The stuff of snuff

Published 10:30 pm Friday, August 3, 2012

My grandmother dipped snuff. A lot of the women of my childhood dipped snuff.

My granny said there wasn’t a thing in the world that couldn’t be made right with a dip of snuff.

She would carefully take the lid off a can of Peach Sweet Snuff, tap just the right amount of the dark powder into the lid, pull out her lower lip and fill it full of snuff. Then she would tongue it into place, sit back, fold her arms and enjoy the dip.

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My life’s plan was to be a snuff dipper, too.

But the real fascination with dipping snuff wasn’t the ecstasy that it seemed to bring to life but that you could just haul off and spit anywhere you wanted to.

Why, some of the women in Aunt Nita’s church out in the country would sit by an open window and spit right out the window right in the middle of the sermon. They didn’t even look to see if anybody was standing under the window. They just hauled off and spit.

My grandmother didn’t do that. She said it wasn’t civilized.

She carried a spit cup in her pocketbook and, when the notion hit her, she would unsnap the clamp on her purse, ease it wide open, lean over and spit in the cup in her pocketbook real civilized-like.

Amos, Eunice and Lizzy lived in the tenant house right behind our house. They all dipped. Every afternoon, they would sit out on the front porch, dippin’ and spittin’.

The spit bush was at the far end of the porch and that’s where they directed all their “talents.” No matter where they sat on the porch, they could hit the spit bush from any distance and any angle. It was an amazing thing.

I was a pretty good spitter because I had a gap between my top, front teeth that acted kind of like the sight on my BB gun. Mama said it wasn’t nice for little girls to spit.  But the boys spit all the time. Boys could do a lot of fun things that it wasn’t nice for little girls to do.

That’s why I spent a good bit of my time trying to kiss my elbow and turn myself into a boy. I was missing too much fun on account of being a girl.

I wanted to spit and my best chance of doing so was to dip snuff. Plain ol’ spitting was a sin.

We learned in Sunday school that when Jesus was on the cross those mean people spit on him. And right then and there, God made spitting a sin. If you spit on anybody, the devil would put his forked tail in you and you would have to be especially good all the rest of your life or the devil would keep you for his own.

There wasn’t any way I could sneak snuff out of my grandmother’s pocketbook but Tince said she could get all the snuff she wanted from Amos. He had cans sitting around all around the house.

Tince was older than I was and she got into all kinds of mischief. That’s why Eunice said they had to be on their Ps and Qs when she came to their house. Well, I guess they forgot about their Ps and Qs one afternoon because Tince slipped a whole can of Rooster Snuff out of the house in her dress pocket.

I had my mind set on Peach Sweet Snuff like my granny dipped. I imagined that it would taste like the sweet peaches from the volunteer trees along the fencerow down the pig trail from our house. But Tince said all snuff tastes alike – just like chocolate candy.

We went out in the pasture and found a spot on top of the hill where we could take a dip and then stretch out on our backs and watch the clouds make pictures in the sky.

Tince opened the can, tapped out a dip in the lid, pulled out her lip and filled it full. She tapped out another lid full and I pulled out my bottom lip and she filled it full.

I didn’t quite get to all the tonguing part of the dipping. I went into the full-blown spittin’ part … with some masterful gagging in between.

That day, I learned a hard lesson. Your body does not generate enough spit to cleanse your mouth of a dip of snuff. And neither can you wipe away the lingering taste with the tail of your dress.

Tince and I fell back on the grass but we couldn’t watch the floating clouds. Our stomachs wouldn’t let us do that. And, on that bright sunny, summer afternoon, I was completely cured of any desire to take a dip of snuff.

Mama was right. There are some things that nice little girls just don’t do.

Jaine Treadwell is features editor.