I’d like to say a scent of some exotic flower wafting on the breeze transported me back to a bittersweet memory of my adolescence, but actually it was the smell of the cleanser I was using to scrub my stove top after having allowed my white sauce to boil over. That tells you something of the level of romance in my life.
Nevertheless, I was transported back to those golden days of the 70s when everything from floor cleaner to shampoo was infused with what some chemist thought was the scent of lemon. There was even a lemon cologne that I thought made me sweet and citrusy, but my brother claimed made me smell like Pledge furniture polish.
Remember that famous Ty-D-Bol song: “We put lemon in the Ty-D-Bol for you,” sung by a marimba band floating around the toilet bowl tank in a row boat with the Ty-D-Bol man? I always wondered who was sticking their head that far down into their toilet to smell the lemon in their cleaner – which tells you something of the level of romance in my life when I was a teenager.
And it’s true, I did not have a very romantic adolescence. But you couldn’t convince me that I wasn’t at least on the path to romance. In spite of my parents’ extreme rules guaranteeing I’d have no social life involving the opposite sex, I was constantly anticipating that moment when a guy would be so overcome with passion that, in spite of any parental regulations, he would burst into song and waltz me away.
A cousin’s wedding was scheduled for the end of the summer I turned 17. I figured all his college friends were sure to be invited. My relatives – especially my parents – were sure to be distracted.
There I was, with a brand new driver’s license and a job on a lawn mowing crew for a retirement village; a job chosen for the great tan I could get while on the job. Though I was surrounded all day by eligible males, I was also surrounded by my cousin and brother, which was the only reason I was permitted to be employed by someone other than a family member.
Television had convinced me that my tan could only be truly attractive if I had blonde highlights to set it off. But as far as my mother was concerned, using hair dye was synonymous with getting a tattoo. Somehow I convinced her that Sun-In was just a benign liquid that sped up what the sun would do naturally. What it was (and is), was hydrogen peroxide mixed with fragrance.
I bought a gold-toned halter dress my mother approved only because there was no cleavage involved. The fact that she gave in so easily to a dress that left my shoulders and half my back scandalously bare should have told me something. But I was too dizzy with anticipation to notice – or maybe it was just the constant fumes of lemon and peroxide.
I should have realized my parents were giving in to a lot of things. Sure I could drive to the wedding myself! Sure I could be seated at another table from my parents! Sure I could participate in the champagne toast!
I gotta tell you – the day of that wedding I looked good. I was tanned and toned from three months of mowing lawns. My hair was streaked with red/blonde highlights and I smelled like a lemon grove.
I suppose I should have checked the guest list ahead of time to save myself the trouble: There wasn’t a male in the room to whom I wasn’t closely related.
So I danced with my father, who said he suddenly had an urge to drink a Tom Collins. I danced with my brothers and cousins who were too shy to touch my bare shoulder with their hand and ended up resting their whole arm on me in a kind of perpetual “Heil!” I danced with the Uncles, who fretted I would catch cold in the air conditioning.
So there it is: The one time in my life I looked beautiful and put together and it only took me three months to get ready.
I related this memory to the Heirs as I scrubbed the stove top, sighing at the memory of my innocence and vanity.
“Sooooo,” said Heir 2 as he picked up the cleanser container and sniffed, “you’re saying this stuff smells like hair-lightening liquid?”
Like I said, this is the level of romance in my life.