Thom Anderson

OK. Tobacco is a bad thing, and the less of it that is used the better.

Its near disappearance from the Pee Dee, in farms and deserted warehouses must be a good thing. Still, I miss the tobacco markets, particularly the openings.

It’s a little funny riding around here. You see some big cotton fields, a crop that has made a bit of a comeback. Most of the few tobacco fields, I am told, are planted under contract with a buyer, so there is no need to bring tobacco to markets and depend on buyers to select their choices.

I also feel a little funny about opinion pieces I wrote over tobacco’s declining years to pretty much defend it, since I wondered if the people attacking it knew what they were talking about. Well, I’m convinced now that they did know what they were talking about, so it’s a good thing that there are fewer cigarettes around.

What I miss, though, is the energy and excitement the crop brought to the area when tobacco sales took place in late summer and early autumn. There were nine market towns that were visited by buyers for the manufacturers. There was one set of buyers for each town except three. Timmonsville had two sets of buyers and Mullins and Lake City each had three or four. Mullins was largest in the amount of tobacco sold.

Opening day was something. The governor always appeared at two or three markets that day, and if you wanted to get a message in to Congress, the markets were a good place to be. South Carolina senators and 6th District congressmen were likely to be found there. That was then. Now the 6th and new 7th District congressmen would be expected.

Tobacco brought a pile of money to the Pee Dee economy. I particularly remember the shot of energy it brought to Timmonsville at that time of the year. Stores were busy as the tobacco money poured into the economy, and folks could look for some playtime, too.

There were market opening shows that brought together almost everybody in the area. Those looking for a vote had a good chance to get in touch with voters and have themselves a big day and night. Booked for the shows in the largest markets were some of the favorite players and singers around here, and sometimes some more widely known.

Tobacco lost the battle over whether it is safe, and the battle seems to be extended a bit now. Vaping now is accused of being unhealthy, and numerous deaths have been attributed to it.

My own experience with tobacco is a bit weird. Besides having fun driving horses pulling tobacco drags around my grandmother’s farm as a kid, the best thing for a kid to get to do there, my experience with tobacco included a number of years as a chain smoker. I really got going on it in college, I think, and it continued until the Wednesday before the 1964 Kentucky Derby. When it really hit me was that day when I covered some kind of event at dawn, then learned at the office someone was sick and I would have to fill in. That kept this chain smoker going many hours until after midnight, a long day. I went with staffers for a cup of coffee and at a cigarette machine bought either my fourth or fifth pack of the day. That is a very large amount of cigarette smoke in one day.

Then I got into the car and started smoking and driving my way home. Suddenly, I realized I was taking a big drag from a cigarette, then a couple of gasps of breath over and over. I said to myself, what the devil am I doing? Then I threw the cigarette out the car window and decided to quit.

I did quit, using no devices or concoctions, proving to me that the key to stopping smoking or any other habit is to sincerely want to.

Anyway, my feelings about smoking aside, I still miss the tobacco markets.

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Thom Anderson is a former editor

of the Morning News.

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