Saturday, September 5, 2009

How Many Bars of Soap

Soap is more than a cleansing agent. It is history with a smell and a great deal of pleasure to it.

My younger years I can remember having my mother tell me to wash behind my ears and then she handed me a bar of soap. We were living on Dunrobin Avenue in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, and we didn't have any running water.

I fetched most of the water and filled up barrels. We got a lot from rain barrels that were hooked up to catch the water off the roof which ran into gutters and down spouts when it rained. The winter was harder as water had to be brought from a well several blocks away that a number of people had a key to access. So, water was used but not wasted.

I recall washing my hands in a basin filled with water but not warmed up, mind you. It was cold to the touch and one scrubbed his or her face and then when the hands had been rubbed together in that washing fashion, one took the remainder of the water and splashed it on his face several times, washing the soap away.

Often I would make that sound that everybody did where after splashing it on your face, you shook your head just like a dog does after you get done patting him or her. "Phaaaaughshuywop" and "blap," you gurgled out. You were done so combed your hair that had gotten all wet from the washing. A quick look in the mirror and you were ready to go to school or what have you.

As I got older and was still hauling water, there was the Saturday night bath. Boy, I hated that. My mother heated up the water on the wood stove and filled up two tubs. The old metal ones that you could barely sit in. That was fine but I had to use the same bath water that my sisters used and there always something floating on the top of the water that looked scummy. I would brush it aside and never dip my face in the water. It gave me good reason to hurry and get the washing done. It was also my job to empty the tubs and set them out on the back porch for the next bath.

I can only remember three types of soap in those days. Ivory soap, Fells Naptha, and Lava. Lava was rough and guys used it after doing a sweaty hard day's work. You could scrub up nice and clean from the Lava but it always felt like you were taking a little sand to your skin.

Ivory soap was great. It floated in the water and had a nice clean smell to it. It came in good size bars that us kids used to squeeze until it slipped out of our hands.

We used to have a great joke. You want to hear a new song? Yeh ! Ok, let me hum a few bars for you. "Soap, soap soap, soap."

Oh well, we finally moved and had running water. One could take a bath without heating up the water on the stove and no second hand water, just plain pure stuff out of the tap that was hot to start.

The first few times I scrubbed with Ivory, buried my face in tub water, blowing bubbles and singing a song I still remember. "Ivory soap is good for you, wash your face until it is new. Scrub your toes and wash your hair, and take a bath in your underwear."

Well, thru the years they came out with new toilet soaps. Why they called them that I don't know but the new bars gave the ladies a sense of smell and downright pleasure. If Ivory soap was 99.9 percent pure then the new soaps with all their perfume etc., were never as good in my opinion.

But then guys like things that don't smell too much and Ivory soap was right up there with "Brylcreem, a little dab will do ya. Brylcreem, you'll look so debonair. Brylcreem,the gals will all pursue ya. Simply rub a little in your hair." That was the jingle on the radio and once you heard it hundred times you remembered.

I can recall all sizes of soap but not packaged that way. I think my mother found an outlet for bits and pieces of soap and bought a lot of rejects for a time. Soap was soap. At least in the 1940's and 1950's.

I finally came back to my roots in my twenties and went homesteading in British Columbia, Canada. Back to no running water and rain barrels and ponds and creeks and a good bar of Ivory soap. There was a wash basin, usually next to the back door, with soap dish and a bucket of water. Man, that was refreshing. Scrubbing up was almost a ritual. One could throw the water around and splash and gurgle and make those "holy cow that water is cold" sounds.

Yet there was something about cold water early in the morning and all that washing going on and smelling the morning breakfast floating in from the kitichen stove. I have eaten a lot of things from store bought to homemade but when they're cooked on a wood stove by experienced hands there is a flavor that fills up your senses and you eat like there is no tomorrow. Coming in clean to the breakfast table was expected and the clean smell of soap added to the atmosphere. We took soap to a lot of locations in the wilderness where privacy could be had along with some interesting washing places.

Bathing in a creek is intense. You have to find a spot where you won't get jabbed in and out of the water. There are parts of a body that just don't take well to getting poked or pinched. Once in the water, especially in the early spring, the bathing process can be hurrried to within seconds of turning blue. The other times are more tolerable, especially when the sun is out. Mid summer almost makes it enjoyable and in winter one just gets by with sponge baths and heated water in the wash basin. Clothes are washed with a scrub board or at a laundramat, depending on how flush you are with money.

Well, the cares of the day are ahead in the morning when you're performing your ablution. It is invigorating, gets the blood pumping, and you feel alive with all that is around you.

One exception -- my buddy Barry sounding the breakfast call even as you are getting your last leg into your pants or buttoning up your shirt. He had an uncanny way of knowing when we were off schedule. What I liked about it was his good natured way of looking at things. "Come and get it or I am throwing it out." I never knew that man to be mean or unkind but he had his way and with some thinking about it you got to see his point of view. Sure there was grumbling and good natured shut up attitude but we liked him. His friendship for us was never in question.

Soap is a clean look at the world. More soap was when your mother caught you swearing and stuck a bar in your mouth. That cleaned things up considerably. Soap is in your saddle bag and suitcase and hand carry when you're poor. When things get a lot better financially, you can afford a regular motel where soap is provided. Most of my young adult life if I stayed anywhere it was in a cabin and no soap was found there. Every once in a while I would have a soap dish rather than the counter or bathroom sink or a board to lay it on. I would look at the soap dish with satisfaction and somehow feel it was a step up. I would grin at myself for how funny that would seem but nevertheless a soap dish is a thing of beauty. Someday I am going to convince Tanya McGraw to paint a picture of it for me in a western setting. In the meantime, put soap on your list and put a line under it to remind yourself of one of the simpler pleasures of life.

In my later years I always took the little soap bars from the motels. They must have expected it and I never let them down.

Making soap is a good idea, I think, even though I was never involved in it. I knew homesteaders who made soap and usually it was pretty good. I would bet if they had their wives use it, it would sit in the soap dish a good long time. Now, if the wives made it, you can bet it would be a lot better product.

Fats boiled with ashes or animal and vegetable oils with akaline salts is not high on my list of saving money. Buy the soap, I say!

Well , there are lots of uses for soap and some you know. There is saddle soap, rope soap, soap for getting things slippery, soap for washing, and one time soap for things like running into a skunk or falling into an outhouse or anything else you can name.

I would bet there is soap in heaven and for the gals it would be heavenly and for the guys soap that wouldn't slip out of your hands unless you wanted it to. As for me and soap, we have a long relationship and I would just as soon keep it that way.

I once stepped on a bar of soap in my half sleepy condition toward dusk. I let out a yahoo sound and headed for the wood pile that was near by. As luck would have it, all that got hurt was my pride. The point is, if you want to go for a ride, don't step on a bar of wet slippery soap.

I have used bar soap to scrub down some blue jeans when it was all I had. It was real hard to wring the soap out with cold water but it was clean and the result ok for a working guy.

One last thing when it comes to soap -- the white soap, especially Ivory, still has a high mark on my list. Do you think Ivory soap still floats?


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