tobacco memories

On Friday night we were at a party and I met someone who had just seen Thank You for Smoking. He promptly began to ask me questions about my tobacco memories when I told him that I was from a small town north of Winston-Salem. Little did I know that Winston-Salem was portrayed as the home of the evil tobacco empire in the movie. I was quite shocked when we went to see the movie on Sunday that Nick Naylor was summoned to Winston-Salem to visit the mysterious tobacco baron known only as the Captain.

This movie is hysterical. I rarely laugh out loud, but there was one guy in our theatre howling. Was he a lobbyist? I wondered. Anyway, everyone should see it, even if you just go to see the opening credits. The opening titles to the movie are fabulous and the music is perfect. Fortunately you can see them here on Shadowplay Studio’s web site. But you must see them on the big screen. Plus it is probably worth learning a little satirical social studies lesson about how our government and society are influenced.

Watching the designs and text roll across the screen reminded me of all the different cigarettes that were sold in my grandfather’s store. Since we stayed with my grandmother after school, we were bound to visit the store at least five times a day. All of the ads and promotional materials must have influenced me. No, I never picked up smoking. I was way too sick with my allergies to ever consider doing such a thing. And that was probably because I was lying on my grandmother’s twenty-year-old carpet watching TV while she puffed away.

However I could tell by my excited reaction to fancy scripts and block letter fonts that my love for typography must have stemmed for all of the wonderful packaging that filled the store – cigarettes included. One of my most distinct memories was when I stole one of Memaw’s cigarettes. I think that it was a Virginia Slims, but I am not positive. What I do remember is the beautiful paisley band that graced the cigarette right below the filter. I was in the back seat of our Toyota Corolla sitting with my knees in the seat facing the back window. I was completely enthralled with this tiny little design on the paper. I was just looking at it and studying it. Of course, it smelled good. Tobacco has a sweet warm smell, that is before being lit. I remember my mom rushing out of the house and jerking it away from me. I had no intentions of smoking it. I was probably six or seven. I just thought that it was beautiful.

I tried to find a picture of this pattern doing a quick Google search, but I could not. I did run across the Virginia Slims ad campaign, “You’ve Come A Long Way Baby.” I received and adored all of the small pocket agendas that the distinct long and skinny format. They were filled with old pictures about women’s rights. Again, me loving a journal is no big surprise. But I was sure to ask for them each year.

Now it is hard for me to realize that some of my earliest memories are associated with Phillip Morris instead of RJ Reynolds. The majority of everyone I know worked for Reynolds in some form or another. Until the late 90s people at church still insisted that it was the best place to work for and that I should move home and get a job with Reynolds. I believe that my tobacco days ended over 20 years ago when my family stopped growing tobacco. My first earned income was for my work in the tobacco fields in Friendship. I would pick up any leaves that fell off of the conveyor belt while being prepared to hang in the tobacco barns. Memaw was very worried that I might catch my clothing on one of the spokes that held the sticks in place. She would constantly warn me to stand back or the machine would mangle and sew me up. Later on, I collected lady bugs and catepillars. It was a good excuse to actually go out into the field. Fortunately I never had to actually participate in any hard labor. I still got dirty nonetheless.

Going back to the movie, I must say that I have never seen a group of black men dressed in bright color jackets and black gloves serving mint juleps off of silver trays in tin cups in my entire life. Granted I am not from the upper crust of Winston-Salem, but still I think that is quite a mischaracterization. We are not that far into the Deep South. Although from the reaction that people have to my accent, I am sure that people think otherwise. Comments are fine. Just NEVER mock me.

Visit the Typographica blog for a review of the different fonts used in the movie’s opening credits.

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