Friday, February 26, 2010

Folklife Fridays: Dipping Snuff

My grandmother, Georgia, was totally addicted to nicotine, getting her regular fixes in the form of snuff. If she were alive today, she would deny that she had ever been addicted to anything harmful to her body. It was as common as eating for most of the women of her era.

Georgia, like most of the others, had a small aluminum can that she kept her snuff in, tucked in her apron pocket. All women wore aprons, since they didn't change their house dresses everyday. All aprons were homemade, and all had two large pockets in the front. One pocket was for a hanky, and whatever was needed that day--safety pins, clothes pins, coins, etc. The other pocket was reserved for the little can of snuff.

The small snuff can probably held an ounce or maybe two. It had to be refilled regularly from the large glass container that snuff was purchased in. These glasses, about eight ounces, were prized for water and milk glasses when empty. They are still being sold at antique auctions in the area where I live.

Georgia held the ludicrous notion that no one outside her family knew she dipped snuff. Dipping since she was six years old, her tongue and gums were blackened from its use, a fact that could rarely be hidden. She abstained when she went to church, but that was about the only time she denied herself her habit.

In her later years, Georgia loved to read True Story and True Romance magazines. There wasn't much money to spend on magazines, so when someone bought one and read it, it was passed around to other readers. Georgia, often interrupted in her reading, used a bit of snuff to mark her spot. All the ladies of the neighborhood could easily discern the ones Georgia had already read.

Before air conditioning, most people spent their time on their front or back porches(future blogs coming on this). Georgia sat in her favorite chair near the edge, and expertly spit her snuff juice (I don't know what else to call it) off the porch. Since she had been doing this for years, there was a brown spot in the dirt where grass wouldn't grow and the chickens steered clear of. In the winter, she spit into the open fireplace. She was not the kind of woman who would keep nasty spit cups around.

My peers in the Baby Boomer generation would be horrified to think about putting powdered tobacco in their mouths, then spitting it out at regular intervals. Georgia's generation would probably think some of our habits are just as disgusting, but I can't think of any.

Moral: It's okay to let go of some traditions. While I would love to see the return of people sitting on their front porches, I hope communal spitting is over forever!