The book covers my life from age 5 to 15 in Lynchburg, Virginia. It is a comical yet thought-provoking coming of age story in the segregated South.
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When I was ten years old, I got hooked on smoking. Not just cigarettes, but anything that could make ashes and spew forth carbon. It seems that I blame Mitchell McCoy for all my vices, and since I'm on a roll, I'll also give him some of the credit for this one.
In the fall of 1954, when the weeds and plants had dried out, I met Mitchell and Junie near the billboard bordering Junie's yard. They had harvested some dried twigs with hollow piths, which they lit. When a red ash formed, they put the twigs to their mouths, inhaled, and blew out smoke.
The closest I had ever come to smoking involved blowing the dust off candy cigarettes and the powder from the fake ones we bought at Hayslett's store. Without hesitation, I fired up a twig and puffed.
Mitchell showed me the art of regular and French inhaling. I was officially cool...
One other thing Mitchell showed me was how to grasp a lit cigarette in the fold of the tongue, insert it in the mouth, blow out smoke to prove it was still lit, and then return it to the lips unaided by hands. I had seen this maneuver done in the movies and was eager to give it a try. Without practicing, I took a lit cigarette butt, placed it on my tongue, and retracted the cigarette into my mouth...where it fell. Palate and tongue blistered as I spat the now soggy, half-lit cigarette from my mouth.
Excerpt from the chapter "Up in Smoke"