Saturday, June 21, 2008

Of Soap and Scandal

I may have told you this before, but housekeeping was not my mother's idea of a good time. She was very careful about germs and keeping things disinfected, and gave me some of my most prominent phobias about such things, but straightforward straightening up was not something that held her interest for long.

When it was announced that company was due, the clutter on the floor and stacked in corners didn't cause her any great consternation. If I expect sudden company, I am likely to rush through the house, picking up stray toys and clothes and hiding dirty dishes in the oven or dishwasher, making the surfaces appear uncluttered and giving the impression that our "stuff" is neatly stuffed away somewhere. My last thought would be to wash the windows or the paint.

But when faced with imminent social obligation, my mother instinctively cried out for just one cleaning product, just one magic formula that would render her home suitable for guests. I will remember the scent of it my entire life. I knew automatically that I would be sent to the apothecary to fetch home a bottle. This master of all cleansers was Tincture of Green Soap.

Tincture of Green Soap was added to buckets of warm water and rags dipped into it were used to wash down the wood-paneled walls and stairways. It cleared the dust, cleaned the wood and left a fresh scent throughout.

It occurred to me only yesterday that I had no idea what Tincture of Green Soap is or why it should be available at the apothecary only. So I had a quick google on it and discovered that it's a soap meant for human skin and has nothing to do with cleaning walls.

Interestingly, I found this quote about the properties of Tincture of Green Soap. One site selling it touted it as being "effective for removal of dried blood and proteins from skin and scalp".

Okay, we weren't the most well-behaved children and it's possible we put grimy hands on the walls or occasionally used a crayon to scribble out some insult or threat against a sibling, but come on... dried blood?

It's at times like these that I miss my mother, because I realize now how many questions I have that will always be left unanswered. I am sure there is some reason she used Tincture of Green Soap on the woodwork. Maybe someone told her that it was effective at removing grease or that it was kind to wood. But I still would like to ask her, with just a hint of a wink, what crime scene she was attempting to cover up?

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