I’m sorry to say that there are a few ways in which I am terminally cheap. One is with toiletries. I am always amazed, even flabbergasted, by the fancy shampoos and soaps that other people buy. I’m not judgmental. It fascinates me. I even admire the courage and insistence on self-care. But I personally tend to throw in my grocery cart whatever is on deepest sale. I don’t buy anything frightening but I don’t generally buy names, either — unless it’s Ivory Soap in a 48-pack.
I think I got this from my mother. When I was growing up, our family of seven bought industrial-size jugs of shampoo from Caldor and decanted it into small bottles for shower use. Somehow I imbibed the idea that fussing too much about toiletries or any kind of personal supplies was a bit precious, or effete. No fuss! was the watchword. And certainly no extra expense.
Things loosened up later. But during my childhood there was only one area where this unspoken rule was suspended. Beside their bathroom sink, in a small woven soap dish, my mother and father kept a curvy, concave cake of Pears glycerin soap.
I don’t recall Pears ever appearing in any other bathroom. This was a special luxury, just for parents.
They always wore the bar down to a transparent golden-brown sliver. If I used their sink I would fish out this tiny remaining wafer and wash my hands, inhaling the special smell of Pears soap. It was magical. Even today, the light herbal scent takes me right back to Mom and Dad.
I don’t think I had seen a bar of Pears since my parents died. But it was reassuring, somehow, to know that this small emotional tuning-fork of my childhood was out there. (Mom and Dad are gone, the house is gone, my hair is grey, but Pears Soap continues!)
Imagine my dismay when I read recently that after 220 years of production, Pears Soap has been outsourced to India and is now owned by Hindustan Unilever, which has changed the formula. Apparently the soap now being sold as “Pears” smells like industrial pine floor cleaner and is loaded with chemicals.
This being 2010, a group formed on Facebook to agitate for a return to the traditional Pears product. Supposedly Hindustan Unilever has agreed to “revise” the formula. Read here. Whether the new, re-revised formula will come close to the centuries-old one, no one knows.
In the meantime, in the U.S. the remaining old-style Pears soap is being sold off in “Dollar Tree” stores. By bizarre coincidence, we in the mountains who have few shopping options have this chain of dollar stores nearby. The last time I was at the hardware store I went next door and bought 20 bars of old-fashioned, old-formula Pears Soap.
Yep, at $1 a bar. Profligacy! But I figured, $20 for several years of inhaling the scent and returning to my childhood, and Mom and Dad? Cheap at the price.