Recently while I was rummaging through some boxes of accumulated junk, I found something that would be completely meaningless to my children or grandchildren. It was a brand new bar of P&G soap, still in the original wrapper. Finding a bar of soap isn’t all that unusual, except in this case, Procter and Gamble hasn’t made this soap in probably 40 years or more.
Back when I was a youngster, P&G soap was commonplace. However, being like most boys my age, I wasn’t particularly obsessed with cleanliness. To me this soap was wonderful because it could be used for fish bait. The soap was a very popular brand during the Depression and into the Fifties because it was cheap, effective, and a wonderful substitute for the harsh lye soap that poor folks like the Joneses used down on Route One, Millsap. One of the features of “The White Naphtha Soap” was the fact that it was softer than soaps of today, and it could be diced up into about half inch cubes and stuck on the end of a fishhook. It was particularly effective for channel cats feeding in shallow water. Rarely would trash fish like carp and gar steal your bait. As recently as the late ‘80s, I heard that Procter and Gamble still made and sold the soap in Mexico under another name, but I never found any. What a shame that it is gone.
I’ve read that that use of soap has been documented as far back as 2800 BC in ancient Babylon. Until recent times, the technology used for making soap by various cultures changed little. The process was one of combining some type of animal fat or plant oil with a strongly alkaline compound to produce the soap. Earliest soap makers used ashes as a source of the alkali. Early settlers around here used lye, sodium hydroxide, to mix with the lard rendered from fat obtained from killing hogs. This soap making was an important part of the annual hog-killing process each fall.
As a young child, I never saw soap other than lye soap. Although harsh and a bit smelly, it was an effective means to achieve both cleanliness and godliness. It would cut right through dirt, sweat, and grease on a filthy body. In addition, a quick scrubbing of a youngster’s filthy mouth with it rendered subsequent language coming from it to be a bit cleaner and more righteous.
Back in my Navy days, often I would visit countries in Europe, observing how another society lived. One of the prized souvenirs that we flyboys would bring home to our wives was the inexpensive, fragrant, and exotic beauty soaps made by the Europeans, especially in the Mediterranean countries. Today, with our new global economy, most anything like this can be had at local grocery or department stores.
We have an exceptional array of soaps and detergents manufactured to exacting specifications and purity. With them we can clean any surface, provide skin care medications, and lend erotic fragrance to excite the senses, yet there are some things missing. Personally I’d like to see the return of P&G soap, and a return of a few more moms who would wash those filthy little mouths with soap and water. Don’t see either one happening anytime soon.
Larry M. Jones is a retired Navy Commander and aviator who raises cattle and hay in the Brock/Lazy Bend part of Parker County. Comments may be directed to email@example.com.