Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Outside the Box

I often notice these boxes in front of Fair Oaks Cigars. I really should go in sometime. I don't smoke cigars but I'm fascinated by cigar culture -- mostly because it's so contrary. (Smoking is rebellious enough in our nonsmoking era, but smoking stogies is so counterculture it's borderline punk rock.) And yet it's quaint. Smoking cigars is something people did in old black and white movies, something out of a time capsule...

Which is the real reason these boxes intrigue me. When I was 12 years old my best friend Sally had the great idea of making a time capsule. It was 1976, and Bicentennial fever had reached epidemic proportions. When the official Bicentennial American Freedom Train rolled through my hometown the hoopla was so big you'd have thought the government reanimated Abraham Lincoln to wave from the caboose. The thing was massive: a huge steam locomotive pulling twenty six train cars filled with American artifacts. George Washington's copy of the Constitution was in there. So was Judy Garland's little gingham dress from The Wizard of Oz.

"Are you going to the Freedom Train?" My classmate David was the first to ask me. He had recently gotten extra credit in history for making a poster entitled 200 Years of Texas Agriculture. It featured a map of the state showing crops of every region. The row of little cotton balls glued along the southern coast was a nice touch.

"My dad is letting me miss school," our friend Ralph said. "We're going to camp out."

"I'm going to sneak in my Polaroid," Diane said. She sat at the desk behind me and worked on the school paper. "They say you can't take pictures, but this is too important not to capture on film."

"Who cares about a bunch of old junk?" Sally said. "I mean really," she said, "so they have Betsy Ross's thimble and some moldy popcorn from the first Thanksgiving? Big deal. We could make our own time capsule and bury it in my back yard."

And so we did. We took one of her father's cigar boxes and filled it with our own artifacts. I don't remember everything, but I know there was a Tiger Beat magazine featuring Lief Garrett, a rock with a happy face drawn on it, a package of Chicklets Sally swiped from her mom's purse, the comics section of the newspaper and a cassette tape of the two of us singing a couple of songs: America the Beautiful followed by Rock and Roll All Nite.

I never did make it out to see the Freedom Train, but I still felt like I was a part of something historic.

18 comments:

Judy Williams said...

I can still see Bob Smith, Sally's father, with that nasty half chewed cigar hanging from his mouth. Had he been more like Orson Wells in Citizen Kane, or perhaps Bogey, in a classic movie, my cigar remembrances might be more positive.

I love the time capsule idea. Do you think it's still buried? Probably.

We used to use the cardboard cigar boxes as the containers for our school supplies. They were tucked inside our desk compartment. I still remember those metal and laminate monstrosities. Isn't it funny that there were rooms of 7 and 8 years olds in the late 50's, with empty containers that had formerly held rolled tobacco, now housing 32 Crayola crayons and several #2 pencils?

Kids of today don't know what they're missing.

Dixie Jane said...

Even in my far away girlhood, cigar boxes were de rigueur and I used them for school stuff as well as paper dolls and assorted junk. Some of my stuff included samples of products one could order from magazines: little bottles of lotion, toothpaste, the list goes on. It was fun to receive these samples, look forward to the mail and relegate them to the cigar box. This was long before you could buy boxes for school supplies along with notebook paper, etc.

Later on I had a boss who smoked cigars and would call me to his office for dictation, shut the door and light up. It was awful. I loved the boxes but hated what came in them.

I guess I haven't given any thought to the fact that cigars come in cigar boxes and I never see them anymore.But I have fond memories of their usage.

dbdubya said...

Cigar boxes have many uses. When my son was 5 or 6 I buried a cigar box containing a few foreign coins, an old signet ring I'd gotten as a child, and some other trinkets in the back yard. A day or two later I came up with an elaborate story about buried treasure and he decided to look in the back yard. I conveniently steered him in the direction of the fresh dirt and he started digging. Voila, buried treasure! He ran into the house to tell his mom and show her what he'd found. I don't know what happened to the cigar box, but I know he kept the ring for a long time. It's been nearly 30 years and he's probably forgotten where that old ring came from. I never did tell him the truth.

altadenahiker said...

Wonderful story. Yes, Tiger Beat is for the ages. Wish I could hear that tape, though.

(My dad smoked cigars when I was little, so of course I always wore cigar rings.)

TheChieftess said...

White Owl cigar boxes were my favorite!!! They were great for keeping all the shoes, jewelry, and accessories to all my Barbie outfits...All of which, I still have!!!

I have to say, my hubby smokes them ol' stogies...and I don't mind a bit...he only smokes outside (every weekend you can find him on the patio...rain or shine!) and I've never minded the smell of cigars...as long as it's not "in your face"!!!

Pasadena Adjacent said...

I Love that story. Wish you had seen Betsy Ross' thimble. I think you missed out on something big there.

Dave said...

Ive actually started smoking cigars recently. OK, not reeaaaallly. Just a couple. It was exciting, and I too like the allure. I might buy one maybe a few times a year and drink it with a sidecar... ya know, just to feel nostalgic. Its fun... Hookah is better, far less smokey smoke and you can get it in flavors. Cigars have a horrible aftertaste, especially the next morning! Yuk! Eden Garden in Pasadena is fun to go to from time to time and smoke Hookah. Try it out!

I remember growing up in the 70s and 80s sitting on my dads lap watching Star Trek and lighting his cigars for him when he came home from work. Those were the days!

-1916home

Birdman said...

Funny story! Yes, I too remember the Freedom Train.

San Diego Farmgirl said...

I love the smell of cigars. Mmmmmm. Cigar boxes are nifty, too!

TheChieftess said...

My first hubby and I bought tickets for all of his family and my family for the Freedom Train...we stood in line for 8 hours in the parking lot of Angel stadium. We had all ages from a 3 year old niece to an 83 year old great grandma!!! We took turns standing in line while others would go walk or sit where they could. It was actually kind of a momentous experience...was it worth it??? Yeah...the memories, the family...the exhibit...it was kind of cool...and I still haven't gotten back to DC to see it all in the Smithsonian!!!

Yakpate said...

When I as four years old, my grandmother thrilled me to my worn shoe soles by filling cigar boxes with little-girl treasure: emptied-out Avon jars, perfect for saving pieces of broken colored glass I collected with a fervor;unusual buttons, shaped like hearts pierced with arrows; and my favorite, emptied, wooden bowls that had held Yardley shaving soap.

But the cigar boxes were best of all, with exotic illustrations of Indian princesses and ornate, colorful scrollwork.

To me, cigar boxes evoke memories of Grandma's love!

Shanna said...

I kept my drawing supplies in them when I was in art school at U.T.
I used to use my rapidograph pen and draw on the boxes to alter the illustrations. I wonder if I still have those boxes around in storage. It would be fun to find them.

TheChieftess said...

Isn't it amazing how perfectly happy we were to play with old Avon bottles, small pieces of glass and cigar boxes...I used to love to play dress up in my mom's old clothes, and my sister and I put together a whole department store in our living room...No wireless this, or Wii that...no plastic Barbie houses and cars...those just started coming out when I was playing with them...I have to admit a bit of yearning for the car...but why limit yourself to Mattel's imagination when you can build a dream house with abalone shells as the bath tub and exotic drapes of fabric adorning the walls....ahhhh....the good ol' days!!! Nothing quite like an old broad or two waxing nostalgic!!!

Mister Earl said...

The smell of cigar smoke when I was a kid meant I was at Seals Stadium or Candlestick Park, watching the Giants. Baseball's just not the same without the smell of cigars.

When I was a kid, a friend of mine drew my name as part of a Christmas gift exchange. He gave me some really cool stamps as a gift. He put them in a cigar box that he wrapped up. After he gave me the gift, he asked if he could have the box back. I told him no. I now regret that. I still have the box. It's the only cigar box I've ever owned.

Laurie said...

This is why I love blogging. Great pow wow of cigar box stories. Makes me want to print out these comments... and put them in a cigar box!

TheChieftess said...

...and bury them in the back yard as a time capsule???

Laurie said...

Yes!

Wes said...

Mister Earl,

Funny you mention baseball, that brought back memories. I played baseball in college in Riverside back in 75-77, and in the summer we'd play at night. Back then, smoking in bleachers was allowed. As the catcher, and as such closest to the stands, I'd smell hints of cigar smoke from the old-timers who puffed those. That scent has stuck with me ever since.