Maggie Wilson Author

Historical Non-Fiction in Northern Ontario

Smells Like Smoke: Writing 101 Free-Write

I had dinner out with my friend S last night. We ate at an Indian restaurant that is under new management. I had my usual palak paneer and a vegetable korma. VERY tasty, but it wasn’t so much fun digesting. Not the food’s fault. My gluttony.

Palak Paneer: Not all that photogenic, is it? No worries: the flavour more than compensates for the looks.

I drove. Unfortunately, my AC is on the fritz. My car is an “old” Ford Escape. It’s 2003. For the last several summers, the Freon or whatever it is that they use in the compressor has leaked out. I’m going without AC this time. I drive short distances only, so windows open for me.

Which led to our conversation about odours.

S took a deep breath and said, “Ah, nothing like a good snoot-full of gasoline.” She meant that in a good way.

I said, “I know! I used to love being in the car when I was a kid and Dad had to fill up the tank.”


The scent has lost its appeal these days. I wonder if they changed the formulation, or if the novelty of the fragrance has worn off? Surely not a loss of grey matter? Source:

We went on to talk about other smells we liked, like butane. Both of us grew up with family members who used one of those cigarette lighters. The kind that sounded a satisfying metallic tone as it was flipped open followed by one, two, maybe more scratching rounds on the igniter, depending on how breezy the setting, and the draw of breath to light the cigarette, and the simultaneous sound of the exhalation of tobacco smoke and the snap shut of the lighter.

S mentioned that her uncle used to roll his own. He made his smokes one at a time. I told her that my dad did, too. But he manufactured a pack or two in one operation. He smoked Macdonald’s tobacco, purchased by the tin.

macdonalds tobacco

Macdonald’s Gold Standard Export Cigarette Tobacco – Dad’s Brand of Choice

He had a roller tray with a rubber belt upon which he layered the paper, then the tobacco. Adequate turning of knobs and rolling the belt produced a long thin cylinder which was then cut into cigarettes using a razor blade. I watched the production at the dining room table after the meal was cleared away.

Vintage Cigarette Roller Source:

Vintage Cigarette Roller Source:

Actually, when mom and he were first married, the task fell to her. Which is remarkable, in a way that I cannot explain. Was this something she did out of love for my dad? My parents did not demonstrate their affection for one another. If indeed they had feelings of affection. Actually, one time I did witness something that might qualify. Mom was busy, bent over the oven door, taking out a tray of cookies, and as Dad walked past, he patted her butt (…ew.) She snarled at him.

She did not smoke, and I cannot imagine that she condoned the expense. It could be that she offered to make the cigarettes for him. Maybe she had a knack for it? No matter, once we kids were on the scene, she had plenty of chores to keep her busy. Howard rolled his own.

Dad smoked almost all of his life. After every meal, at the table. In the car. The windows of the car were waxy with residue. It was really rather gross. As a girl, though, I cannot say that I minded. The habit was as normal as coffee for breakfast and tea for lunch and dinner.

I don’t recall if Mom finally pestered him enough to quit smoking or if an MD had a few words. Either way, I was in my early 20’s when he gave up the habit. He died of a stroke in 1984. Was smoking implicated? Hard to imagine otherwise.

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In response to Writing 101 


Categories: Blog Blog Blog, Mom and Dad

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49 replies

  1. Very interesting post, thank you! Women are just too nice -me included. My husband still smokes and even though I wish he would follow my lead and quit smoking as well, I go and take care of his tobacco needs. I buy his cigarettes, make sure his lighter fluid is on the shopping list as needed. Somebody needs to check my brain I suppose 🙂


    • Hey there. I can imagine that this post strikes a chord with you! The issues you mention are not all that easy to resolve, are they? There is more than the nicotine habit involved. I’m glad you read the post and commented, thanks!


  2. I so relate to this post! I love the smell of gasoline, butane lighters, and the light of someone’s cigarette. I quit over a month ago. I don’t miss it, but I still like the smell when it’s lit. It is a comfort of childhood, I think.
    Stale smoke, like the morning after a party, and residue on windows, not so much, lol — but I’m not going to be one of those mean reformed smokers that go on about it all the time like it’s the worst thing in the world!
    My soccer mom minivan has lost its a/c capabilities AGAIN. First, we had a new compressor installed, then we had a refurbished compressor installed. Last year, we had it repaired and recharged. This year, it’s open windows. We just can’t see throwing money at it again. I really don’t think it’s us, you know? But! We don’t live in The Deep South anymore, so it’s not too terrible, like it was in 2011 and 2012 while we were still there.


    • I know nothing personally of what it’s like to give up the habit of smoking. That’s awesome that you don’t miss it – in such a short time, I mean.

      I am fortunate that if I do need to make a long trip in hot weather, I can take hubby’s car. You are right. I don’t want to throw money at it with a patch job only to have to redo it again next year. Besides, leaking the gas to the atmosphere? Not cool. No pun intended.


  3. Another post I can relate to. I too loved the smell of gasoline as a child when my dad filled up the car. Now that I think of it, you’re right – it seems like the smell is different now. Could it be that gas is now unleaded? 🙂

    Cigarette rolling was not a part of my childhood, but in my case it was my mother who was the smoker, not my dad. But your description of the lighting of a cigarette and the click of the lighter was bang-on!

    Funny how I would find it offensive to have someone smoke in my home, but back then it was perfectly normal.


    • Did you have a tiger in your tank? I remember Texaco was the station nearest to us and they always had freebies – like a plush tiger tail to hang from your gas gap. We also acquired considerable kitchenware from gas stations – cutlery, dishes, cups.

      Now all we get is points. Whoop-de-doo. 🙄

      I thought about the unleaded thing. Don’t ask me how I know this bit of trivia but: lead acetate, or sugar of lead was used to sweeten wine in Roman times. Perhaps unleaded gas is less sweet!


      • Too funny! I guess we know at least one of the sources of lead poisoning in the Roman Empire.

        Our closest gas station was a BP – in fact it was my uncle’s business. I only remember one giveaway and I was REALLY young at the time – it was a BP green and yellow car.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Horrible to say it but I find most Indian cuisine uninviting.


  5. I can totally relate to your parental smoking experiences. We used to drive LONG distances across the country nearly every summer. Two chainsmoking parents with rolled up windows. I remember a constant haze of smoke in the house! It floated about shoulder height. And like you say: it all seemed normal somehow … hahaha


  6. I remember the sound of Dad’s lighter. You described it so well I heard it!


  7. Aw Maggie, riveted by the sights, smells and sounds of this post! My father smoked 4 packs a day and they showed us graphic films in the grade school auditorium to scare us enough so we wouldn’t start. I would go home crying, terrorized of what would happen to my daddy. I used to write pleading poems on his matchbook covers, begging him to stop. He stopped. In the Intensive Care Unit with his first heart attack, age 38. Needless to say, I lost him too young. You always pull me with your words, Maggie.


  8. I have never smoked. Don’t plan to take it up. But when I was in the seventh grade, we lived in Lexington, Kentucky. In the fall, you could drive by the farms where they were curing the tobacco. What an amazing smell.


    • Hi Don. Thanks for your story. Up until recently, much of Southern Ontario crop land was devoted to tobacco. We drove by on our way to the beach. But it must have been too early in the production season – I do not recall the smell of curing tobacco.

      With the decrease in smoking, most of those farms have changed to different produce – ginseng mostly.


  9. This gave me a giggle – thanks for that! 😉
    We too have a Ford Escape…the wee one always calls it a Ford Getaway. Ha ha.
    I cam empathize with you regarding your AC woes…awful, bleh…I physically cannot handle extreme humidity and am allergic to AC (the Freon actually, makes my sinuses go wonky). I guess it goes beyond love/hate for me. Tolerated necessity, perhaps?


  10. I love Indian cuisine, smelling petrol as a kid and enjoying the adult smoke from cigarettes. It wasn’t until everyone started giving up that I became aware of how the cigarette smoke permeated everything.
    Each of my three husbands smoked Erinmore tobacco in their pipes!! Do you think that was a prerequisite? Love the way you show your photos in your posts. That’s a very fancy cigarette making implement. My Dad rolled his own, but he had nothing sophisticated like that, just rolled one at a time.


    • Isn’t that an interesting coincidence about the Erinmore! Was pipe smoking the common habit in Australia in those days?

      Indian food is a treat – love the Nan, and tandoori… curry anything, but I cannot tolerate the heat the way I used to. What’s your favourite dish, Barbara?


  11. And here I was thinking it was just me who liked leaning over the petrol tank while filling. Not good for the brain cells though. I still enjoy secondhand smoke a bit. And I believe you when you say that green gunk tastes great [shivery grimace] thousands wouldn’t. 😀

    Liked by 1 person

  12. What a beautiful, descriptive post. I think I’ll run out and get a butane lighter and pretend to be someone in a Mickey Spillane novel.


  13. My mom smoked lightly when I was in my single-digit years, and I sometimes hung out with her in the garage where she smoked. She kicked it before we moved to Lincoln, and my Dad never smoked (at least not while I have been alive).

    I also liked the smell of gas pumping from the gas station, although it has always been unleaded. It is very distinctive.

    One other smell which is salient to me: the natural gas smell. I smelled it in our house during our last summer in Fort Dodge, and we had to call the fire department and evacuate the house… with my siblings and I half-naked from just taking a bath!


  14. Hi Maggie, your blogs are interesting to read. I loved your style. Honest and thought provoking. Sheen.


  15. My dad was a pipe smoker and I always loved the smell. Like the smell of a nice cigar too. I’m a smoker right enough. Wonder why. 😉
    I also like the smell of petrol or the creosote used on garden fences. And wood burning. And baby’s rubber pants that no one uses now but I remember my mum using with younger siblings! Smells are just so evocative. And I quite like an Indian curry. Oh, and garlic. I love the smell of that and fresh coffee when passing an Italian restaurant – totally draws me in. Gawd, I’m starving now! 🙂


    • I do enjoy the aroma of cigar or pipe tobacco smoke much more than cigarette smoke.

      I LOVE my coffee and I could probably afford to cut back. I have been known to take a snort of the grinding machine while I’m out shopping for beans. Of course, I look both ways to make sure the coast is clear.

      Now. The rubber baby pants. They don’t use them? I suppose that’s because of the disposable diaper. The things I learn on social media!


      • lol at the snorting of the coffee grinder. I buy lemons and limes and keep them in my fruit bowl to pick up and have a sniff! Sometimes I even use them. Mostly, though I just wait till they die and then buy fresh ones.
        The disposables did take over although if I’d known I was gonna have seven kids I might have stuck with the terries and rubber pants. My kids sure must have made a big pile in the nappy heap that haunts the earth. Carbon footprint or what. Quite like the smell of that too…you know, charcoal burning, barbecued food. Sheesh, why does everything come back to food?!
        As for learning things on social media…I’ve just found out about the American Transcendental Poets’ Movement…’cos someone compared one of poems to the style. Chuffed as hell, I can tell you! I had to go and look it up, right enough. Feel like such a fraud! 🙂 x


        • OH! Now you’ve got ME hungry!! (I’m ignoring the pile of smelly diapers, hope you don’t mind?) I stopped eating meat about 6 months ago. Neighbour barbecues every night in the summer. Without fail. I miss the smell of charred meat. Must strike some primordial memory. [drool]

          Now, about that poetry comparison! Kudos to you! You might consider this, instead of feeling fraud-ish – you are ahead of the curve!! :p xo


          • I feel hellish at the moment. I’ve just sat and watched a video posted by an animal rights’ blogger and it’s horrifying. I might never eat chicken again. Or, at least, not ones raised and treated the way these poos creatures are.
            Why did you stop eating meat if you don;t mind me asking? Curious that you mentioned this just as I’ve finished watching the vid.


            • I was in your exact shoes 6 months ago after reading a book “Eating Animals” by Jonathan Safran Foer.

              I wrote about it earlier this year – If Foer had his way, we’d all be vegans. I can’t make that leap, at least not all at once. Eggs and dairy are still on the menu. As is fish.


              • I’ll look into that, I’m commenting on that post and hardly know what to say. I’m appalled.

                The video makes for some of the worst sort of human indifference I’ve ever seen. God-awful crulety I can barely conceive of. I’m so ashamed as me, at us, at bloody eating! It’s just not necessary. I know there are other options. But the other awful thing is that, as always, the better choice costs more.
                Sorry, I’ve put a blight on your comments. I’m just so disgusted. I’m going to look into this some more. x


  16. 😦
    I know. The acts perpetrated against animals that are already in vile and tortuous surroundings are indescribable. I don’t think they’ve made a word that can adequately describe my repulsion. Toward the “humans” who carry out the act, that is. And the industry that sanctions and cultivates the acts.

    As for “blight” – please, no worries. This, I feel, is what blogging is all about. The interweaving and threads and thoughts.


  17. My dad was a pack-a-day smoker apparently. The day they brought me home he went cold turkey (and was very hard to live with for a while). But growing up in a cigarette-free house, I never had the urge, although I’ve come to enjoy the occasional good cigar.


  18. G’day Maggie,
    What an interesting post, Two years almost to the day since my last fag, I’m one of the unlucky ones that miss it, although I’d never do it again, Smoking friends still get an ashtray on visiting, albeit I can’t refute what was once an accepted lifestyle has been proven otherwise, as in most choices we make it has to be a personal one. And yes I rolled my own and still have the fancy little machine that I often used to do so.


  19. Yum, the palak paneer picture drove me to read the whole post.. and bang on about the gasoline smell! I love it too! Next time maybe you can try this dish called ‘raita’ along with your curry, it usually helps in bringing the heat down! 🙂


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