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My Grandfather ran a tobacconist’s shop and, as a lad, I spent many hours “helping” him.
Truth to tell, I spent more time sticking my nose into the humidors and inhaling the delicious aromas of Turkish Latakia and other exotic blends than I did easing my grandfathers chores.
Thankfully, I have never been the least bit tempted to touch a match to a cigar, pipe or cigarette, but I cannot deny that I did enjoy breathing the pungent atmosphere of the humidors.
No, the story of why I have never smoked a cigar begins in Tampa, Florida.
Tampa had been the major port of embarkation for the troops that fought in the Spanish-American War. And afterward, became a magnet for Cuban emigration into the US.
The Cuban section of town is called Ybor City. I went to high school in Tampa for a while and spent my spare time in Ybor City brushing up my Spanish by attending the Spanish language cinema there.
One evening while I was waiting for the bus to go back to home to MacDill AFB, where we lived, I was sipping on a sola in a convenience store.
I discovered a gentleman in the rear of the store who was seated at a small table and I was fascinated to discover that he was hand-rolling cigars. I was later to learn that there were many such cottage-industry cigar makers active in Ybor City, at that time.
I watched him work, with adroit skill, efficiently rolling the cigars. But my fascination soon turned to alarm. Each time he reached out to pick up a new leaf of tobacco to roll onto the developing cylinder that was becoming the finished cigar, he moistened his fingers with his saliva to catch just the top-most leaf in the pile of tobacco. I soon realized that every leaf incorporated into the cigar had been contaminated with his spittle.
The take-away lesson? Know where your hand-rolled cigars come from.
Historically, large numbers of cigar makers worked together at their individual little tables. They pooled their money to pay for professional book readers to read books from a podium in front of the room. Cigar makers became very well educated and “read”—in fact the founder of the Congress of Industrial Organizations the CIO was Samuel Gompers, a cigar maker.