Smoking Pot, Weed, Reefer (Whatever You Wanna Call It) in the Bad Ol’ Days
I started out on Burgundy
But soon the harder stuff.
Dylan, “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues”
In the fall of 1970, I abandoned the friend group I’d embraced since kindergarten and Cub Scouts to become a member of Summerville’s small but growing counterculture.
Rather than going to football games on Friday nights, my new friends and I started hanging out at an apartment, swapping stories, and drinking Old Milwaukees in fourteen-ounce cans.
Sometimes, we’d head out to the Clay Pits, an abandoned heavily wooded former phosphate site, and do essentially the same thing, except under the stars and around a campfire. We had all grown up in the Southern tradition of storytelling and were learning how to practice the art ourselves.
We sported bellbottoms, wide flowery woven belts, dingo or desert boots. We boys had hair longer than the dress code allowed, and occasionally we’d get sent home from school to get it cut. Our girlfriends could grow their hair down to the waists but weren’t allowed to wear pants to school, so miniskirts became all the rage.
Hippies gotta do what hippies gotta do.
Eventually one of us, probably Gordon, purchased a nickel of skank-ass seeds-and-stems from some Middleton High surfer dude. Back then, Summerville was so small that if you went down to the Piggly Wiggly and bought a pack of rolling papers, the checkout lady was liable to tell your mama. So, we ended up rolling our first joints in Juicy Fruit chewing gum wrappers.
Sad? Pathetic? Comical?
I’d never even smoked a cigarette, so I didn’t know how to inhale. I sort of gulped the smoke in swallows. Of course, I didn’t get high, but I did suffer stomach distress the next day that had me bending over in pain as I attempted to rake some wealthy people’s expansive yard for pay. It was a weekly October Saturday gig. I dreaded it so much it gloom-shadowed my Friday nights.
I didn’t have to burn the leaves but merely haul them to the edge of the woods that bordered their house. On that day, after I had dumped a load of leaves onto an established waist-high pile, I lay down on top it, clutching my stomach, eventually rolling on my back, lying there, looking up, closing my eyes, following the sun-spawned blobs of color floating in greyness.
It was the woman, the homeowner, I don’t remember her name.
“Rusty, what are you doing?”
I told her I had a stomachache. She commanded I get back to work, which I did. This was before I could drive, so my mother picked me up at four. When the lady paid me, she told me my services were no longer required. She said it pleasantly.
I think she paid me something like two dollars for four hours work, so I was happy about getting dismissed. I’d rather collect cast away Coke bottles on the side of the road for deposits than suffer the Sisyphean labor of raking her yard and coming back the next week to see it again blanketed and to do it all over again, to have the onus of the obligation weigh me down on Friday nights.
Mary Jane had set me free.
 Summerville, South Carolina. Population 1970, around 3,000
 I could barely force two beers down at first. I hated the way it tasted and sometimes even surreptitiously poured out a swallow or two. I’d get slightly buzzed but never really drunk.
 Mary Jane is the lamest of all cannabis sobriquets in my esteemed opinion.