Patti Page's Daily Prayer
Patti Page's Daily Prayer
Singer Patti Page's decades-long addiction to cigarettes was threatening her career, so she prayed about it.
Every smoker remembers her first cigarette. I took my first puff in 1942 back in high school in Tulsa, Oklahoma. I was 14, on the chubby side and wore glasses. Though people were already talking about what a good voice I had, I wasn't exactly one of the popular girls. But I'd made up my mind. I was going to hang out with the cool kids. The kids who looked so grown-up leaning against their cars in the school parking lot, lighting one another's cigarettes, blowing tendrils of smoke in the air.
During lunch one day I sauntered across the parking lot to them. "Wanna smoke?" one of the guys asked, holding out a pack. I pulled out a cigarette and put it to my lips. I looked into his eyes as he flipped open his Zippo and lit me up. I felt so sophisticated. Then the smoke hit my lungs and I couldn't help it. I coughed. A lot.
"First time?" he asked.
"No, of course not," I said, trying to regain my composure. Before lunch was over I'd worked my way through that cigarette and started on another.
I didn't dare light up at home—my mother would have killed me. I was only sneaking cigarettes at school. Then I got an after-school job singing for KTUL radio. Everyone at the station smoked. They were all older, and I felt even more out of place than I had in school. One day a DJ offered me a cigarette. I grabbed it like it was a lifeline. Just a few drags and I felt different. Worldly, experienced. There was no going back after that.
I wasn't the kid with the great pipes anymore. I'd become a grown-up, a real professional singer. And a real smoker too. How many people are in the audience? I'd worry backstage. What if I forget the lyrics? Then I'd light up, inhale and my fears would drift away. Nothing eased my anxieties like a cigarette.
My singing career took off in my twenties. "Tennessee Waltz" and "Doggie in the Window" shot up the charts. My smoking habit rocketed, too, to three packs a day. I couldn't leave the house without a fresh pack and a book of matches in my purse. I'd walk out of church after services and be puffing away before I got to my car. Touring in Europe? No problem—there, smoking was a way of life. Instead of the usual souvenirs, I came home with an exquisite French porcelain demitasse cup that had been turned into a cigarette holder and an antique silver filigree lighter. (Now I wonder if I collected those lovely things to cover up a habit that deep down I knew was ugly.)
Nothing could get me to stop. Not the nagging cough I developed. Not my husband's worrying. Not even my two children. The thought of it makes me shudder now, but back then, no one understood the effects of secondhand smoke on a child. At one annual physical, my doctor warned me, "Sooner or later, Patti, smoking is going to take its toll on your body. You've just been lucky so far." But I didn't listen. I lit up as soon as I left his office. If my health gets really bad, I can always stop , I told myself. I sailed through my physicals, so I never seriously considered quitting.
Until one day in the summer of 1974. The kids and I were going grocery shopping. I got into our station wagon and stuck a cigarette in my mouth before I even turned the key.
"Oh, Mom, those things stink!" my 12-year-old, Kathleen, said. Her little brother, Danny, chimed in, "Yeah, Mom, cigarettes are bad for you."
I knew he was right—people I loved, like Nat King Cole and Betty Grable, smokers all, had died of lung cancer. But I couldn't admit it—especially not to my kids.