What This Country Needs is a Cheap Cigar Box

No Telling

I know you remember these. Maybe your cigar box of choice wasn’t Roi-Tan, but you had one. Maybe dozens. Was it a Swisher Sweets? Hav-A-Tampa?

I alternated between White Owl and Kind Edward cigar boxes for my more important collections at home. Rocks, mainly, but sometimes buttons or leaves, sometimes pecans and pokey sweet-gum balls. I remember finding a papery chrysalis once dangling from a forsythia bush. I opened the lid several dozen times a day fully expecting each time to unlock a grateful butterfly, but it never happened.

In late August I always had a fine collection of locust shells carefully picked from tree bark, screened doors, and other scratchy, irregular places. These were particularly prone to crushing in, say, the back pocket of your jeans, so a sturdy cigar box was essential. My neighborhood friends and I would travel in rangy packs like out-of-season Easter egg hunters, some of us with empty mayonnaise jars but most of us with cigar boxes. We could kill entire afternoons looking for locust shells and sticking their hooked little empty feet to our clothes and hair. After scaring my mother with them at dinner, they were always carefully placed back in the King Edwards box and spent the night under my bed.

I don’t know what those kids with the mayonnaise jars did. Those were for lightning-bugs anyway.

The fancier boxes were fine for treasures, but Roi-Tan was was the box of choice in my school desk. Elegance. An air of serious sophistication. Everything about this maroon box said you cared about the pencils inside and that education itself was a somber, sacred event. No bug shells or glass buttons in this box, thank you, the Roi-Tan held cerebral tools.

Every single year before the first day of school, my dad would take me down to Rexall Drug to pick out the perfect cigar box. Timing was everything, because everyone got their cigar boxes at the Rexall and if your daddy was the sort who put things off, you could end up carrying fat pencils and an Elmer’s paste bottle in something ridiculous like a paper sack. That was nothing short of social suicide and certainly no way to begin first grade. These were the days when “special” kids were carted off before the end of the opening day and never seen again.

Thinking back, I’m sure the missing children had little to do with paper sacks vs. cigar boxes, but times were different back then. Falling into school-supply lockstep for a month or so was calculated survival. It was dangerous to be quirky and we knew it.

So Roi-Tan it was.

My mother wrote my name on every single side of that cigar box, not that she needed to. By the end of the first week I’d written “Monda” a hundred times on it myself, trying out every single crayon I’d brought with me. Most of the boys used scissors to gouge their names into their cigar boxes, a practice I found equally violent and fascinating until a boy named Dale nearly cut off a finger doing it. He was whisked, bleeding, out of class and down the hall. When he returned the next day, he had stitches, round-edged scissors, and a swagger. I fell in love with him by recess.

I found this Roi-Tan cigar box at a Camden, Arkansas junk store for $2. It was worth every penny just to remember the locust shells and swaggering Dale.

10 thoughts on “What This Country Needs is a Cheap Cigar Box

  1. I recently bought an empty can of Mixture No. 79 pipe tobacco at a flea market. I remember when my dad would pull our huge sedan into a parking space in front of our Rexall Drug Store in Irving, Texas, and send five-year-old me in with a couple of dollars to buy his tobacco. I felt so grown up and useful and I liked the old guys who would laugh and tease me as they helped me complete my purchase.

    Can you even imagine what would happen to the father, or his child, who tried to repeat that scene now?

    His other favorite was Cherry Blend. I can still recognize that scent on the rare occasion when I'm in the presence of a pipe-smoker using that brand.

  2. I remember walking into the corner store with my friend Linda to buy cigarettes for her mama. I think we were in second grade. Belairs and penny candy.

    My dad was a pipe smoker for a few years – Borkum Riff. I can still catch a whiff of it every now then, but men have stopped smoking pipes for the most part. I miss that smell.

  3. Dad was a cigarette smoker. I have but one lowly King Edward cigar box. The spousal unit's dad, on the other hand, was a roll-yer-own-er, and we have a plethora of big, round Velvet tobacco tins. Also very useful for storing loose bits-n-pieces. However, not quite so convenient to carry, nor do they carry that certain cigar box caché.

  4. Tobacco tins! sans cache or not, they're a good find. You can't make a guitar out of one, but just think of all that fun storage.

  5. Monda, I also had a collection of cicada shells in a Roi Tan cigar box! I thought I was the only one who thought the shells were so fun to collect. And I remember a couple of occasions where my mom was not happy when a shirt pocketful of cicada shells made it through the laundry, but not unscathed! I had stacks of cigar boxes filled with them, and those treasured boxes did make great pencil boxes in a school desk, too. I read your musings often and enjoy your writing! Robin M. S.

  6. I knew I couldn't be the only one! I'm seriously thinking about filling up this box with locust shells this year. In another month, those shells will be everywhere and nowhere. I'll take my grandson with me so I don't ruin my grown-up street-cred.

    I'm so glad you enjoy reading and that you stopped by to comment. Hang out here anytime, Robin!

  7. I felt very nice reading this article because i came to know that there are some people like me who get nuts about these cigar boxes.Its a nice hobby and really the box can be used for keeping various articles like crayons,pencils etc.These boxes looks so elegant that children obviously get attracted by its structure and love to keep them.Cuban Cigars also look very attractive as these boxes some even get tempted to smoke and couldnot give up later.

  8. I recently bought a new cigar box from cigarbox.net named 25 Count Humidor. after a few days i realized that this is only named humidor. nothing fancy about them. i bought it on 60% off i think that is why it does not have such quality. i feel it because when i put my cuban cigar and then smoke it feel as they were in pound.

  9. My Dad brought one once in a while ,smoked Roi-Tan cigars cannot forget the smell ever . My Dad would let me puff on his , so I could smell the smoke so lite and flavorable to me. And that reminds me of my Dad n boxes .

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