Taylor Made

Tales of Vashon


Mike Kennedy and I stepped back as the door to the teacher’s lounge opened and great clouds of blue smoke uttered forth.  The outline of Mr. McLaughlin appeared bigger than life as Mike and I winced from the stale cigarette smoke that was hurting our eyes.  “Mr. McLaughlin, could we have the keys to the volley ball locker,” we asked?

Mr. McLaughlin never smiled and he wasn’t smiling now, as he passed the keys out with a “puff of blue smoke.”  A “smoke break” from the “likes of us,” was an absolute part of schooling in the 1950’s and we secretly liked knocking on the smoke room door just to see our teachers lighting up.

Stealing cigarettes wasn’t hard, because some people smoked 20 cigarettes a day and couldn’t be held responsible for where they laid the last pack down.  We couldn’t tell one cigarette from another, though obviously, older people could, as Mom smoked Camels and her Mother smoked Chesterfields and Aunts Pat and Aunt Verna smoked Raleigh’s, though their taste in cigarettes may have been dictated by the prizes they won for saving 100’s and 100’s of Raleigh coupons.  Kit Bradley’s mother smoked Herbert Tareytons, probably because the extra length of the cigarette added to Betty’s “dignity.”

Growing up at Cove, I always thought that smoking a “taylor-made” cigarette meant that the cigarette had come from a factory and was not “hand rolled,” and therefore of a higher quality, though some of the old hands would disagree with you, preferring the tobacco that was sold for home use, such as Bull Durham which could be used to clean a greasy windshield, before cars and trucks had window-washers.

Here are John’s memories of his early experiences with tobacco:
“My grandfather’s rolling machine was ‘Taylor’ made and quite large with fancy handles and gears.. it was years later that I figured out that those cigarettes were not custom or ‘tailor’ made but just made on a machine built by a company with that name.

One summer I was farmed out to work with one of my grandfathers supervisors who flew into jobs in a two-seater piper cub with windows that folded upwards in two parts. The first trip I took in that plane from Port Townsend to one of the San Juan Islands was where learned why the side of the plane was covered with brown streaks. I thought it was a peculiar and odd kind of stain but I figured it had something to do with oil leaks. I was going to ask the Swede about the stains but after doing my basic ‘go-for’ job of stowing tools, I forgot to ask and just strapped into the plane. We took off and settled into altitude. Sitting in the back seat I flipped the bottom part of my window up at the same time the tall Swede pilot flipped the top part his window down. All mysteries suddenly became clear. He let loose with a giant spit of snoose out of his window, which promptly came back with the airstream through my open window and smacked right into my face… I never did have to ask the Swede about the mystery of the stains on the side of the plane. We flew other times and I was careful to use the window on the opposite side… the side of the plane with no brown streaks.”

Seán relates how Harry Larsen hired him for $75 cents per hour to sweep the floors at Skippercraft on the dock at Cove, where the half dozen boat builders couldn’t smoke because of the fire danger.  They all chewed Copenhagen or “snooze.”

“I was 13 years old and swept floors for months before Harry would even let me touch a front deck to rub in the rich Mahogany stain that was the earmark of his 14 and 16 foot “kicker” boats.  In the meantime, one of the carpenters gave me some Copenhagen or “snoose” to chew and I lost his chew on the floor upstairs.  This prompted me to pursue the habit of chewing by investing in tobacco with less kick.  I looked in the display window at the Cove store and saw a cellophane wrapped package with the image of a mule “in full-kick” on the front side, where it said, Brown’s Mule.  I read further that the tobacco leaves had been soaked in honey, which made the tobacco “plug” sound more like a Butterfinger candy bar than real “snoose.”  I bit off a corner of the plug and was hooked on tobacco for the next 60 years.”

“Chew tobacco, chew tobacco, spit, spit, spit.  Cheney, Cheney, knit, knit, knit,” was my Grandmother’s fight song at Cheney high school.  She smoked her last Chesterfield at 75 years-old.