Donald Harbour – The Great Snuff Caper

Gary, Phillip and I, were three male cousins born in 1943. Growing up we fought almost daily over trivial matters. There were conspiratorial moments when we actually worked together. One such adventure was our conquest of a prize in granny’s pantry.

Gary lived in Shreveport, Louisiana. We saw him on holidays and a week or so in the summer. We were seven or eight years old when we devised a plan to sample granny’s Garrett snuff.

During this period women who smoked cigarettes were considered cheap. Men smoked or chewed tobacco while women dipped or sniffed snuff. I never quite understood the reasoning but that is the way it was. Dipping entailed taking a pinch or two of the tobacco snuff between the thumb and forefinger, and placing it in the mouth between the lower lip and gum. None of my aunts or my mother dipped or smoked however granny was a snuff user.

The plan was to wait until granny was outside hanging up her wash. We would then sneak into the pantry and dip some of her snuff. We had never smoked a cigarette or dipped snuff so this was a big thing for us. Phillip and I stayed on the front porch, Gary went into the house to wait for granny to head out to the clothes line then he waved us into the house.

Once in the pantry we found on a shelf just barely within reach the prize, a can of Garrett’s snuff. In the pantry a single light bulb hung from a socket with a cotton string attached to pull light on or off. Too short to reach the string we left the door ajar for light.

Our plan was to immolate granny’s use of the snuff. We would take a pinch and put it in our mouth. Then, put the can back as we had found it and run out the front door to enjoy our prize. At our age little boys have a tendency to quarrel and to get louder as the do it. Given our play together nature we were doomed before we hatched the plan. An argument ensued as to who would first to try a dip. Granny settled that for us.

As we removed the lid of the snuff can the door opened. Having heard us in the pantry there stood granny. Her apron and dress were wet from hanging up the clothes, her face and hair sweaty from the work. She smiled and said, “Boys, I see ya’ll got down my snuff can for me.”

Phillip opened his mouth first, a big mistake! “Granny we were just looking at it, we weren’t going to try it.”

“Oh but you have too. You know right where the snuff is so you can help yourself when ever you want it,” she said. Granny took the can then administered to our mouths a healthy teaspoon of snuff and we went to the backyard.

My eyes began to water; my nasal passages began to burn. My mouth became a hot bed of stinging coals. A fit of sneezing started with a saliva-snuff mixture in my mouth coating my nasal passages, mouth, esophagus and stomach. Add to that our bawling and the scene must have been a picture of supreme misery.

I really thought I might die. I was extremely dizzy; my ears ringing like church bells. The nausea hit so fast that together we were down on all fours retching up every particle of half digested or digested food in our stomachs. We kept on retching even though our innards were empty. With dry heaves I felt that any minute I was going to see my gut come flying out of my mouth to lay pulsating on the ground.

When we finally stopped throwing up each of us had on shorts, white tee shirts, and bare feet covered with brown vomit. Snot was running out of our noses and drool dripping out of our mouths. Granny was nowhere to be seen. So we got a garden hose and doused ourselves off as best we could and stumbled to a barn hay loft to recuperate.

Not a word was ever spoken to us about the ordeal and none of us ever spoke of it or tried to dip snuff again. Our family believed in object lessons. As Friedrich Nietzsche said; that which does not kill us makes us stronger. To this day I still shudder at the thought of snuff.