The Soapy Smell of Memory

Last week I decided to try using old-fashioned bar soap. I remember the options on the shelves when I was a kid. Not so many now. I guess the world has largely left behind bar soap. In case you are wondering, I went with Dial. Spring Rain scent, I believe. A nicely shaped bar designed not to sit in its own puddle of water and dissolve on the edge of the tub. I like it well enough, but more striking was my wife’s response to it. The smell is apparently quite evocative for her. Long whiffs and wistful faraway looks.

It reminded me of a moment a number of years ago when we were in our current house and I, failing to find her preferred dishwashing detergent, picked up a bottle of the great green liquid, Palmolive. (Yes, the one in which that lady was always soaking her fingers back in the 70s.) The first whiff I got while washing dishes one day soon after took me straight back to standing by my paternal grandmother as she washed dishes and I got to dry. And I also remember how she would put a good long squirt of the stuff in the cast iron tub as it filled up so that I would have lots of bubbles.

Such scenes of patience and generosity open up a steady flow of other scenes: the number of checkers games she lost so that I might win, the constant supply of those single-serving cereal boxes in the one of four or five cabinets that her kitchen possessed, the particular trolley car glass that was always at my place at the table — that I had a particular place at the table (at the other end, opposite my grandfather).