Thursday, September 25, 2008

Ivory soap, and so on.

A new bar of Ivory soap.

Can you conjure this smell the way I can? We used to carry a bar with us down to the dock at night in the summer, because it was the only brand of soap that didn't leave a trail of bubbles behind. We would walk through the closing twilight into the black pool of a lake, which reflected the starlit sky and the lights of the bay that surrounded us.

When we'd arrive at the beach, a silence would fall as our clothes fell away, clandestinely forming small piles several feet apart as we feigned modesty while derobing. Then the splash, but not a big one, as we would leap off the side of the dock into the shallows, our feet making ripples in the silent water as we entered. The soap, in my hand, would have been dry, and it needed to be wet to get that smell. So I would dip it, just quickly, and twirl it between my hands as I walked through the quiet night.

Inevitably, I would drop this smooth, clean bar somewhere along the way to the slide. The water was only eighteen inches deep, so retrieval wasn't the issue. But the bar was grainy now, its slick surface now a fine grit of maybe a #200 sandpaper, ready for use. Not as slippery in the hand anymore, but I would it hold tightly as I mounted the ladder, heading for the top of our playground wonder, stationed in the midst of our baby beach swimming place.

Ping, ping. I can hear the sound of my rings tapping on the hollow piped handles that ran alongside the ladder, as I would climb to the top. Pause on the landing, passing the gritty bar from my right hand to my dominant left, soap it up, and cover my naked, white bum. Then I would sit, gently, and with a great shove, take flight.

The ride down the smooth, splashed sliding board would take perhaps slightly less than two seconds, and then there would be this moment of silence as my body virtually soared through the air, speed defying gravity taking me five or six feet off the end of the slide before the water hit my naked skin and my arms defensively plunged downward to prevent an uncomfortable bottom-first landing in the soft sand beneath the gentle, still lake. My hair, still dry, would just hit the surface of the water before my feet would make contact. I'd stand, and assuming the position of modesty disguised as coldness, I'd wrap my arms around my body and hunch over slightly as I made my way through the knee-deep water back to the slide, where the splashes would follow me, and the silence gave way to shrieks and giggles and laughter.

The bar of soap would stay, gripping with its sandy surface, on the landing at the top of the slide as we went, again and again.

Sometimes we would find it there in the morning, where we'd left it.


There is peace to this memory, which could be from one of hundreds of nights of my childhood and teen years, from the point at which I gained my independence and was allowed to swim alone at night with my friends, to the point at which I became too exhausted and cold to bother to go out after dinner (this could also be described as parenthood).

So it was pleasing to me, and also slightly puzzling, that as I walked along the Mill river trail today with my two children for company, amazed at the silence of this windless, warm fall day, I could smell this smell: Ivory soap.
My nose is a little stuffed up, allergies to the fall, so I couldn't be sure, but I was sure. Why could I smell soap, here in the middle of the woods? I couldn't imagine. But it made me feel a sense of beauty and peace.
We were walking to Charlotte's stone, of course. This place where we visit with dried flower petals and the cuttings from our gardens. Today's bouquet was fall mums, pink and yellow, arranged around a big bunch of fragrant sage, with a few of Liam's homegrown zinnias to add a lighter pink zest to the little gathering of color. When we arrived, Liam took charge of scattering the petals I'd collected from the dying roses while I carefully tied the bouquet to the little maple tree that grows out of the root of the huge white pine that towers over her stone. Then I pulled from my pocket this little piece of randomness that I wish I'd photographed, this smooth piece of slate from Grandad's lake, and I'd written on the stone by scratching it with another piece of slate: Charlotte, Liam, Aoife. One on top of the other. My three children, where I only have two.
When I was sad, I would visit Charlotte's stone and feel heavy, I could throw myself nearly on the ground and feel close to her and want to talk to her and feel her there. Now I feel muddled because when we go there it's often a glorious day, and the walking is lovely and it's such a beautiful family outing that I'm filled with joy there, and I feel a disconnect that I don't know whether I should be happy or sad about. Is it good when the pain doesn't hurt you so badly anymore? But does that mean I miss her less? I can't interpret this because it's too large to think about. But the stone does not make me sad anymore.
Later this evening, we gave the kids a treat of pizza and movie night. I roasted sweet red and yellow peppers and made a tasty vegetable pizza, and we watched "The Muppets Take Manhattan". As Miss Piggy is boarding the train and waving goodbye to Kermit, she waves her purple silk hankerchief, and drops it. It flutters on the track as the train rumbles off into the darkness.
Oh! Liam says, straightening in his child-sized wicker rocking chair.
Oh, no. Miss Piggy lost her thing. She lost her thing.
His face is a look of concern, he sees Kermit pick it up, but he's worried for Piggy.
Why is it this that makes me cry instead? Greg and I locked eyes over his little blonde head, and we both started to cry. Big, fat tears fell onto our laps. Liam looked up at Greg.
Why are you crying, Daddy?
And how do you answer that? I'm crying because you're sweet and sensitive, because you're caring and empathetic, I'm crying because I love you so much, and because every day that I love you I'm reminded that I was only given one day to act upon the love that I had for your sister, and I wonder how my love for her would have morphed and grown and changed as I watched her grow, as I now watch you? I'm crying because you're here, and she's not. I am crying because you are such a beautiful little creature and you're mine?
I kissed his silky hair, and took Aoife's hand. And felt happy and sad all at once.


Briar said...

This is beautiful. I can smell the soap and feel the water at the lake. I miss it and you :( B

AnnaMarie said...

So many beautiful images!

Heather said...

This is gorgeous. Thank you.

Meg said...

I could barely read the end of this post because I had tears in my eyes. The love you feel for your children is so huge, it leaps out of the computer. I think that if you feel happy, it certainly doesn't mean that you miss Charlotte less. You wouldn't be able to parent your living children as well if you were wallowing in sadness all the time. You still love her and miss her, you're just not letting the sadness take over your life. I think that's healthy.

stephanie said...

beautifully written, as always. your love for all your children is profound.

Rachel said...

What a beautiful memory.