My Little Smudgepot

Inspiration for cartoon bombs? Road torches--replaced by flashing lights.

In the voice of a certain amorous skunk of those days, I used to call Ann by this term of endearment (which was not appreciated for either its sarcasm or the accent.) What inspired this name was a smell. And memories of smells can be misplaced, but they never die.

At the time, the wife was using a medicated shampoo, that, shall we say, did not leave her hair with a Breck Girl bounce and the fragrance of a country morning–unless that country morning was after an overnight frost in peach country or near a 1950’s road construction site.

I think most of these smelly roadside “torches” (many produced by Toledo Torch Company) burned kerosene. As a small child, they fascinated me.

However, I did not do as one metafilter commenter wrote about: he and a friend snuck marshmallows out of his house and roasted them over one of the smoky cartoon-bomb-looking things. Sticky-sweet with overtones of petroleum. Ralph.

It took me a bit to find out what these things were called (more images here), but “smudgepots” seems to have been a common name, adopted from the orchard use of similar devices.

If you’ve misplaced this particular fragrance, buy some T-gel (which I just started using last week, and hence the uncovered recollection) and enjoy the olfactory memories.

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Fred First holds masters degrees in Vertebrate Zoology and physical therapy, and has been a biology teacher and physical therapist by profession. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1975 and to Floyd County in 1997. He maintains a daily photo-blog, broadcasts essays on the Roanoke NPR station, and contributes regular columns for the Floyd Press and Roanoke's Star Sentinel. His two non-fiction books, Slow Road Home and his recent What We Hold in Our Hands, celebrate the riches that we possess in our families and communities, our natural bounty, social capital and Appalachian cultures old and new. He has served on the Jacksonville Center Board of Directors and is newly active in the Sustain Floyd organization. He lives in northeastern Floyd County on the headwaters of the Roanoke River.

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  1. T-gel always reminds me of my mother, and later, of my late husband. I loooove that smell. After my husband died I’d occasionally wash my hair with it on a particularly rough day.
    And I’d guess the orchard smudgepots adopted the name from the American Indian smudge pots (which I was sure of until that last time I typed “smudge” and now the word has lost all meaning) which were for burning herbs so the smoke would send away evil spirits and carry prayers to heaven.

  2. Interesting thought: how “incense” to the heavens represents an ethereal communication beyond ourselves. Smell is really not appreciated fully by any means.

  3. I’ve used T-gel, smells like coal tar. In fact I think it contains coal tar. Great, sexy smell if you are looking for a coal miner’s daughter.

  4. I remember those smudge pots. Along roadsides in the evening and nights. Have not seen one in quite a while

    See, Fred, you are always bringing up such interesting stories and photos.

    Talking about smells…….I grew up in a car junkyard… we always drove the oldest car in the community…….the smell of some of those car interiors……the upholstery……… I think it was much better fabric than we have now… 55 Chev, 49 Cad……….memories of smells…gee