Everybody Has a Story: Cigarettes, leather jacket made teen feel ‘mature’

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I started working as a janitor at Eddy’s Cake Bakery, in Helena, Mont., in June of 1955. I was 15. I was paid for a 40-hour week and earned 85 cents an hour, which was good money.

On school days, I went to work at 2:30 p.m. and got off around 8:30 p.m. I worked a full eight hours on Saturdays. My job was to clean the bakery equipment, walls, floors and bathrooms with steam hoses, mops, brooms, air hoses and squeegees. I went to the Helena landfill every day to dispose of flour bags, egg cans, waste dough and icing and other trash from the bakery and from the Eddy’s Baking Co. corporate office. I took breaks in a small locker room with the grizzly bakers who made the cakes, doughnuts and pastry during the afternoon.

I swear that everyone working for Eddy’s was a smoker in those days, and I felt pressure to look more mature in the break room. I bought my first pack of Sano Cigarettes in the fall of 1955. The Sano brand could only be bought at drug stores, and it contained little or no tar and nicotine.

I blended in while on break with the bakers, smoking my Sanos and looking more “mature.” One day, one of the bakers asked me what I was smoking and started to make fun of my Sanos, saying they were not real cigarettes. So I switched from Sanos to Chesterfields. A popular television detective was advertising them, and he sure was tough and “mature.” My favorite baseball player, Mickey Mantle with the Yankees, also advertised Chesterfields (although I found out years later that he never did actually smoke).

My smoking days with real cigarettes began, and I blended in — in the Eddy’s Bakery locker room.

One day, in 1956, I was driving the company truck to the Helena landfill to dump my load of paper and egg cans, and I flipped a Chesterfield out the window. The 1-ton truck was painted Eddy’s Bread orange and had stakes on the side to keep the garbage from blowing out. Suddenly I noticed smoke coming from the back of the truck — and then flames. I panicked and drove up onto the front lawn of a large house in the Helena Valley, grabbed their garden hose and proceeded to put out my “Chesterfield” fire.

I had made some serious tire marks in the lawn and wanted to get out of there before someone came out of the house. I found

out later that the house was owned by the sheriff — and fortunately, no one was home at the time. When I got back to the bakery, I had to sand off the burnt wooden stakes on the driver’s side of the truck and repaint them orange to camouflage the damage. I was sure I would be fired if my boss ever discovered the damage, but he never did.

My mother worked at the Salvation Army Thrift Store, and she occasionally would bring home good stuff. She brought home a cool leather jacket that fit me perfectly. She didn’t know that I smoked Chesterfields (or Sanos for that matter). I was down by Hawthorne Elementary School, smoking with a couple of my friends, when Mom came out of the school after a PTA meeting.

I took off running, trying to get out of sight. Later that night, Mom asked me if I was smoking, and I said no. She said that she saw a kid that looked like me running away from the Hawthorne school, wearing a leather jacket and holding a cigarette. I said it couldn’t be me, I hadn’t worn that leather jacket in weeks. (I’d left it at my friend’s house.)

Of course, she eventually discovered that I was a smoker when she found cigarettes in my car’s glove box. I promised to quit, but never did — until much later in life.

I was walking down the hall of Helena High, wearing my cool leather jacket, when Bobby Baker approached me. Bobby Baker was a popular, handsome, athletic kid who came from a wealthy family. He grabbed the back shoulder of my leather jacket and said, “Where did you get that jacket — it is mine?”

I told him that my mom had bought it for me. He reached into the top of the coat and pulled out the label. Printed on the back were two words: Bobby Baker. What do you say? I had to confess that my mom brought it home from the Salvation Army Thrift Store. Bobby said, “That makes sense. My mother said that I looked like a hoodlum in that leather jacket and must have given it to charity.”

I didn’t feel very important that day and never wore that coat again.

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