Celebratory cigar of 1969 now forbidden

Published 12:00 am Monday, June 6, 2011

By Mack Williams
for the Salisbury Post
Toward the end of my senior year (1969) at East Rowan, I experimented smoking cigars, which, unlike other things that some people smoked then, were fairly legal.
In those days, students were allowed to smoke in East’s central courtyard, which contained the school library at its center.
The source of my experimentation with smoking cigars was inspiration from a re-release of “Gone With the Wind.” Seeing Clark Gable puffing on a cigar while playing cards with the Yankee soldiers who had imprisoned him made me realilze he was “cool.”
Even though Gable has been gone many years now, the essence of his “coolness” remains forever on film to be viewed on TCM and Netflix. But more than just being “cool,” he truly was a good person, according to biographers.
The young men of today would do well to emulate the way he led his life in his dealings with others.
In “Gone With the Wind,” Rhett Butler’s “coolness” was magnified in scenes in which a cigar accompanies his sly grin.
Back then, I tried my imitation of his world-famous grin. I’m afraid mine, however, resembled Harvey Korman’s impression of the “Gable grin” in that classic episode of the old “Carol Burnett Show” in which Burnett portrayed Scarlett and Korman portrayed Butler.
The time came for the graduation of East Rowan’s Class of 1969, prefaced by our graduation practice on the football field. To that practice, I brought a cigar and matches concealed in my pocket. I decided I would have a celebratory smoke, evidently feeling that the practice of smoking to commemorate a special occasion was not solely in the possession of the Native American.
We were seated in metal chairs on the football field, and I was somewhere near the back since my last name is “Williams.” This was before the days when calling names alphabetically would be reversed, a sometime courtesy to those who were near the alphabet’s end.
I had my cigar — either an El Producto or a Tampa Nugget — in readiness, having purchased it at a service station.
At a time I deemed appropriate, I ignited my cigar. I remember the day was bright and the sky free of clouds. No more than a few puffs of white rose into the totally blue sky that day before I was instructed by one of the teachers to extinguish my hand-held cloud maker. As I remember, the teacher didn’t raise her voice or sound agitated, almost using the same deadpan tone of address to me as Ben Stein used to Ferris Beuller.
As an indication of the many changes which have come about since that 1969 day, my actions — only frowned upon then — would result in much more dire consequences if I were a graduating youth of today.
Now, I probably would be reported to the juvenile authorities and made to do a few hours of community service, along with having an appointment made for me with a counselor. Those who knew me back then probably would have felt the latter would have been beneficial to me anyway, even if the cigar had not been lit.
If it were today, the name of the gas station where I made my purchase would have been ferreted out of me, resulting in prosecution of the owner, probably accompanied by a temporary suspension of his license to conduct business with the public.
My possession of matches might be viewed now, not just as a necessary tool for smoking, but as the tool of a pyromaniac, the cigar being the clever “cover” for an intent to ignite the school.
Looking back, things that one does are sometimes best judged by the standards of the time period in which they were done.
I was making no attempt at mayhem. My enjoyment of those few puffs was purely in celebration of my having completed 12 years of education in Rowan before heading off to continue my education in Watauga.