True Green Crysto-Mints

Although he had quit smoking twenty-five years before his lung cancer diagnosis, it is fair to say that cigarettes played a significant role in my father’s death at age 68.  As a kid growing up, I always knew him to be a smoker: True Greens to be more specific.  He carried them in his briefcase (alongside the six  rolls of Cryst-O-Mint Lifesavers) and, on the weekends, in the pocket of his shirt.  They would live on his bureau in the evening, ripe for pilfering by his teenage children.  (Not that I ever did that…) It was so much a part of our lives that I thought it was perfectly normal to run into the neighborhood White Hen Pantry (as a ten-year old) to buy them for him while he waited in the car.  Oh, sure, he kept threatening to quit (in response to our pleading him to do so), but it took a while.  He finally did in 1981.  It was not until 2003 that it caught up with him.


Growing up, at the end of dinner every night, he would push his chair from the table, lean back, re-cross his legs from whichever direction they were in and enjoy a cigarette, sometimes two,  right there at the table.  It was a ritual at the same family meal during which we had the following non-negotiable rules: no one could start to eat until my mother was seated, there would be no answering the phone* and, finally, no one left the table until everyone was done eating.  Family time was extremely important to my father…ironic that he spent part of it slowly killing himself.

Strange, though; while it is seldom that I am in the company of a smoker, when I am, I find myself taken back to my childhood and, oddly enough, loving the smell of the nicotine or tar or whatever it is that makes the smoke smell the way that it does.  It brings me instantly back to my father, our family dinners and outings and, sadly enough, the horrible habit which ultimately killed him.  It strikes me, each and every time, that my reaction is one of happiness, pleasure and nostalgia not one of anger or disgust.  One would think I would find it repellent, disgusting and infuriating, but, alas, I do not.  In fact, I have found myself slowing down while passing a smoker on the street, just to grab a quick whiff of the familiar scent.

True, too, for strong mints.  The Cryst-O-Mints which he sucked on feverishly were an effort to keep his breath pleasant.  (Said breath challenge was a direct result of smoking habit.  Duh.) They were particularly pungent and I recall, as a kid, trying like hell to get through a whole one, but not being able to get past just how strong they were.  Now, when I catch wind of a strong peppermint smell, I get the same feeling as I do with the cigarette smoke.  Brings me back.

This all makes me think about my own kids and to wonder what childhood smells, when they are adults, will bring them back to being a kid.  What negative will wind up a positive?  What is staying with them in ways that I cannot possibly begin to imagine?

Just wondering…

5 thoughts on “True Green Crysto-Mints

  1. They say that smell is the sense that is tied strongest to memory! It’s great that you can associate that smell with your father =)

    The smell that brings me back to my childhood is a strange one… I grew up next to a lake, and the water/air always smelled like a mixture of seaweed (or algae or whatever is in a lake) and gasoline from the boats. It sounds awful but it’s absolutely my favorite smell in the world!

  2. I actually have a similar memory attachment, my grandfather used to smoke a specific brand of pipe tobacco, and would always blast his A/C in his truck. Now whenever I pass someone smoking tobacco from a pipe or I find myself in a sub-zero vehicle I get a memory flash of those times.

    Shortly after he died I actually gained access to his, fairly sizeable, cache of pipe tobacco and would burn small bits of it for a good year or so as incense.

  3. That describes my grandfather to a tee save for butter rum lifesavers, corduroy imbued with the scent of nicotine and wet dog as there was always one following him around (he kept treats in his pockets at all times just in case he ran into a doggie in need) in fact his 65 mustang was held together with dirt and dog slobber – in the best possible way. The one thing I recall about those crysto o mints is that if you chewed one in the dark you would see little sparks – but I never tried

  4. Cigarrette smoke is also a part of my childhood memories, although I truly hate the smell, probably because the memories linked to it are not pleasant: my mother would smoke even in bed, and I lived in permanent anguish she would fall asleep and cause an accident and get hurt.

    On another note, my mother also died of cancer, but cholangiocarcinoma, not lung cancer – go figure – even though she’d quit a long time ago. So now, I’m also relying on whatever scents my memory can conjure up for me in my efforts to remember her. I just wrote about it in Going.Going.Gone, if you want to stop by.

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