My Grandfather’s Gift and My First Cigar

My Grandfather’s Gift and My First Cigar

From Chicken Soup for the Kid's Soul

My Grandfather’s Gift

Achild’s life is like a piece of paper on which every person leaves a mark.

Chinese Proverb

When I was a child, storytelling was an active part of my upbringing. My parents fostered any activity that might exercise my imagination. As a result of this encouragement, I have indeed become the modern version of a storyteller—an actor.

Surprisingly, not one relative on either side of my family has ever taken up this profession before. The only person to whom I can trace a “storytelling gene” is my grandfather on my mother’s side. This grandfather, in the great tradition of grandfathers everywhere, has always been a source of wisdom in my life.

When I was younger, my entire family would go camping, and as it grew dark, we would roast marshmallows around a fire and listen to my grandfather recite a poem. It was always the same poem that my grandfather would recite from memory.

When my grandfather was fourteen, he discovered the poem in a book of verse. He was working with horses at the time, and he had read the poem only two or three times when one of his horses had gotten loose. He was forced to chase the horse for miles, and somewhere in the course of the chase, he lost the book after only committing the first half of the poem to memory.

He tried for years to find another copy of the poem, but not knowing the author’s name, he gave up his search, content to having memorized only the beginning. “My First Cigar” is a poem about a child’s first attempt at smoking. Neither my grandfather nor I have ever smoked, but the poem contains such an endearing quality of innocent introspection that I was always thoroughly entertained by it.

It was not just the poem that got to me—it was the light in my grandfather’s eye, the lilt in his speech, and the sweeping movements of his arms that passionately involved me in the verse. Each one of these performances would be cut short when my grandfather would shrug and say, “That’s as far as I memorized,” and we would all nod and be left wondering how the poem ended. We accepted his inability to finish because we all knew why he could not.

Last year, about seventy years from the time my grandfather had originally found the poem, he installed a computer system in his local library, free of charge. As a return favor, he asked the library researchers to try to find “My First Cigar.” Several months later, one of them sent him the poem through the mail. I remember reading the rest of it for the first time with joy.

My grandfather has never recited the poem since, and I have never asked him to. Perhaps now that my grandfather knows the poem’s ending, his personal involvement with it is complete. For me, the story was better when it was incomplete . . . when it still had a future. I have since become actively involved in poetry, both reading and writing, and I credit my interest to my grandfather entirely.

There was a wonderful moment not long ago, when I was memorizing Wordsworth’s poem “My Heart Leaps Up” aloud, and my grandfather surprised me when he said, “I know that poem,” and was able to recite it with me. He had enjoyed the poem many years ago—I was memorizing it myself—and it was here that our two generations were bridged.

After seventeen years of knowing my grandfather better than most people I know in my life, every now and then he still decides to open the treasure chest that is his mind, and surprise me with a gift of wisdom.

Rider Strong

My First Cigar

’Twas just behind the woodshed,
One glorious summer day.
Far o’er the hills, the sinking sun
Pursued its western way;
And in my safe seclusion
Removed from o’er the jar
And dim of earth’s confusion
I smoked my first cigar.

It was my first cigar!
It was my worst cigar!
Raw, green, dank, hidebound and rank,
It was my first cigar!

Ah, bright the boyish fancies
Wrapped in smoke-wreath blue;
My eyes grew dim, my head was light,
The woodshed round me flew!
Dark night closed in around me—
Black night, without a star—
Grim death methought had found me
And spoiled my first cigar.

It was my first cigar!
A six-for-five cigar!
No viler torch the air could scorch—
It was my first cigar!

All pallid was my beaded brow,
The reeling night was late,
My startled mother cried in fear,
“My child, what have you ate?”
I heard my father’s smothered laugh,
It seemed so strange and far,
I knew he knew, I knew he knew
I’d smoked my first cigar!

It was my first cigar!
A give-away cigar!
I could not die—I knew not why—
It was my first cigar!

Since then I’ve stood in reckless ways.
I’ve dared what men can dare,
I’ve mocked at danger, walked with death,
I’ve laughed at pain and care,
I do not dread what may befall
’Neath my malignant star,
No frowning fate again can make
Me smoke my first cigar!

Robert J. Burdette

You are currently enjoying a preview of this book.

Sign up here to get a Chicken Soup for the Soul story emailed to you every day for free!

Please note: Our premium story access has been discontinued (see more info).

view counter

More stories from our partners