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Even foul-smelling cigars can inspire good memories of father

Funny how a smell can bring back memories.

For me, it's the smell of cigars, hardly the sweetest of smells.

You seldom see cigars anymore, now that smokers have been driven underground by concerns about secondhand smoke and the foul odor.

When I do run across someone smoking a cigar, the smell is unpleasant at first, but good memories quickly overcome the bad air.

My father smoked cigars, one of the few luxuries he allowed himself as a schoolteacher with four children to raise.

He died 12 years ago, but the smell of a cigar instantly brings him to mind.

I see him smoking a cigar on his sailboat, thinking this was as good as life could get for a guy whose father emigrated to America from a 2-acre farm in Ireland.

Or, he's at a family cookout or just sitting outside the garage at the end of the day, puffing on a cigar and philosophizing with any child within reach.

Sometimes, he would discuss math and science and other subjects he taught, whether we wanted to hear or not. Other times, he would shock us with stories of misbehavior by relatives we thought were so upstanding.

He swore that cigars were invaluable because the smoke scared away mosquitoes and other bugs, especially when he umpired my Little League games on a baseball field near a swamp.

Later, as a young man, I learned cigars also scared away women. Light up a stogie, and most women quickly find a reason to leave.

It didn't help my image that cigar-smoking made me turn green and dizzy.

Today's cigar smokers tend to be executives, upscale fellas who buy imported cigars.

Most cigar smokers of my father's era, on the other hand, were working men whose cigars symbolized toughness and achievement. They chomped on cigars and kept them in the corners of their mouths, not savoring them as much as today's aficionados.

My father smoked cheap domestic cigars, Phillie Panatelas, which cost 49 cents for a pack of five, as I recall. Being frugal, he made them last a week.

These were popular but not top-of-the-line smokes. An online store today sells them for $18.99 for a pack of 50, or 38 cents apiece, which hardly puts them in a league with the trendy megabucks cigars in favor now.

Back in the day, little kids could go into a neighborhood store and buy a pack of cigars without any questions asked.

The clerk knew my brothers and I were buying Dad some smokes for Father's Day or Christmas.

My father would carefully unwrap each cigar, making sure not to break the paper band at one end.

Then he would decide which of his three sons would have the privilege of wearing this pseudo ring.

Long after we had outgrown this trick, my father was using it on my sister, who is 12 years younger -- proof that the O'Briens were easily amused.

While cigars aren't as noticeable as they once were, I sometimes smell them at parties or even on a sidewalk outside a bar.

The aroma doesn't conjure up memories of the arguments and disappointments that all fathers and sons have.

No, the bad times fall to the side with the ashes, and the good times rise to mind.

Source: Orlando Sentinel