R.S. Williams

All I want is to get the words right.

A Menthol Prayer

I asked the lady at the tobacco counter for Virginia Slims, like my grandmother used to smoke—”the ones with green on the box.” Turns out Maw-Maw’s favorite cigs were also menthol. Not sure how I missed that and thought my grandfather was the only menthol fan in the family.

I don’t smoke. My grandparents made me promise that I’d never start. But the smell of cigarette smoke comforts me. I can’t help it. It’s a major note in the perfume of my first 23 years on this planet.

Whenever I find myself unable to write my way out of a sticky place, I light a Virginia Slims. I wave the lit end around the room a bit, then set it in the thrift-store ashtray on my desk to invoke my grandmother. I watch the strange secondhand smoke incense curl around my chair, then up, up, up and around the room along with my prayer.

And somehow, before long, I’m writing again. Palms together, I bow in gratitude: “Thank you, Maw-Maw.”

© R.S. Williams (all rights reserved)



  1. That’s such a Catholic thing, LOL! We believe that humans are very much a union of corporal and spiritual, and that physical rituals–we would call them sacramentals–like what you did with the cigarette, are efficacious!

    • Carol, I love how you linked this post with Catholic incense uses. I burn a lot of incense and scented candles around the house, especially while I’m working. Somehow, the scent puts my mind in a place where I can block out most everything else and concentrate on the tasks at hand. Catholic incense and Episcopalian incense are among my favorites…tough to find in a form the average non-clergyperson can use, though! 🙂

  2. I don’t smoke but Mom smoked Kents when I was a kid. The smell has never left me and I have been hypnotized by the slow rising, writhing smoke of cigs since before I can remember. There’s definitely some weird magic there.

  3. Yes, I know what you mean…. I don’t want to be bothered with creating charcoal embers on which to sprinkle the crystals, LOL! I recently sent this to my spiritual director… he used to be an altar server as a child, and he said it smelled authentic.

  4. My Mammaw loved More’s Menthol 100’s. Brown paper wrapped, and pungent.
    This is fantastic!

    • YES! Maw-Maw smoked More 100’s, too, for a while when I was in junior high. They still look so thin and elegant, and solid dark brown when almost every other cigarette is bright white.

  5. Interesting how scents not only cause memories to come flooding back but also stimulate creativity. I lack your creativity but there’s something about the combination of aromas reminiscent of turpentine, binder twine, stale grass clippings and fresh pine boards that instantly transport me back to late summer/early fall Saturdays in my grandfather’s garage.

  6. This is f- – -ed up. For the first 12 Years of my life my mom smoked and now when I whiff cigarette smoke, I feel like I’m inhaling poison. It’s odd what we find comforting. Me, it’s mostly my cat.

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