Prince Albert

             Grampa Jim left a ladder up against the farmhouse. It was a homemade ladder, and was very heavy.  I was too small to be able to lift it or carry it, so finding the ladder in place presented an opportunity.  Before I climbed up, I made sure Mom was doing something, and would not catch me easily.  Up the ladder I started.  Lifting my short legs up to each rung felt like stretching to my shoulder.  The first few rungs were easy. About half way up, I began to feel the bounce of the ladder.  I was terrified, but kept on climbing.  Once I got on the porch roof I felt safe again, as long as I stayed away from the edges and didn’t look down

            The main house had a gable roof.  The porch roof was flat but sloped down.  At the end was a door to access the attic of the house.  The door was square and low, and locked with a hook. It was easy to open. 

            I unhooked the latch, and pushed the door open. The space was the dark, and hot air hit me in the face.  It took a while for my eyes to adjust to the darkness.  I stepped onto one of the several boards placed across the ceiling rafters.  There was no insulation and the ceiling showed between the rafters.  One slip and I would go crashing through.  I was still small enough that I did not have to duck low to clear the rafters as I walked on a plank. A few steps into the darkness, I began to see the outlines of some very large, very brown leaves laying flat on the boards.  What are these and why are they here?  I asked myself. Then I remembered that Grampa had a few tobacco plants on the farm.  The dry brown leaves looked just like the tobacco I saw growing.  The attic was less of an adventure after that day, and I did not go back until much later, but for a reason.

            Gramps had a boarder living with him.  The rent kept Grampa Jim in Camels and his daily bottle of beer.  His name was Cszilag, Pista, which translated from Hungarian read Star, Steve.  For some reason, old country people call or refer to someone by the Sur name first, then their given name.  Steve Star became a central character in my life later on.  At this time, I got a brainstorm to play a prank on Steve.   He was a lonely old man who worked in the pickle factory in Coloma.  All we knew about him was that he liked to get drunk on wine.  He boarded with Gramps for many years.  When we came to the farm, Mom set the rules and he had to live by them or hit the road.  One rule was “no drinking”.  He lived up to the charge. 

            After supper, Steve enjoyed a smoke on his corncob pipe.  He sat on the log chairs under the willow and packed his  pipe with tobacco from a can of Prince Albert. The tin can was always in his hip pocket.  The Prince Albert cans were unique in shape because the fit into a pocket very nicely.  The hinged lid insured the smoker would not lose it, and it snapped shut.  Empty cans littered the house and yard.   Steve had a habit of leaving them wherever they became empty.  Gramps used them to store nails and screws, although they made lousy storage for those types of things.

            One day I asked Gramps what the leaves were in the attic.  After interrogating me about how I knew about them and lecturing me on the hazard of climbing shaky ladders, he told me it was tobacco.  Gramps tried the tobacco and did not like it, but left the leaves in the attic.  They were several years old, and so dry that the slightest touch caused them to crumble.  I got the idea to test the tobacco, but not by smoking it myself.  I found a Prince Albert can that looked new.  The ladder was still against the porch.  I snuck into the attic and crumpled enough tobacco to fill a Prince Albert can.

            While Steve was at work, I sneakily placed the can on his dresser.  The remainder of my day felt like eternity while I waited for him to come home.  We ate supper and he finally went outside to smoke.  He pinched a wad of tobacco for his pipe, and noticed that it was dry.  Smoking tobacco, I learned, is moist, even though it is brown from age.  He continued to fill and lit up.  It only took one drag for him to be convinced that something was seriously wrong.  I could not contain myself any longer and started laughing hysterically.  He looked at me as he puffed out and began coughing uncontrollably.  When he finally stopped, a string of Hungarian words, which I had never heard before came from his mouth. I can only assume that these were words on Mom’s list of ‘forbidden’s’.  At the instant that I burst into laughter, and Steve started cussing, I broke into a run. I ran as fast as I could to get away.  Steve Star had finally put it all together and was emptying the contents of the Prince Albert can on the grass.  When Gramps heard the whole story, he smiled.  When Mom heard the story, she scolded me for being so mean.

One Response

  1. Great story.
    Good old Steve Star. What make was that old clunker he used to drive?? Remember using some of his old wine bottles for target shooting?

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