by Roger M. Goetz
THE SMOKEY ELVES CLUB
After moving to Ames, Iowa, in 1948, two of my main playmates were Benny Jameson (who was my age) and his younger sister Mary Ruth Jameson (who was two years behind me in school). They were two of the three children of Harold ("Pele") Jameson (1907-1984) and Ruth Jameson (1908-2000), who lived next door to the north. Their oldest child was son Jamie Jameson (1936-2009), classmate of my brother Chuck (1936-1987).
As elementary school children, Benny and Mary Ruth and I often played together. We played all sorts of outdoor games like tag, hide-and-go-seek, draw-a-magic-circle-color-it-purple (a game I brought with me from Chicago), statues, and more.
Besides playing games, we roamed the neighborhood and, since we lived on the edge of town, the country side as well. After all, both families belonged to the Ames Country Club. It was only about a half mile away over gravel roads, and we could walk there to swim anytime the pool was open (with parental permission).
Another place we sometimes visited was the Iowa State University dairy farm, also within walking distance. I remember the first time we went there. I’d never seen a bull up close before, and my eyes widened in disbelief at what I saw.
I remember one day we were out on the then gravel road (Hayward Avenue) south of Storm and north of what is now called Mortensen Road. Along the west side of the road were several apple trees with a number of windfalls on the ground.
When we got home, we mentioned this to Mrs. Jameson; and she told us if we brought her some she would bake us an apple pie. We couldn’t believe it. Make a pie from green apples? She assured us that she could. So the next day, we brought her a bunch, and a day or two later, she served us some homemade apple pie. We thought it was the best apple pie we’d ever eaten!
Mrs. Jameson was a good cook, as I well knew, because we children often ate at each other’s homes. One time, some years later, she mentioned Italian spaghetti to me. I’d never heard of it before. The only spaghetti I knew was something that came out of a can and had short noodles. When she learned that, it wasn’t long before she invited me over for supper to have my first experience with Italian spaghetti with long noodles. It was delicious!
Anyway, early one summer (about 1950), Benny, Mary, and I decided to form a club. Our meeting place would be in the attic of my folks’ garage. It was easy to get up there: just walk up an open wooden stairway (with no railing).
We made a sign saying, "Smokey Elves Club," and posted it on the wall near the bottom of the stairway. We told our folks that we had formed this secret club and that they should stay out of it. They just smiled and nodded and probably promptly forgot about it.
What they didn’t know was that Benny, Mary Ruth, and I called ourselves the smokey elves because we would periodically snitch a cigarette from our parents and go up to that attic to smoke.
We did this once or twice a week. After all, at that time we didn’t know that smoking was harmful to one’s health. Both Mr. And Mrs. Jameson smoked cigarettes, but only my mom did (Dad smoked cigars). They were our source, albeit unbeknownst to them.
If Mom were reading this, I think she’d be a bit embarassed. Why? Because she smoked only one or two cigarettes a day (without inhaling, she told me years later) either on the back porch or in the garage, depending on the weather. She rarely smoked in front of anyone else, and she would have never dreamed of smoking in public: women who did that were considered to be loose women in that day and age. Against that background, Philip Morris introduced Virginia Slims for women in 1968 with the slogan, "You’ve come a long way, baby."
Returning to our garage attic club house I should mention that sometimes, as we sat up there smoking, we discussed the merits of the cigarette brands our parents smoked. We nearly always stood up for the brand of our own parent. Because of my mother’s choice, I avowed that Pall Mall cigarettes were the best.
Occasionally, however, we would take our cigarettes and go out into the country to smoke. One time we went to the barn at the Iowa State University dairy farm, and climbed up into the hay loft to smoke. When we were done, we climbed down and had just gotten outside when Mary Ruth said we’d better go back up there to make sure we hadn’t started a fire. We went back and looked. Sure enough, we had accidentally started a fire in the hay. We put it out beyond a doubt, then skedaddled for home.
Surprisingly, we got away with smoking in the garage undetected for about three months. My brother finally caught us and reported us to our parents. The Smokey Elves Club sign came down and the Club was disbanded.
Looking back at this now, my first reaction is amazement that I didn’t get punished. I suppose my parents didn’t feel I had done anything terribly bad. But, then, they didn’t know about our smoking in the barn! Nor did I tell them.
In visiting with Dennis Wendell near the end of 2009, I learned the barn would probably be torn down soon. If we hadn’t gone back and put out the fire, it would have burned down long ago.