I quit chewing tobacco and started running in 1991. I don’t think the two things are related. I didn’t lay the Levi Garrett aside because of health reasons. And I didn’t start running because I thought it might help my heart or add a few years to my life.

My first “chaw” of tobacco was from one of the men on the town baseball team back in the early ’60’s. I was just a kid in that lineup, playing third base mostly. They were passing around some Warren County Twist in the dugout and I bit off a piece like I was an integral part of the team. I didn’t read the warning on the label that said “Take two aspirins before inserting in mouth!”

My head was reeling before I ran back to the field. The first batter hit a two hopper that bounced off my chest; I swallowed half of my Warren County Twist! The sky started twirling. People in the stands were doing the hurly-girly. I batted the next inning with three pitchers throwing at me. I threw up behind the trees over by Mulberry Street.

It didn’t take long for me to make the distinction between twist, plug and loose leaf tobacco. Listen, a handful of Beech-Nut leaves crammed between your teeth and gum taste like a Baby Ruth up beside that Warren County stuff!

I only chewed for twenty-five years. And you’ve got to realize we knew nothing about heath related concerns in 1964. We thought a good chew thrown in at the right time could keep your weight down. It also warded off hook worms and kept your digestive track flowing. And it came in mighty handy if the girl you were with turned out to be NOT the girl you wanted to be with. You could just slip in an extra big chew, making sure to leave a few loose leaves hanging on your lips…..

The book, “There Ain’t No Polite Way To Get It Out,” I was writing on my chewing exploits had to be put on hold. I didn’t think it kosher to be telling folks the best meals to chew after or how to spit out of a fast moving automobile without splashing juice down the side or revealing the inside techniques on distance spitting……if I was no longer an active participant in the sport.

The reason I quit is ineloquently simple. The first pack of Beech-Nut I purchased from Pat Houston’s grocery cost twelve cents. I laid a pack of Levi Garrett on the counter in 1991 and the nice attendant rang up $1.56! I studied on that for half a second. I didn’t want to let the men on the town baseball team down…..but that was more money than I was willing to pay.

I never “threw in” another chew.

The running started the next day. I figured one stupid thing deserved another. Plus, I thought it might take my mind off chewing. Or at least, give me something to do with my hands. I had several old pair of coaching shoes I needed to wear out. And who knows, if I ran long enough and hard enough, I might be too winded to stick any foreign substances in my mouth.

Or maybe, and this is the most likely scenario, I wasn’t thinking at all! I can tell you this for dead certain positive—the first five thousand miles are the hardest!

Folks have been extremely nice about my running. The county and city workers out on Tenth Street and Knowles near ’bout run off in the far side ditch to give me room as they drive past. I do appreciate the waves and shouts of encouragement from everyone. And I don’t mind the laughter and headshakes when I run by…….in the rain.

Hank used to keep me company. I’d tell him about getting beat up by Beverly Sparks in the second grade. Or about the time we rolled the cherry bombs into Uncle Clifford’s chicken coop. Or how we’d climb out the fire escape in high school and hustle to town for some doughnuts. That dog never said one word in all the years we ran together. He would, however, jump in the canal on those extra cold mornings and run back and shake off all over me!

The trick is to not think about running while you’re doing it. I’ve “chewed” extensively on life while clicking off the miles. I’ve written newspaper stories in my head. I’ve transported myself back to Miss Belle’s third grade classroom, Coach Camp’s basketball practices, swimming at the clay pits, raising sons…..who are now raising sons…..

Life is not about how many miles you run—it’s about how you run the many miles.