The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge

My First Chaw

By Bob Heafner © 1983-2012

Issue: November, 1983

It was August and the sun was blazing hot. The gravel street on the “Mill-Hill” in Longview, North Carolina was coated with a powdery layer of dust. Jerry Hill and I were sitting on an old abandoned pig pen roof on a vacant lot. A mulberry tree shaded one corner of the tin roof but the part that wasn’t shaded was hot as a wood stove in January.

We sat there discussing various youthful interests such as frogs, caves, spooks and fast bicycles, among other topics when Jerry reached in his pocket and pulled out a lump of dirty looking brown stuff and said, “Want some?” I said, “What is it?” He looked at me with a making fun kind of look and said, “I bet you ain’t never chewed no tobacco.” I said, “I have.” “Oh yeah? Well why’d you have to ask what it was then?” he replied.

The conversation continued with a few more “have” and “have nots” and the next thing I knew, Jerry was splitting the plug in half with a rusty old pocket knife and I was stuffing it into my mouth.

The taste wasn’t all that unpleasant except it burnt my tongue a little and before long, I was reared back spitting like a pro. Well, maybe not exactly like a pro. It seemed there wasn’t enough room in my mouth for the one-half plug of tobacco and my tongue. Each time I’d go to spit, I’d end up swallowing most of the ambeer.

At first I done a lot of chewing, but after a while, I was content to try not to mash it anymore than I had to. Jerry was talking and carrying on when I started feeling a little “woozie” (as Mom would say). Slowly I watched the mulberry tree move all the way around the pig pen. Jerry’s voice seemed far away like he was talking through a tube or a culvert.

Somehow I managed to stretch out on the pig pen roof and hang my head over the edge. My hands were gripping the metal edge of the roof so hard that I bet I left dents on that metal that even recycling couldn’t cover up. As I opened my mouth to release my cud, Jerry was taunting me for being sick. I’ll say this for tobacco chewing; it put me in a state of mind where not even taunts from Jerry Hill mattered. It made me sick. Now I don’t mean sick like the cold or the croup. I mean sick like you might not live through it! I never knew a pig pen could spin around so fast and only my grip on the edge of the roof kept me from being slung from there to Hickory. While the pig pen spun and the mulberry tree jumped up and down, everything in my world went crazy. Death seemed eminent and not totally without merit.

My first encounter with tobacco chewing lasted a long time and to this day, the four hours I lay on that dusty old pig pen roof seem like at least a week. My entire body was drawn and quartered by the power of ambeer and so help me, the ten year old that climbed off the roof at sundown that day was glad to still have his insides left because there were a few times up there that he figured they were gone for good.

When I stumbled in the door of the house, Mom took one look at me and told me to lay down while she fixed a “Muster plaster.” This was Mom’s cure for everything and at that point, any more torture would have been unbearable. I “fessed up” about tobacco and she and Dad thought it was funny and “Maybe that’ll teach you a lesson, boy,” was the extent of their sympathy. They were right. To this day, you couldn’t pay me to chew tobacco on a hot, dusty pig pen roof in August!