“True nostalgia is an ephemeral composition of disjointed memories.” ~ Florence King.
I opened a box of Pears Soap this week, and immediately embarked upon a journey of remembering. That brown, translucent oval shape, that smell, evoked a host of memories. In fact it was not the Pears Soap I was remembering so much as a similar appearing bar of Jergens facial soap, a soap designed to reassure a teenager that she could keep those distressing ‘bumps’ at bay.
Chapelton, the town I grew up in, was not a sophisticated place by any measure. And yet it had pride. It could boast of having several stores, a town square with its central clock tower dedicated to those lost in World War I; there was the Post Office, the Court House, the Collectorate (where taxes were paid); several churches; a market; a hospital, and most significantly, the first high school in the parish. There were also several bars; eventually a record shop; there were shoemakers, barbers, jewelers and tailors. Sophisticated it may not have been, but for a country town it could hold its own. The Anglican church St. Paul’s had once been the Parish Church of Clarendon, built over 350 years ago.
It was a bustling place, back in the 60’s and 70’s. The market on a Saturday attracted sellers and shoppers from miles around. Colorful and noisy country buses would be parked near the square, loaded up with provisions and shoppers. On the banks outside the market, braying donkeys would be parked and tied up; inside a colorful array of tropical fruits and ground provisions would be laid out to catch the eye, and tempt the shopper.
Only one of the larger stores was set up in a supermarket style, a place where you could walk down the aisles and pick out your groceries. The other stores were still a place where you gave your list to the person behind the counter, and they collected the staples for you, fetching and carrying, climbing up ladders when necessary. Most of the supermarket owners were Chinese, whether by birth or by ancestry. For the special customers, the bill would be entered in a book, and once a month or so my father would go and ‘settle up’. Not exactly credit, but a form of ‘truss’, were regulars were ‘trusted’ to pay their bills eventually.
As a teenager it was my job on a Saturday to take the list to Mr. Lee’s store, then go to the market to buy the fresh fruit and ground provisions for the week. My father (local minister and chaplain at the high school) had a stall at the market where he sold an assortment of Bibles and other religious books. After I had finished shopping I would relieve him for my shift while he took the groceries home and took a break.
The Jergens soap I was remembering the other day was not to be found in any of the fine establishments in Chapelton. Not even in Nash’s Emporium! Once every two weeks or so, my father would drive into Kingston, the Jamaican capital, for meetings, to collect more Bibles, and finally on his way home he would stop at Brooks Shoppers’ Fayre – a huge, magical place that held a host of goods unheard of in our little Chapelton. I suppose it was set up more like an American Kmart. There were clothes and toys and books and soaps and shampoos and records and jewelry and fancy stationery and Jergens facial soap. He would always buy two bars, one for me and one for my best friend. The height of sophistication.
The link between scents and memory is by now a scientific fact. The olfactory center of the brain is directly associated with the amygdala and the hippocampus, places of memories and emotions. No wonder then, that we can be so triggered by a random, sometimes unidentifiable, smell. Aromatherapy, the use of essential oils, can be used to calm, to relax, to change moods and emotions, to relieve headaches and much more. In fact there are five essential oils which can be used by those who are studying, that are said to improve focus and learning.
Perfumes may have been developed to distract, to cover up for poor hygiene habits and other noxious smells in a time when the infrastructure was not as well developed. In modern times we have been convinced by the beauty industry that our natural aromas are somehow offensive to others, and so we scrub them off and replace them with artificial chemicals. But the current aromas that are produced by governments that are hiding corruption in plain sight, that are ignoring science and common sense cannot be hidden by ‘all the perfumes of Arabia’.
It is lovely to wander down a remembering lane, feeling the emotions and memories evoked by a smell. When I was struggling to find the word ‘evocative’ (one of those moments when you appreciate Mr. Google so much), I stumbled across the word ‘redolent’. Although we use it to describe a moment or a thing that is loaded with meaning, it originally meant an overwhelming smell, like a redolent piece of stinky cheese! We currently are watching the peeling off of the layers of an administration which is so redolent the scent is lingering on everyone who has walked by. Hopefully the scent will awaken all of those who have been sleeping, and will pierce the consciences of those who have ignored the evidence right in front of them.
Have a wonderful, aromatic weekend, Family!