A watchful gaze…sees

White azalea a budding mar 2011

Azaleas ready to pop, after dark.

He had taken to smoking cigarettes and every time he made one we all stopped to watch. In his vest pocket he carried a sack of Bull Durham smoking tobacco with a round tag with a bull on it hanging out. He also had a thin packet of cigarette papers called LFFs—Loafer’s Last Friend. He would hold a paper curved in his fingers of his left hand and fill it with tobacco. He had a way of holding the sack in his right hand so he could pull it open and shut with his teeth. When the bag was back in his pocket, with the bull showing so we would remember jokes about it and laugh, he would roll the cigarette and seal it by drawing his tongue along it. Then he would h’ist his leg and strike a match on his tight pants.

This was what I liked most to see. He would stretch his duckings leg till the blue was almost white. Then he would draw the match toward him, barely letting the head touch the cloth, and it would flame up a reddish yellow. He would hold the match still till the flame was clear yellow and then light his cigarette. He let me try in, but I did not get my duckings leg tight enough and the match stick broke.

Lots to like here: “cigarette” is never nicknamed or shortened, LFF’s full title is presented blandly, the solid sentences, the graphic imagery. But, mostly: the detailed observation.

How much of Owens’s technology and terminology is…historical quaintness now?

Passage from William A. Owens’s 1966 This Stubborn Soil: A Frontier Boyhood, pp 159–160 in my paperback Vintage Book edition.

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