2008.02.06 Bag Balm smells like...

Written by David Green.


I’ve spent a lot of time sniffing my hands lately. I just can’t quite place the odor.

It’s Bag Balm that’s at question here. I gave my wife a can for her 50th birthday. I also gave a can to my father for Christmas. Bag Balm for Christmas. What more could a man want?

I spread my money around by buying one can from Fayette Feed and Grain and the other can from Fayette Feed Mill. One can cost a little more, but I won’t tell you which store is making a killing off the stuff. You’ll have to do you own shopping to figure out that 24 cent difference.

Why Bag Balm?

In my father’s case, it’s obvious. As I was growing up, there was always a can of the stuff by the back sink at the Observer office.

The back sink is known as the printer’s sink or the Black Sink. A lot of ink has been washed off hands in that sink over the decades and a lot of chapped hands have resulted. My father always said Bag Balm was great stuff for chapped hands. I never questioned him, although I’m not sure if I ever used any back then.

I’m using it now to attack those little split skin sores on my finger and thumb that arrive every winter.

Why did I give my wife 10 ounces of the stuff for her 50th? I’m still way behind in the odd gifts department. She has a lot more coming if we’re ever going to even things out.

Besides, I knew she would like the tin. There’s a cow surrounded by clover. She recognized “the familiar green can” immediately since she worked on a small dairy farm one summer in high school.

But the smell of that stuff...I just can’t place it. I know it’s familiar. It’s sort of a medicinal smell—perhaps the small amount of 8-hydroxyquinoline sulfate contained in the salve. It sort of smells like a freshly paved road. Maybe that’s the petrolatum. Or perhaps the wet sheep smell of the lanolin base.

Every now and then, I’ll rub a little on my hands and begin sniffing. I know it’s going to come to me eventually. I’ll realize that it smells like something more than just Bag Balm.

It’s not the only thing I’ve been wondering about lately. Chuck Ekins said something recently that I completely misunderstood, but it got me wondering.

He was commenting on the wind a few days ago when it was blowing so darn hard.

And now I’m wondering: Is the wind louder in the summer or in the winter? Does it make more noise when it’s whipping the leaves around or when it’s whistling through bare branches?

Maybe it’s not even correct to refer to the wind as making noise. Perhaps the wind makes no noise until it pushes leaves around or sets branches in motion.

In early February, it’s a little difficult to remember just what the trees sound like when a summer storm moves in. It’s exciting, it gets rather loud, but it must be a deeper whooshing sound compared to a winter wind. Winter trees produce a sharper—and louder—sound.

The wind and Bag Balm aren’t the only two things I’ve been wondering about. This last one is the most bizarre. How do you say the words “How green was my valley” without it sounding like a question?

I don’t know how this query came about. It happen at about 3 a.m. recently when Ms. Leddy finally came to bed. I don’t know if she said something or if it was just in my head, but I was remembering the bookcase in the house where I grew up on Cawley Road and I was remembering the book, “How Green Was My Valley.”

Go ahead, try to say “How green was my valley” as a statement. You can overemphasize the word “green” or maybe add a little drama to “valley” at the end.

Perhaps the best solution is read the entire closing sentence of the book— “How green was my valley then, and the valley of them that have gone”—but it’s cheating to add extra words.

I suppose I should be happy, very happy, that these three things are my biggest worries. I’m going out on the back porch now to sniff my winter boots. The water-proofing gunk I applied years ago still stinks and it might just smell like Bag Balm.

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