The number of catalogs that arrive in the mail is multiplying, and I can't say that troubles me. I enjoy reading anything: books, magazines, shampoo bottles, cereal boxes, and even catalogs! Last week it was my extreme pleasure to receive The Vermont Country Store catalog. What a delightful trip down memory lane that was! It was like visiting a museum of pop culture from the seventies. Nearly every page called up memories for me. The BB Bat suckers, the soap-on-a-rope, the potholder loom, Gumby and Poky, Slinky, the Magic 8 Ball, the Bozo Bop Bag...my parents must have shopped exclusively from this catalog. Okay, I realize they have compiled all of these wonderfully sentimental items for our enjoyment today. I recalled my adolescent years fondly.
During the seventies, my nuclear family went through some big changes. My parents divorced and remarried, and each added another baby girl to my list of siblings. The shuttling back and forth between homes became a routine I actually enjoyed. I would leave the big old farmhouse full of eight children in the country, and head to the relatively quiet, large brick home on Sunset Avenue with my two brothers to visit our little sister and stepmom at my dad's every other weekend.
The seventies. James Taylor, John Denver, Carol King, and the Carpenters were on the radio. Snow days that turned into weeks when the ice made traveling treacherous and power outages frequent. Family vacations to campgounds in Myrtle Beach and other southeastern states neighboring Virginia. Homemade bread and cookies for after school snacks. Sneaking into the Christmas closet to sample Mom's chocolates. Propping myself up on my elbows to do homework on the pink ruffled bedspread. Sneaking the family cat inside for clandestine visits.
One thing that was very different between my parents' houses was personal care items. My mom was trying to stretch a very limited budget that would clothe, feed, and clean ten people. In the farmhouse we made our own butter, bread, and desserts. Mom went so far as to try making her own laundry soap (before Pinterest made that cool), and also her own deodorant and body soap.
Once I knew there was fat from a pig as an ingredient in those items, I became a complaining, reluctant teenager. Homemade soap, made with bacon grease and lye, which is clearly labeled as a poison, doesn't feel good, it doesn't smell good, and it doesn't act like soap. Shouldn't there have been SUDS? The shampoo in the kids' upstairs bathroom came in a gallon jug from a wholesale supplier. I was just thankful that we had regular minty toothpaste. It didn't hurt that our stepdad was a dentist, or I'm sure Mom would've found an inexpensive way to make that, too.
When we headed back to our hometown to visit our family at Dad's, I knew I could count on "normal" items found in "normal" stores in our bathroom. My stepmom bought Prell, and later, Lemon-Up shampoo for me. I thought they were the most luxurious smelling scents on the planet. We had Ivory soap for my little sister's sensitive skin, but I didn't mind; it felt smooth as it glided across my wet skin, and it actually created lather.
When adolescence hit, I wasn't thrilled about the bathing and shampooing that was required to keep my body from reeking and my hair from looking oily. When we were little, I don't recall having to bathe as often as it became necessary when we hit puberty. Typical of preteens everywhere, I went through an adjustment phase where my use of shampoo, soap, and deodorant was hit and miss, at best. How my parents put up with me leaves me wondering. I'm sure we had some heart-to-hearts, which I thankfully cannot remember.
The introduction of Pssssst! Dry Hair Shampoo was going to be the answer to my prayers, I hoped! I can remember buying some at the drug store in Amherst and taking it to Cheryl North's for a sleepover. I was thrilled I wouldn't have to be bothered with a shower at someone else's house in the morning. Our results were less than satisfactory.
Never one to read directions, I couldn't wait to try the dry hair shampoo when I woke up early the next morning. When I sprayed the powder onto my oily hair, holding the canister much too close to my head, it turned my hair white. Now I had a disgusting mixture of oils, dandruff, and powder in my dull, lifeless tresses. I tried evening out the dry, white powder with the oily strands, scrubbing my fingers against my scalp, but it just made my flat hair flatter. Now I REALLY needed to wash my hair. What a disappointment that was!
It was probably during this brief time of the greasy locks that my dad and stepmom were easily convinced to buy me a bottle of "Gee, Your Hair Smells Terrific." They would have done anything to get me to step up my hygiene routine! I was in heaven, thinking that just by using this wonderful shampoo, if the commercials were to be believed, boys everywhere would be swooning every time I walked past them, telling me, "Gee, your hair smells terrific." Those romantic moments never transpired, but I did start taking better care of my hair once the concept of boys entered the picture. I traded one problem (greasy hair) for another (pursuing those who would prefer to be left alone).
Once I started noticing boys, I became obsessed with fresh breath. I am somewhat obsessive-compulsive when it comes to brushing my teeth. Upon awakening, before and after meals, and before bedtime, and any time I am leaving the house. No "twice a day" reminders necessary for me, once I began worrying about "halitosis."
Mouthwash is something the dentist dad did not endorse, so that product was nowhere to be found in the farmhouse. But in my Dad's bathroom, there was a clear plastic bottle containing a ruby red liquid that smelled wonderful to me, Lavoris. It was so cinnamon-y and hot, I could barely swish it in my mouth for longer than a few seconds. Dad probably wondered what was going on when he had to replace the bottles much more often. It was me, Daddy; it was me.
It's funny how a scent can take us back in time.
Every time I get a whiff of Old Spice, I am snuggled into the neck of my father, giving him a kiss on the cheek. Coppertone and Hawaiian Tropic transport me to a beach towel under the hot, humid sun, laying out to perfect my tan. Teaberry Gum and Juicy Fruit put me back in the Jeep Wagoneer, traveling down Route 29 in Virginia. A whiff of Dentyne, and I see my stepmom's purse casually left open; Jackie was always good for a stick of gum. English Leather reminds me of my first love and my junior prom. Lifesavers and candy canes whisk me away to opening stockings on Christmas morning. Decaying fall leaves take me back to the Blue Ridge Parkway and the Peaks of Otter, camping trips, and horseback rides winding through the trees back home.
Memories...sweet memories of times gone by. I'm so thankful my mom, dad, and stepmom are still with us. We lost my stepdad my first year of teaching thirty years ago.
Time marches on...gathering with it along the way more moments to treasure. Now scents of Dreft laundry soap, Tide and Downy, and the smell of outdoors mingled with the scents of babies and toddlers flood me with memories of my children. For as much as I strive to live in the now, reminiscing and revisiting the past brings me sweet pleasure. As long as I'm just visiting, and don't live there, I think I'm okay.