The unmistakable smell of Campho-Phenique creates an instant mental photo of my late grandmother, Carrie Black.
And the aroma of Christmas has sparked my sensory system for as far back as I can remember.
Grandma and Grandpa (Will) Black lived in Morgan’s Point, the small community where Galveston Bay and the Houston Ship Channel collide.
For Grandma, Campho-Phenique was the cure-all for whatever ailed you, from mosquito bites, to cold sores, to headaches, to bites of any sort and probably for hangovers, too, though I never heard the latter mentioned.
She’d literally wash you down with the cleansing medical miracle if some of Morgan’s Point’s man-eating mosquitoes got the best of you. If you’re not familiar with it, the smell lasts forever.
Same with the aroma of Christmas that has lived with me since I was a tiny shaver. I could actually use a booster shot, but unfortunately that’s not possible, as far as I am told.
The smell came from a mixture of “real” evergreen fir and a concoction of whatever was in Lux Flakes, a household detergent, when mixed with water and stirred with a mix master. It turned into the greatest likeness of snow you could imagine.
My mother and my sister Mary and I made mountains of replica snow each year and enfolded the tree from inside out, on every branch and leaf.
It created the sweetest aroma known to mankind, one that has stayed with me all these years.
It was completely different than buying one of these modern flocked trees that are pretty, but lack the homespun effort and aroma that came with Lux Flakes foam.
I have no clue what magical potion the flakes contained, and evidently I’ll never know.
Back in the mid 1980s, I tired of all the faux Christmas decorations and decided to go “retro.” I headed to the store to get supplies.
I went to one of those big grocery chains where they have an equal number of cereal brands as they do soap. Lord, there are a lot of each, easily more than 100 brands of both cereal and soap choices.
I couldn’t find what I was looking for, and made the mistake of asking a young fellow in a red store shirt if they had Lux Flakes.
He was one of these moderns with metal protrusions stuck in his nose and lip, and I might as well have asked what aisle could I have my appendix removed.
He wouldn’t have known a box of Lux Flakes from the space shuttle, nor did he care. So I wished him great success in whatever field he chose and left the store.
I was barely out the door when a nice, middle-age woman also in a red store shirt hollered at me. “Mister,” she smiled. “I know what you’re talking about, and I’m sorry to tell you I think they quit making Lux about 20 years ago.”
Aaarrggh! I was stunned. “Why do they quit making all the good stuff?” I asked. She just smiled and said, “Have a nice day.”
So much for getting a reminder of that wonderful aroma. I had to put my memory bank in overtime and forget my sinus troubles when trying to replicate those Christmases past.
I chatted with sister Mary this week and we re-visited those magical days of our snowy trees.
It’s easier to get a laugh out of Mary these days than when we were young. I think as she approaches four score, she’s getting mellow.
That is, until for about the thousandth time I mentioned when I was six and she was eight and we lived at 604 East Pearce in Goose Creek.
That’s the day (which shall live in infamy) when she was sitting on the couch opening presents on Christmas Eve and the entire tree tumbled over on top of her, hiding her from the rest of us in the small room.
Lux Flakes snow, silver strands of tinsel and Christmas ornaments cascaded all over her.
Funniest thing I ever saw. She completely disappeared.
She didn’t think it was funny then, and she didn’t think it was funny this week, either.
But that’s what families and Christmas are all about. Making memories.
Reach BH at firstname.lastname@example.org.