Dirt, germs and Covid 19.

Yes, life is messy. But you can clean it up with simple bar of soap.

For me, the scents of soap, are awash with memories. When I catch a whiff of a certain bar or recall an old brand name, visions of childhood bubble into my brain.

How many times did my father threaten to wash my mouth out with soap? Once, after I let loose with a bad word, he grabbed a bright orange bar of Lifebouy, held it above his head like a hammer and chased me around the house.

A deodorant soap popular in the 1960s, Lifebuoy had a medicinal odor, though many men, including my father, found it refreshing. Thankfully, I never tasted it.

In our house, stone-hard bars of P&G laundry soap were stacked in a basement cupboard. Too large for small hands, these white bars, imprinted with their name, smelled like gasoline. No surprise there, as P&G was made with naphtha, a flammable oil that was later removed from the soap because it was carcinogenic. Muscle and motion were required to work up a lather, and a single rocky bar lasted two or three years. P&G cleaned the Cocker Spaniel mutt that squirmed in the warm water of the deep concrete sink; and was violently rubbed onto muddy or bloodstained clothes draped over a corrugated metal washboard.

When I was 12, and acne attacked my frightened face, my parents’ secret weapon was Packer’s Pine Tar soap. The dark brown chunk of home medicine looked evil but had a heavenly aroma that was not unlike the sticky gold drips of sap that I liked to scratch off pine cones and scaly tree trunks. Gently massaging the chocolate-colored froth onto my cheeks, I dreamed of clear skin and a woodsy bower where I could flee the trials of my pre-teen existence.  

My favorite soaps were the miniature pink or white bars that I collected during family overnights at humble Mom and Pop motels. After Dad parked our giant red Buick (it had fins!), I’d fly out of the back seat and into the motel bathroom to unwrap the soap and give it a sniff. Cashmere Bouquet, mildly fragrant, but without the scent of any true flower, was the most common.

OK, I confess. I stuck my little nose into the soap at everyone’s house. Aunts, neighbors, my piano teacher.

At Grandma’s house, Dove beauty soap was extra special and found only in the upstairs bathroom where she put on her makeup and curled her hair. Delicately scented, with an unusual, sculpted oval shape, it was both an olfactory and tactile sensation for this little girl. And Grandma’s hug, when her wrinkly neck and powdered face was pressed close to mine, was Dove-scented. 

Dove soap is still around, a survivor amid those lackluster plastic pump bottles of liquid soap.

Maybe I should buy a bar, hold it close to my face, and remember Grandma.  

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