Old SpiceOther Voices
Every Sunday after the movies Mom made me and my brother undress outside on the stoop. Rain or shine we would strip to our boxers, leave our clothes in a pile and then run like crazy upstairs to the waiting bath where together we would try to soak the stink out.
Sometimes we stayed in the tub until we were well pruned and the water got cold and we’d yell to Mom that we were ready to come out and for her to come up and check us. Finally, when she was good and ready, Mom would come upstairs and scrub our heads until she was satisfied that we smelled of nothing but Ivory Soap.
As the water was draining, we would stand in the tub and Mom would sniff us. If we smelled O.K. she would dry us off roughly, sprinkle us with Johnson’s Baby Powder and order us into our pjs that were laid out on the hamper. If we didn’t pass the sniffs it was down in the tub for another bath.
Then we would head back downstairs for dinner and swears.
“I swear I’m not letting you go to the movies next week!” Mom yelled.
She yelled to be heard above the racket the old wringer washer was making. “The stink gets worse! I swear I’m sick and tired of scrubbing his stink out of you every week!”
His stink meant Dad’s cologne. Dad always wore Old Spice, lots of it, and Mom hated the smell because it reminded her of him.
Mom and Dad were divorced and they really hated each other. They would spite each other every chance they could, but never directly, always through us kids. Dad would pick us up late. Mom would not have us ready on time. Each week it was something and it was always “TELL YOUR FATHER….” or “BE SURE AND TELL YOUR MOTHER NEXT TIME…”
They hadn’t spoken to each other since the day they walked out of court single and my Dad said to my Mom, “Good riddance.” And my Mom said to my Dad, “Good riddance to your smell.”
My Dad smirked at her. He had three or four different smirks with names for each. This time he used his wise-guy smirk – closed half-way and mouth curled just enough to show it was intentional.
My Mom hated his smirks and he knew it. She hated his wise-guy smirk most of all and stared him down in return.
Dad hated to be out stared.
Every Sunday Dad would pick us up for the day and we would end up at the movie theater he managed. After the show, before leaving for home, we would go into his office and undress and he would sprinkle Old Spice all over us, rubbing it into our hair and pouring it on our clothes. Those were the only times we saw him smile. The more he rubbed, the more he smiled.
Then we would head back to Mom’s apartment. Dad always stopped at THE CORNER SODA SHOPPE about a mile from home for ice cream. Mom said he just did it to spoil our dinner but Dad said he stopped there because they had the best ice cream around. They were both right.
Mom would slap our Sunday dinner down on the table and walk over and lift the wringer washer top and sniff.
“I swear I’ll never get that stink out! Never again! I swear. Do you hear me? Well do you?”
“I’m sorry, Mom,” we would both whine hunched over our meatloaf, mashed potatoes and cold peas, too full to eat but too afraid not to.
“I swear I’m fed up with your whining your sorrys every week! This is it! No more movies! Why do you let him do this to me every week?”
We were five and six years old when this started and Mom knew the answer. We were helpless kids who were not allowed to say no to adults. Saying no was talking back. Talking back was punished, usually by a spanking. It just was not done. Especially to parents. We learned that lesson the hard way.
Then Mom would turn away to put our clothes through the wringer and my brother would look for a place to ditch his peas.
“If I find those peas on the floor you’ll eat them off the floor. I swear it!” Mom would say without turning around as my brother begged me with his eyes to take his peas and I would just lick my lips and make faces at him.
He knew that I would eat his peas if he gave me a dime, but he always tried for the freebie first. If he threatened me, as he occasionally would do when I laughed at him, I would throw some peas on the floor and watch him get squirmy and start to hiccup. He always hiccupped before he cried and he always cried when he knew he was going to get IT. Mom knew that too and usually gave him a chance to pick the peas off the floor and put them back on his plate before he got what was coming to him.
This Sunday ritual went on until I was eight years old and my brother was nine.
Then one Sunday me and my brother were all dressed and waiting for Dad to pick us up. We sat on the stoop waiting and playing 500 rummy and looking up every time someone walked by or we heard a car slow down.
Dad never came for us.
We were devastated. “King Kong” was playing at the theater and we had been looking forward to it ever since we began watching the previews a month earlier.
The same thing happened the following Sunday. No Dad and we missed “Tea House of the August Moon”.
For the next few Sundays Mom did have us dressed and waiting just in case he showed, but after a while it didn’t make sense and we gave up.
We never heard from him again.
More than thirty years have passed and I still shower after the movies, but my brother doesn’t. He’s another story.
He isn’t crazy about bathing at all but he does love the smell of Johnson’s Baby Powder. In fact, he puts it on before he goes to the movies. Go figure people out. What can you expect from a guy who numbers his smirks?