as long as I lived, he believed me.
What was your first experience of smoking a cigarette like?
In the man’s world of 1955, Celina is determined to resist the coal mining tradition of her Polish-American family and find a life and love of her own.