Quitting is easy. I’ve quit smoking a hundred times. It’s the staying quit that’s difficult.

My first experience smoking occurred when I was 9 or 10. I stole one of Gramp’s homemade cigarettes, which he fashioned with a rolling machine. He always made several at a time which he carried around in a Prince Albert can in the bib of his overalls. He wouldn’t miss just one.

Carefully following the action that appeared to provide Gramps and others with so much pleasure, I drew a large amount of smoke into my mouth with the intent of letting it gently and gracefully drift from my nose and mouth as I’d seen so many times, resulting in a pleasing smile and sigh of satisfaction to the smoker. But I was seized by an abrupt spasm of choking, coughing and wheezing. With tears running down my face and pain in my throat and nose, I decided maybe I took too big a puff, or maybe I shouldn’t have inhaled it.

I studied the cigarette awhile as it lay there smoldering, as if daring or mocking me. It didn’t feel right to quit. So, with smaller and more careful drags I continued. The next thing I remember was my sister and Dad standing over me.

“I found him here in the closet,” Shirley said. “He looks sick, Daddy.”

For 19 years, I continued smoking. One year while in the Navy, I quit from New Year’s until July and thought I had kicked the habit. Home on leave and out with my smoking friends, I bummed a cigarette, fully confident I was in control. The fact that the cigarette made me dizzy and destroyed any desire to continue affirmed that I had a grip on nicotine.

Two weeks later when I departed for the ship, I was smoking three cigarettes a day.

At the end of World War II, smoking was in vogue. I believe a large majority of adult males smoked, and it was quite common among women, also. The military encouraged smoking by furnishing cigarettes to the troops. Shop Stores and PXs sold cigarettes tax-free for less than 10 cents a pack. Smoking was glamorized in movies, radio, billboards, magazines and, later, television.

Cigarettes control the smoker and demand the highest priority in his daily life. For example, I caught myself when preparing for a job offshore to pack my cigarettes first. They went in the duffel before my clothes and essential tools for the mission.

Long before the surgeon general’s report to the nation in 1964, I knew smoking was harmful. Each year, especially during the colder months, I suffered with respiratory problems.

Smoking was also inconvenient and expensive. While in the Navy, I conducted a personal analysis of smoking by listing its merits and shortcomings, its pros and cons. The conclusions painted a clear picture: Smoking was stupid! The challenge then became pleasure vs. stupidity. Did I have the will to exercise common sense?

Then one day my secretary announced that Mr. Doe with “The Great Books of the Western World” was here to see me. My former roommate had a set of the books which I enjoyed reading, and from that time on they were on my wish list. Mr. Doe explained that they had a three-year payment plan with monthly payments of $14.73. We had two small children and were living from payday to payday so I knew we could not justify the added financial burden.

I was about to inform Mr. Doe that I couldn’t do it, when I had an epiphany. I think it was divine. The monthly payment was equivalent to my smoking cost, which was a budgeted item. Also, by choosing to spend money on books as opposed to cigarettes, I would improve my health and my mind and get rid of a nasty habit, all in one package.

“Where do I sign?” I asked.

I treasure those books more now for what they symbolize than for their contents.

— Mayfield lives in Lafayette


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