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A rite of passage

Another “rite of passage” into manhood came the day a young man could chew tobacco! Now, this may not appeal to many ladies as much as it does to men, but I can assure you that it was important to many young boys growing up in our generation. I can remember the day and place it happened for me and others.

After Little League baseball, many of us played Senior League baseball that was coached by Mr. Bartley Bay and players came from other towns to play. The late Booger Harris had always played with us, but Creed Mills and Jimmy Roberson came from Vanceboro and all three chewed tobacco. At that time in our life, most good baseball players chewed tobacco, so it was not new to any of us. We all wanted to be as good as our stars so that summer it was time to give it a try.

Beech Nut tobacco was the tobacco of choice and this is what the three chose to chew. It came in a red and white pouch that fit perfectly in your back pocket. Lee Drake, Joe Stalls, Bill Nolley, Bobby Hardy and I decided it was our time to give it a try. Poor Bobby had just moved to town and did not know exactly what he was getting into but tried anyway. Ralph Perry and Whit Rhodes had some experience with it while working in tobacco, so we all gave it a try.

I was standing at second base at Kugler Field when I asked for a pinch. Beech Nut was sweeter than others and at first did not taste so bad. It was moments later that Bay hit me a ground ball that bounced up and hit me in the chest that I got the full flavor. Having been hit before in the chest, at first, I was not sure what was happening, but later I found out. It was the chewing tobacco!

After looking around, I found out that others were having the same reaction, so I did not feel so badly. Mr. Nelson Perry, Ralph’s dad, came over and brought me some water that helped my dizziness and he suggested I get rid of my Beech Nut. That was the best advice Mr. Nelson ever gave me!

After my initial experience, I could not let it beat me so I gave it another try, wanting to be like Creed, Jimmy and Booger. This time, I survived. We graduated to Red Man then Levi Garrett, thinking we were like our stars. The older men chewed plug tobacco that had an apple taste. It came to the stores in sheets and was cut and wrapped, thus the name plug tobacco. I always wanted to give it a try but never did and I am grateful not to have tried it. The other was bad enough.

My dad later took me to a plant near Richmond, Virginia where they showed me how they got the tobacco they used for chewing tobacco. They swept it up off the floor and the supervisor told me that was going to be used for chewing tobacco. Now, that might have been what dad asked him to tell me and I stopped for a long period of time.

We never really reached the level of our stars, whose faces appeared on our baseball card collections, but at least we gave it a try. For some of us it was not the last time and there are many that still use tobacco. My father-in- law, Mr. Otha Smith, I am told, used a pipe and that is something not seen much anymore.

My advice to any young reader is to leave it alone and chew gum while you play. That is what I do rather than the tobacco because of health issues that accompany it. Still, I enjoy a chew every now and then and it always brings back my memories of Mr. Nelson, Ralph, Whit, Creed and Jimmy and my first try at Kugler Field.

They were the best of times with the best of friends and in the best of places, Washington, N.C.! The Original Washington!

Harold Jr.