Shakespeare’s time was before toothbrushes, deodorant, and regular bathing. So people did what they could: washing underwear as often as they could afford; using scented waters and perfumes; and carrying nosegays. Throughout the 1980s, Mom made silk flower bouquets for brides, so I know “nosegay” as a very small hand-held bouquet. It’s presence in the 1500s was the same size, perhaps even just a single fragrant flower. However, in that era, its meaning was very literal: to keep the nose gay. While in crowds of people, all of whom probably had some degree of body odor, the nosegay was held to the nose to help block the unpleasantries.
I have used similar tactics as a parent. I recall a late summer festival a few years ago at Stage Fort Park in Gloucester, Massachusetts. The park is a long sprawling green area right on the ocean. The parking lot is across the road from the playground which was our starting point. After swinging, climbing, and teeter-totting, we moved to the outdoor car show adjacent to the playground. While Bill tried to lure the boys to and through antique, or muscle, or exotic cars – to me all were just shiny vehicles with four wheels, I saw small tents set up in rows just beyond the food booths. An art show. A wide selection of potential made-in-the-U.S.A. Christmas gifts for family and friends in England.
We needed to make our way through lunch and through those food booths to go shopping. The outdoor food aroma was reminiscent of smelling pork chop sandwiches at the Buchanan County Fair in Independence, Iowa. Fried dough and cotton candy sweetening the air at the Topsfield Fair in Massachusetts. Here hugging the Atlantic, the aroma was undoubtedly that of fried clams. Strips or bellies. The smell pulled me like that of corn dogs when I was little – when the carnival rides and food trucks filled the main street in my hometown and when I had just enough money in my pocket to indulge in a couple of those fried dogs on sticks.
Will couldn’t bear to go near the intoxicated atmosphere surrounding the food booths. His sensitive nose smelled an enemy. We stayed on the outskirts of the food booths, staking out a spot near the ocean to picnic. Then Bill dove headlong into that clam haven and emerged with fries for Will and Liam and a basket of clams for him and me to share. We put space between the clams and the fries, but still the noise over the complaints of the smell drowns out the memory of the tastes from that fried clam lunch.
As we finished lunch, I again eyed the art fair. We could only get there by walking through the air that was soaked with fried clams. I told Will to hold his French fries to his nose. We made it through the festival with this improvised nosegay. It was a condensed shopping trip. For the boys, shopping was ranked right up there with the smell of clams.
Before driving home, we took a bathroom break. I followed the stream of women toward the park’s main bathroom. Then, with the wind in the perfect direction, I smelled the sweetest scent. It was from the past. I missed it. I closely followed the woman in front of me while we stood in line, breathing in her trailing air. It wasn’t an expensive perfume. It wasn’t the nostalgic detergent smell of Grandma Murphy’s apartment. It was Downy. The fabric softener.
Liam has had eczema since he was a baby, so the Laundry Maven did double-duty washing adult clothes in regular detergent, followed by a Downy rinse, and only using Dreft for our young sons’ laundry. During the preschool years, I met another mom who mentioned an allergen-free, environmentally-friendly laundry detergent that would work for all Malcolms: Charlie’s Soap. The Laundry Maven took notice and immediately halved the loads of laundry done in one week by washing everyone's clothes together. I became accustomed to the smell of nothingness in our clean laundry. Our clothes are clean, but there is no fresh scent residue when they come out of the dryer.
The place we stayed during February break this year laundered their towels and sheets using a fabric softener in the rinse. With a week of fresh-smelling linens, the Laundry Maven decided to take action: Towels and sheets for the master bedroom would be washed in Charlie’s Soap and a little bit of Downy would be added to the rinse water. Not a lot. Just _enough_.
In the washer, the agitator has a cup on top labeled, “Pour in one capful of fabric softener.” A big jug of Downy still sits in the laundry room. Bottom shelf of the baker’s rack, tucked to the back. The Laundry Maven dusted off the Downy bottle and took off the lid. A gentle tipping of the heavy bottle produced the lurking of a thick blue slug peering its faceless head out of the bottle.
In Grandma Murphy’s words of disgust, “Oooo-gah!”
In Great Grandma Whittier words of frugality, “Waste not, want not.”
In replicating Grandma Mills’ practicality, driven by her mother and teacher Great Grandma Whittier, the Laundry Maven was not long disgusted or perplexed. She brought to the laundry room a 2-cup Pyrex measuring cup and a small whisk. A 2-inch slug flopped into the bottom of the cup. With the addition of a half cup of water and a brisk whisk, the slug melted into a more familiar state of Downy, the fabric softener. A scant quarter cup went in with the load of towels. When they sprung from the dryer, they were again, at long last, April fresh.
The 64-ounce bottle of concentrated Downy slugs should last at least a year.
Happy Hump Day.