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You've Come a Long Way, Baby

By Beth Broderick

We knew my mother was dying when she forgot to smoke. My sister, Laura, called me at the end of that day, and she sounded deeply shaken. This was not uncommon for her. I had fielded many calls from Laura, convinced that Mom was about to go. Mom could be very dramatic, and my sister's nerves were worn thin.

"This is it. She's dying."

"What happened? What did she do today?" I would ask.

"She walked Ellie" (Her morbidly obese Maltese/Poodle.) "Did not eat much at dinner. Coughing a lot. She seems super weak."

"Okay, try not to worry; it won't happen today, love. She is walking and eating still. She is dying, but not today."

When Laura called that Wednesday, the situation was different. Mom was not walking the dog anymore, though she somehow got herself to the bathroom and back. (She would NOT be helped. God help you if you tried.) She had stopped eating entirely because she was ready to go, and she was a nurse. She knew how to get on with it. I was scheduled to fly to LA on Friday.

"She didn't smoke today."

"Oh my God. Not once?" I asked with alarm.


"I will change my flight, honey. I will be there tomorrow.”

She died 45 minutes after I got there.

"Mom, I'm in the taxi. You have to wait for me."

She could not answer, but she waited. I was grateful.

I woke up the other day with a song from an old advertisement playing in my head that persisted for hours. It repeated itself over and over again on my morning walk, and it made me think.

"You've come a long way, baby. To get where you got to today. You've got your own cigarette now, baby. You've come a long, long way."

I could not recall the particulars of the ad, so I looked it up and watched. The video made my eyeballs pop out like a cartoon character who has seen a ghost. The featured woman is clad in a Victorian dress, which she begins to strip off piece by piece. Smiling seductively at the camera, she removes her hat, releasing a cascade of brunette locks, then she tears away the fabric covering her midriff and various other body parts until she is dancing barefoot in a crop top and bellbottom pants to the final refrain of the song: "You've Come a Long Long Way." It was absurd, but she was sexy as all get out, posing with all that smoke. Virginia Slims were thin elongated cigarettes created to "fit the feminine hand." The ad won the Clio award in 1969. Go figure.

I am embarrassed to report being captivated by it when I was a kid. I was sold. I asked my Mom to get me a pack. My Mom started buying me cigarettes when I was 11 years old. Smoking was a family affair, and it was expected that each of the four siblings would take it. We all obliged at a very early age.

It is so odd now to think of cigarettes being aggressively marketed. They started us off early with candy cigs which came in a proper pack. We would pose with them pretending to inhale, then gobble them down. Smoking was sexy in the movies, a sign of daring and impossible cool, and the ads said it would keep you thin. I threw up the first two times I tried it, but I'm a persistent gal and took it up with a passion.

In the end, I did not cotton to the Slims. I stuck with "Winston Lights" for many a year, then moved on to "American Spirits." Because they were organic? Yes, I somehow thought this made them healthier. Ridiculous, of course, but a nod to caution — an effort. Also, the package was cool.

I finally quit when I was 49. I was doing a movie called "Bad Actress," in which I portrayed the title character. Yes, I know I am setting myself up with that one, but them's the facts. Go ahead — proceed to the comments section — do your worst/best.

I had three movie children on that show, and on many occasions, we would hang together outside my trailer, all of us chatting and puffing away. It was then that I realized I was modeling it. Making smoking okay. I loved my movie children, one of whom seemed particularly vulnerable, so that did not feel good to me. It also did not feel like adult behavior.

I was almost 50. It was time to outgrow it. To continue the habit was the equivalent of wearing a neon sign that read, "I have not dealt with my trauma."

So I quit.

Not sure that I have dealt with my trauma or if that is really possible. I don't smoke. Whoopee for me.

Some folks are just happier maintaining the habit, and I have no judgment about that. I loved it until I didn't. Mom loved it until she couldn't.

Regarding trauma, the collective "we" have shared some hard times these past few years, and it seems that there are more to come. Pandemic, brutal war, uncertain economic times. The scary, sad unbearable scenes of Russian brutality are hard to watch; the fear of contagion has been hard to live with. The financial piece is the least of them, but it still packs an emotional wallop. All of these plagues have set upon mankind before, ending lives and wreaking havoc. Rest assured, at some point, they will take their leave.

To quote the magnificent Maya Angelou: "Every storm runs out of rain."

There are many who would seek to return us to the former system where one group holds all of the power and privilege and the rest lived to serve. I would like to say to them, Good luck with that. Go ahead: Carry your torches and put your sheets on, try to legislate against a woman's autonomy, keep funding the embarrassing clowns in Congress who spew ugliness and hate. Knock yourselves out.

You will NOT win.

Vote. Volunteer. Believe in your power. As Barack Obama once said, "We are the ones we've been waiting for." Those words have never been more true.

It's important for us to remember that no matter how dark it seems now, we have made and will continue to make progress.

We have three women serving on the highest court in the land. They wear shoes, are brilliant, qualified, and reliably clad in public. I would say that they have indeed come a "long, long way. "

— Beth Broderick

Beth is an actor, writer, model and chef. She can bring the funny and the pie. Read more of her writing at

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