Bob works himself into a lather this week

Bob works himself into a lather this week by Bob Karolevitz The deadline was fast approaching, and I still didn't have a column subject.

"What'll I write about?" I moaned to Phyllis, who had her hands in soapy dishwater at the time.

"You've never written about soap," she said with Palmolive smoothness. "You're always looking for a clean topic," she went on Lux-like. "Why don't you give it a try?"

"Not on your Lifebuoy," I responded, trying to make a funny.

On the other hand, I needed an idea in a hurry, so I started making a list of soap references, and darned if a column didn't emerge.

First I thought about when we soaped windows during our Halloween shenanigans. It was a relatively harmless prank because, unlike spray-can graffiti, the soap washed off easily.

Then I remembered that if we said a bad word � worse than drat or darn � we got our mouths washed out with soap. I understand that it didn't taste very good.

Soap crept into our language in a variety of ways. For instance, radio and later television serials became known as soap operas because they were mostly sponsored by soap companies.

Politicians are still called soapbox orators, even though the wooden crates to ship soap in are as obsolete as buggy whips.

When I was a kid, we always had large bars of Fels-Naptha at our house. Mother used it in the copper boiler on the kitchen stove when she did the laundry.

We were town folks so mother never made soap, but Phyllis' mother did. So did Phyllis.

As a matter of fact, their recipe for lye soap wasn't that much different from that used by colonial housewives almost four centuries ago.

Of course their lye came in a can so they didn't have to go through the long drawn-out process of leaching wood ashes.

They used beef fat and hardened their soap with salt. Phyllis remembers pouring the stinky mixture into a wooden box until it "set."

According to the Roman writer Gaius Pliny � either the Elder or the Younger, I don't know which � soap was made way back in early days of Anno Domino by boiling goat's tallow with wood ashes.

It must have smelled awful!

Do you remember the copy line "It Floats"? I think it was Ivory, and it was pretty exclusive then. We also have a framed magazine advertisement in our bathroom showing the back side of an unclad baby with the inscription: "Good morning! Have you used Pears' Soap?"

Sure, we wash with soap, but there was a time not long ago when Phyllis and I would return from a trip with lots of those little bars they use in motels. We didn't intend to wash with them.

Instead, our kids � Jan and Pat Garrity � would drill holes in them and fasten them to the apple trees in their orchard. The theory was that they would keep the deer away.

Maybe it worked and maybe it didn't. The Garritys have found other ways to outsmart the deer, but for a while their trees were adorned with Jergens, Cashmere Bouquet and Dial. I think the animals liked the smell.

Anyway, I hope you enjoy this column. You needn't send me flattering remarks. That, incidentally, is called soft soap!

© 2002 Robert F. Karolevitz

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