Melvin Aiken Goes to War
When Lucky Strike went to war, so did my Pop, Melvin Aiken, and in 1943 he began collecting cigarette packs as he trained to fly in the Army Air Force Pacific fleet. Many things changed when he returned from the war: Pop abandoned his dream to homestead in Alaska but married the love of his life (Helen Ballasohn) and began a family. Gradually, his collection grew until tragedy struck and a case of what we would now call “workplace violence” left Pop blind and immeasurably depressed. Unable to see and enjoy his cigarette packs, his zeal for collecting them waned. Yet, the marvels of American medical science never cease to amaze, and experimental eye surgeries and cornea transplant operations enabled him to regain limited vision. The colors of his cigarette collection dazzled his eyes and he sought out packs from all across America (and the world).
For Pop, collecting cigarette packs became an inspirational hobby. He became close friends with other collectors through The Cigarette Pack Collectors Association, and gained pleasure from the stories they and their cigarettes told. Even after he quit smoking, he continued to collect packs and regale visitors to his home with stories told in front of his two giant self-built cigarette display cases. We grew up enamored of the beauty and history of the cigarette packs though neither my brother nor myself (Mel’s grandsons) smoked. Pop and Bubby recently passed away after 65 wonderful years of marriage and left these packs in our hands. Rather than hoard a collection too big for either of us to manage, we are sharing Pop’s inspiration with you and other collectors (don’t worry – we’ve kept a few for ourselves!). Pass on the legacy and share your own story!
**For more great stories about cigarette collecting, subscribe to Brandstand, the magazine of The Cigarette Pack Collectors Association. Many thanks to President Dick Elliott for helping me sort through this collection.**