Taking a Powder

Why, when you suddenly want something you haven’t thought of for ages, is it always a surprise to find out it’s extinct?

This summer, my office is further away from my gym than in summers before. If I work out during lunch, there isn’t time to shower afterwards. Having only limited success in making the stiff gym towels absorb the sweat that pools under my boobs (the male and the flat-or-perky-chested have no idea what I’m talking about!), I find myself facing a long uncomfortable afternoon.

One day, ready to cry from a bra band rasping my ribcage like sandpaper, I had a vision from my childhood. Back then, before adult bathing evolved into its current state as an indulgence limited to mineral spas and whirlpools, and/or involving sports rehabilitation or aquatic sex, baths were as common as showers. Bath products were a popular gift for Moms, as well as an allowable quasi-cosmetic for pre-teens to dabble in. Drug store and dime store shelves were thick with floral-scented suites from soap companies, and name brands like Jean Naté, Love’s Fresh Lemon and Yardley Lavender. Women whose lifestyles were more sophisticated (though this well was before anyone said “lifestyle”) would be encouraged to “layer” their signature scent by surrounding their bathing experience with products that matched their carefully selected signature perfume. At any price point, bath product lines offered soaps, bubble bath or bath salts, bath oils, after-bath lotions and toning “splashes” (think after-shave for the body) and, my current craving, body powder.

Powder. The solution to all my woes!

That evening, I rummaged through my bathroom shelves and found I had some options on hand. One was a souvenir of a visit to New Orleans. It’s not surprising that a city where you can still buy bespoke parasols and any number of stunning hats would continue to pursue a dainty dryness in the face of heat and humidity. I’d purchased some lovely Hové body powder, fine grained and silky, after sniffing more than a dozen delightful options in their equally delightful shop. But as much as I like the scent, Bayou d’Amor has both too much Bayou and too much Amor for slapping on after the gym.  I also had a bottle of Lush’s Silky Underwear dusting powder. I’ve been using this for years, and love the feel of it against my skin. But the jasmine, like the Hové fragrance, lacks the refreshment factor that I’m pining for (pine; now there’s a scent I could go for right now!).

So I hit the drug stores in search of a solution. And quickly learned that body powder (like NYC dime stores) seems to have gone extinct. Maybe it would be more accurate to call it an endangered species. If you like smelling like a baby’s neck, or don’t mind trailing the bracing menthol of Gold Bond, you’re fine. But there were none of those neutral adult citrus or lavender notes I was hoping to find.

When shopping local fails me, I turn to the web for a source. Googling “talcum powder,” I found the reason for the holes in the shelves. The Big C. Having not had babies to powder, and for years not needing anything beyond Silky Underwear, I’d missed out on this scare; but the American Cancer Society notes that talc that contains asbestos has been proven carcinogenic. The jury appears to still be out on non-asbestos talc, but the industry has clearly had to do some major regrouping.

As I learned by next googling “dusting powder,” the fix was to trend towards cornstarch-based options. And if you’re wondering why I don’t just use plain cornstarch and move on, it’s because cornstarch on its own feels too dry against my skin (not to mention making me feel like a baked good). I need to have some softeners added, like the Lush people do. Fortunately, the “dusting powder” search brought up several fragrances with the potential to satisfy my suddenly pressing demands, all on the Caswell-Massey website.

Caswell-Massey, a company I’m chagrinned to have entirely forgotten about. During the 70’s and 80’s, I used to feel so elegant buying soap in their Waldorf Astoria shop. That shop is now gone (I guess I’m not the only fickle New York shopper). Another thing I forgot about, which since disappeared . Fortunately, there are a couple of stores in my office neighborhood that carry the line so I can go and sniff for myself.

No, extinct isn’t the right word. When you suddenly want something you haven’t thought of for ages, it may just be that its natural habitat has disappeared and you have to work a little harder to find where it’s gone. Or maybe its had to adapt to change, and you’ll have to hope it hasn’t evolved out of recognition.

Peppers other than Potts

Another brain burp.

When I was young, my family went through some rough patches. It’s no coincidence that I was drawn to stories about children living with uncertainty, or that I found comfort and inspiration in their happy endings. These were kids whose lives changed in ways I could imagine might happen to me. Even if unusually good luck often seemed to be involved, there wasn’t a Harry Potter or a Katniss Everdeen or a Percy Jackson in the pack (except for maybe the Murry kids; and please don’t say I have to point you to A Wrinkle in Time).

A lot of what I read was set in the 19th century, which made the less probable bits easier to accept; and often written from first hand knowledge or personal memory (simple observation; I don’t know if it signifies anything). I started with Little Women, moving on to An Old Fashioned Girl and the two Rose Campbell stories. There were the Little House books, of course. And The Secret Garden and A Little Princess. The group biography of Betsy Ray and her friends Tacy and Tib. And always, that kindred spirit, Anne of Green Gables.

You’ve probably heard of most of these, even if you haven’t read them all yourself. But there’s another series that I loved that seems to have been forgotten.

The Five Little Peppers and How They Grew

The title of this first book (click here to go to the Project Gutenberg page) could easily describe the entire series. Margaret Sidney followed the five Pepper children and their widowed Mamsie (well, the March sisters had Marmee; clearly the 19th century had a lot more words for “Mom” than we do now), from childhood to early adulthood at the turn of the last century.

The first book began with them struggling to keep body and soul together in the Little Brown House. Then, through a serendipitous meeting with the wealthy Mr. King, their fortunes changed. Part of the fabric of the stories was that Mamsie and the older kids put a lot of effort into making sure this wasn’t taken for granted; the King mansion was a temporary oasis, and it was up to them to work hard and not waste this gift.

I loved all the Peppers: stalwart Ben, loving Polly, daring Joel, sweet Davie and the always adorable baby of the family, Phronsie. And of course, the Laurie of the series, Mr. King’s young son, Jasper. Sidney made them all feel very real to me, even when they were being too good to be true.

Maybe the real generation gap starts to show in the books you read in childhood. When I was growing up, books told me that if I worked hard, played by the rules and stood by those I loved, that life could change for the better. It seems a sadly naive era now, surely unimaginable to the generation prepared for life by The Hunger Games.