My Parents Smoking – 1944 & 1952

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I always liked this photograph of my mother in 1952, holding her cigarette and making a point. She looks so sure of what she’s saying. I assume my father took the photo. It was taken in the living room of the parsonage at 2212 Atkinson, while my father was Pastor of St. Mark’s United Presbyterian Church on 12th and Atkinson. Through the door you can see the kitchen. I remember the tank of guppies, always needing to be cleaned, that stood on a counter under the window. There is the long legged television with Picasso’s “Two Clowns” in the antenna, a leatherette double frame with spaces for pictures and wires attached. When the TV stopped working Mr. Rice, the repairman,  came with his big metal toolbox, full of tubes and testers to find the burned out tube and change it. I can’t remember when we no longer needed tubes changed or when we got our next television or what it looked like or when my mother stopped smoking.

Doris Graham Cleage with cigarette, Detroit, 1952
Albert B. Cleage with cigarette, San Francisco, 1943.

From a letter my father wrote home to Detroit from Los Angeles, CA. on December 4, 1944. Photo by my mother.

“Has the Cigarette shortage hit the hinterland as yet? Here we can’t get any most of the time. I manage to get three or four packages a week with the frantic cooperation of Doris and a boy at school who works where he can get hold of some occasionally.  At school the Student-Union sells them every once in a while. Then we all  line up for blocks until the seventy-five or one hundred packages are gone.  Profound commentary on modern life if anyone has the time to figure out just what is is.  Drug stores and Groceries just laugh at you when you ask for Cigarettes…”HA HA HA… Listen Folks, he wants cigarettes…HA HA.”

To want to read more about Cigarettes and where they went during WW2, follow this link Smoke ‘Em if You Got ‘Em.

And here is the recording of Sarah Vaughn singing  “No Smoke Blues”. Thank you John J. for mentioning this.

43 thoughts on “My Parents Smoking – 1944 & 1952

  1. wow, that view of Atkinson and 14th Street looks like the view I had from my front porch at 2230.

  2. It always interested me how people smoked.Your Mum & Dad’s photos (&words) illustrate the point.A Clear difference between genders.Smoking seemed An elegant,sensual display.Almost a fashion-statement.Wereas ,for men, it was a pragmatic arrangement.A male smoker held a cigarette as a mechanic would hold a spanner!
    As I mentioned on the Sepia page,I am trying (again!) to give up cigarettes this this week’s theme is timely!
    You will notice I have put up some photos of my visit to Manchester last weekend.Notice my spanner-like smokes!This week,No ‘Spanners’ 🙂 so i type this with my right hand while my left hand is knuckled & in my mouth!

    1. Yes, I see you standing there in the middle of the street with your ‘spanner’. My father took up lemon drops (a hard lemon flavored candy) when he stopped smoking. I think it was my Uncle Henry who said it was the empty hand that made it difficult. Uncle Louis smoked himself to death.

  3. I love your Mum’s TV. A few weeks ago I found the instruction book for my parent’s first TV. It was bought in 1953 so we could watch the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth.
    I decided some collector somewhere would like it so I put it on Ebay, and sure enough it was snapped up !! We have moved a long way in our TV and smoking habits !

  4. I love how you’ve looked at the photo in detail and that it’s triggered all sorts of memories -things that we can see and that we can’t see. The closer I look at the television the more extraordinary I realise it is. The frame is so big. It looks like a picture frame. Which of course it is…Our frames are minimal to non-existent these days. I like the use of letters too to remind us that cigarettes were rationed once…considered non-essential items or luxuries that we could do without.

  5. Your mother knew how to smoke in style. Such beautiful graceful hands – actually smoking was a way to show them off, although I doubt that was the motive for many female smokers. The TV brings back a ton of memories including the test pattern that we saw most of the time on Canadian TV. You are so fortunate to have such a gold mine of letters from your family. They all seemed to be excellent writers.

    1. Since I grew up in Detroit, we got CBC. I do remember that test pattern when programing went off at night. I appreciate the letters but I know there were more out there that got away!

  6. That letter from your dad is so perfect for this week’s theme. I wonder, since it was 1944 if all the cigarettes were going overseas to the soldiers. That would have been a nice time for your father to quit.

    1. Thank you for that question. I just found a post about cigarettes during WW2. I am going to add the link above.

  7. I really enjoyed reading that final link. Who knew Smokey the Bear was so old? And all that interesting Lucky Strike advertising.

    1. I enjoyed it too. Part of the fun of blogging, for me, if going off on the side routes and finding more information about what started out as an innocent family photo or letter.

  8. What an interesting glimpse into the times thanks to your father’s letter. And your memory of the tv repairman triggered my own recollections of getting new tubes for our tv. Today television sets are practically disposable. And I guess the expression “boob tube” no longer makes sense.

    1. I never even connected it to tubes! but you’re right, except we know what it means. Wonder how we could bring that concept up to date?

  9. I remember a TV repairman coming to fix our first TV. I think that TV lasted more than 20 years, which seemed like a long time then.

  10. What a great photo of your mom and the tv – invoked memories of the small screen for me: test patterns, the National Anthem at midnight, and all the crazy local programming we had far north of Detroit in Upper Michigan. I love your text about the repairman – brought back memories for me. Thank you!

  11. Smoking was so much a part of everyday life in the 1950s and 1960s, as much as television was, I suppose. We never had a television in our house, but the cigarettes were always present.

  12. I love the header photo -I’m a sucker for a street with snow 😉

    It’s clear your mother has a point and she’s making it. Smoking was all pervasive back in the day but I’m glad I never took it up. Hard to believe now that even as a non-smoker I was surrounded by smoke at home (Dad and Mr Cassmob) at work (most!) and around and about. Why do we think it looks sophisticated I wonder -is it just the way the cigarette is held or the context in which the smoker is portrayed.

    Memory is a strange thing isn’t : you have clear memories of some things and then completely forget others -not just you, but certainly me, and probably most of us.

    Thanks Kristin.

    1. That’s a summer day 😀 Notice the leaves on the trees? And the person in the street with shorts on? That is sunlight in a black and white photo.

      I didn’t smoke either, aside from once when I wanted to learn to inhale. But I grew up in a household of smokers too.

      Memory is strange. I can remember streams of thoughts from a photo but often have to hunt for a word or a name in a present day conversation!

  13. That’s how I remember the first TVs, no wonder you had to sit close to the screen. My father smoked rolled up cigarettes too.

  14. I remember the “Kick the Habit” ads. My brother and I annoyed our father till he finally kicked it.

    1. My father had quit before that. I do remember putting up no smoking signs in my house when my children were still home and aunts and uncles were still smoking.

  15. Your Mom’s photo portrays the times when smoking was favored. And yes cigarettes were included as soldier’s gifts in WWII and in Korea too.

  16. Your mother was so beautiful, but she also looked oh so young to be smoking!

  17. I wonder if she was talking to my father and if he also took the photo or if she was in some group discussion.

  18. Another very enjoyable post. I especially liked the letter from your father. I suppose everything was rationed during the war years, including cigarettes. Although I hadn’t really thought about it before.

  19. A great post to spark the memories. My grandparent’s television was a bit larger piece of furniture. Years after it had died and been replaced, I still had the cabinet with the glass front, and always intended to turn it into an aquarium. Sadly only the idea remains.

    The link to WW2 cigarette history was very interesting. It reminded me that my first and only experiment in smoking came from a sample pack included in a GI Christmas stocking brought back from my dad’s tour in Vietnam. The brand was Salem and they were probably 3-4 years past fresh. So horrible and foul tasting I never tried again!

    1. We never thought those tvs would one day be just a snap shot in our memories.

      Sounds like a good way to give up smoking before you started.

  20. I can remember going with my dad to Safeway to the tube testing machine. There was always one in the front of the store. We’d come in with a bag of tubes, he’d test them all, know which ones needed replaced. He’d then fix the tv or the stereo or whatever else ran on tubes.

    Yes, shortage of smokes except for those in the military who got them for free during the war.

    1. My father wasn’t “handy” so he would never be changing the tubes. I do remember seeing a little note in my maternal grandfather’s notebook about what size tubes he needed to get for various radios around the house. They didn’t have a tv until way after we did. Their first one was a cabinet type, no long legs.

  21. He seemed rather calm in his letter.
    Me, not finding cigarettes,
    I would go homicidal!!!
    Not even kidding here…

    1. I guess that means your attempt to give up smoking failed? My father took up lemon drops when he stopped smoking.

  22. Re the WW2 cigarette shortage: search youtube for ‘No Smoke Blues Dizzy Gillespie’ with vocal by Sarah Vaughan. Lyrics start with ‘Empty counters at the drugstore…etc.’ Surprising for the time is the use of the word ‘reefer’ near the end.

    1. John, thanks for mentioning “No Smoke Blues”, I’ve added it to the post. I liked this version because of the record/record player sound just before it starts.

      I looked up “reefer” and found a movie called “Reefer Madness” that came out in 1936 that sources credit with popularizing the word “reefer”. I always thought it was in use earlier among musicians and other early smokers.

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