Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Soap, Part II

Our boys have started to take showers on their own. Up until now, we had been giving them baths. The decision to move to the shower was spurred mostly by the fact that all three of them don’t fit in the bathtub together anymore, and giving three individual baths really cuts into my TV time.

I still have to give Boy Number Three baths, but it was about time the older two started pulling their own weight in the personal hygiene department. Plus, we really wanted to see if the shower in their bathroom actually worked. We have lived in our current house for almost three years now, and up until this week, no one had ever used it. When I finally got the handle to turn, after the loud clanging noise subsided, water actually came out of the showerhead, so we were good to go.

After the Body Wash Incident of Early 2011 (See “Soap,” posted February 2, 2011) my wife has been sure to keep me stocked with plenty of good old-fashioned bar soap. Since my wife has inexplicably stuck with the body wash, and the kid’s baths get done with baby shampoo, up until now, our bar soap had been used only by me. So, this week was Boy Number One and Two’s first experience trying to wash themselves with a big bar of soap. Witnessing that slippery learning curve instantly flooded me with childhood memories of soap. I had a strange upbringing, soap-wise.

My dad was a pilot for Delta Airlines. In the early days of his career, with a wife at home raising three small kids, he would always bring the little bars of unopened hotel soap and the small bottles of shampoo home from his trips to help with the household budget. His flight schedule usually had him gone multiple days at a time, so he collected a lot of soap. So much so, that we never ran out. As the years went by, the Hilton/Marriott/Ramada soap harvesting never stopped. I showered with a tiny, fits-in-the-palm-of-your-hand bar of soap from my very first shower until I was 18 years old. (Actually, I showered with a different one every other day. They don’t last very long.) As a result, I never had any early childhood regular-sized soap training.

I vividly remember the first time I used a real bar of soap. I was at least 6 or 7 years old, and we were staying with my grandparents while my parents went on a week’s vacation. I stepped into the unfamiliar shower and was immediately transfixed by the GIGANTIC bar of BRIGHT GREEN soap. (The hotel soap was white, tan, or the occasional exciting off-pink.) This was Irish Spring, and it smelled AMAZING. (The hotel soap smelled like almonds, talc, or nothing.) This giant, magical, colorful, brick-sized bar of cleanliness filled the entire shower with some heavenly, yet previously unknown fragrance. Apparently – based on the TV commercials of the 1970s -- it was supposed to remind me of the wonderful smell of a lush green Irish glade near a waterfall where I was walking hand-in-hand with a bonny lass in a turtleneck sweater, but since I had never done that, I didn’t recognize the smell. To me it just smelled strong and wonderfully different.

Then I tried to pick it up and use it. Now, big bars of soap are hard to handle for any six-year-old, but to a lad that had previously only worked with soap the size of a bite-size candy bar, this slimy behemoth was almost totally unmanageable. I must have dropped it, picked it up, and dropped it again a hundred times. The racket coming from the shower got so loud, my grandma came in to check on me, but I was so embarrassed about not being able to work the soap, I told her that everything was just fine, and that I obviously didn’t need any help. She left unconvinced.

After a half-hour of soap hockey, I finally ended up attempting to soap myself up while holding onto the massive slippery green bar with two hands at once. That is a pretty difficult maneuver, and I'm not sure how clean I actually got myself that day. Marginal hygienic success aside, it was one of the most memorable days of my childhood, so taken was I by the giant, fragrant green soap.

If asked to come up with the defining TV characters of their childhood, most guys my age would probably list the likes of Superman, The Fonz, Mean Joe Green, Bo and Luke Duke, etc.

I’m guessing very few would list an actor from a soap commercial. To my list, however, I must include the guy in the snappy turtleneck and sport coat, standing in the field, cutting the bar of Irish Spring open with his pocket knife. When I saw that commercial as a kid, I thought to myself, “Yeah, I was that guy for a day. Fresh and (insert wolf-whistle here), clean as a whistle!”

But alas, that one shower was the extent of my Irish Spring glory as a child. My parents came back from vacation, and it was small soap business as usual again.

There was, however, one major up-side to growing up with miniature soap. As kids, we never had our mouths “washed out with soap,” a la Ralphie in A Christmas Story, sitting with the bar of Lifebuoy in his mouth. My mom was probably afraid we’d accidentally swallow the hotel soap.

My boys won’t be so lucky. I’ve got plenty of full-size bars of Irish Spring. I love that stuff!

See you soon,

Copyright © 2011 Marc Schmatjen

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