Cashing in ‘poached’ eggs for cigarettes
When I was a small boy, about 10 years old, I remember thinking I was a big fella, and it seemed fitting and proper that I should learn to smoke. Now, mind you, I had attempted a trial of that activity already, but it was done using my mother’s loose tea or dried alder leaves that I rolled up in a piece of brown paper; a few whiffs of that stuff and I decided that there had to be a better way to spend my time.
One bright summer’s day, in July, I think it was, with time hanging heavy on my (and my buddies) hands, I decided to go for the real thing.
Four of us, all about the same age — the same group famously referred to by the priest as being “filled with devilment” when he caught us robbing his apple trees — decided, after due consideration, that a pack of Bugler was what was needed. You know, the blue package with the cigarette papers inside the cellophane and a picture of a bugler blowing, what else, his bugle. The only problem was that none of us had any money that day and a pack of Bugler cost 13 cents.
This raggle-taggle foursome consisted of Harry, Teddy and a Woodfine (his name fails me), as well as yours truly.
One of the group suggested that Jackie, in his shop at the bottom of Gull Island Hill, would give it to us on credit. That idea we immediately gave up. After all, a crowd of lads from Long Beach was not what Jackie would consider a good credit risk; not even for 13 cents.
There were other ways than one to skin a cat, we figured.
Down in the valley lived Lige and Julie and they had a stable where they kept a horse and a couple of dozen hens.
We knew the place well; we often went there, on a Saturday morning, when we were out of school, to play poker — cent and two; Lige welcomed the company, and was no slouch of a poker player himself, often wiping us out of our few coppers.
After making sure that Lige wasn’t home — he was on the water — we proceeded into the barn, uninvited. It was empty; the horse was in the garden out back and the hens were gone, free ranging around, under the watchful eye of His Lordship, the rooster.
They were never fed during the summer, these hens; they roamed everywhere, living on the land, and ingesting things that, without a doubt, you would much prefer I not describe.
There were no eggs in the laying area in the barn.
“She jest now picked ‘em up, I betcha,” said Woodfine.
“Dat’s wot she didn’t,” says Harry, “dem hens spends their time up in Paddy Finn’s grove, up dere beside the highroad gravel pit.”
“Yis,” says Teddy, “they wuz in dere yesterday, crowin’ like it was Easter Sunday all over again.”
“Easter Sunday. Wot the hell dat’s got to do wit’ it?” I asked.
“Don’t be so friggin’ stunned,” says Harry, “don’t ya know hens lays buckets of eggs come Eastertime?”
Into Will Johnston’s grove we went and soon found, under a clump of blasty boughs, a hen’s nest with 13 eggs. “Bingo!” roared Harry. Into an old gallon paint can went the eggs and down we traipsed to Lige and Julie’s place.
She was getting something ready on the stove for when Lige came in off the water, paying little attention to us. She was used to our coming and going, probably expecting us to leave since Lige wasn’t home.
The gallon can of eggs was on the floor for a full 10 minutes before she noticed them.
“Fine lookin’ eggs ye got there. Where did ye get ‘em?” “Found ‘em.” “How many ye got?” “Thirteen.” “Wot are ye goin’ to do with ‘em?” “Dunno. Bringin’ ‘em home, I s’pose.”
There was dead air for a few minutes, she busying herself at the stove, muttering that the hens had stopped laying lately.
Make no wonder, my eyes said to Harry, what with the bunch of them doing their laying up there in Paddy Finn’s grove. “How much ye want fer dem eggs?” “Thirteen cents.” “My, dat’s a bargain.” Very soon, out the door we went with the 13 cents and down to Jackie’s shop, and then up to Paddy Finn’s grove with the pack of Bugler. We each made a stab at rolling our own cigarette, and, as you can imagine, the results were not objects of beauty.
Indeed, 15 minutes later, neither were four Long Beach boys, especially when we all tried to inhale, and became nauseated, dizzy, and “green around the gills.”
I received a few days later a “talking to” from my father; he had gotten wind of the baccy purchase, possibly from somebody who was in Jackie’s store when we dished out our 13 cents. Although he was a cigarette smoker himself, he was against his children smoking, since he maintained it “stunted yer growth.”
I followed his advice and never tried it again until, years later, in St. Bon’s, in the boarder’s smoke room, where most of the 90 of us started the tobacco habit and where you were odd man out if you didn’t smoke.