the rustic charms of grandpa's wonder pine tar soap

Grandpa's Wonder Pine Tar Soap (1)

The things curiosity will lead you to do…

About two years ago, my friend Sarah and I discovered a Detroit-based blog called Sweet Juniper. Among the great photoshoots of the author’s kids parading around Motown in homemade costumes (think Robocop as if it actually was filmed in Detroit), there was a post with the intriguing title “An Attempt to Explain Why I Smell Like George Brett’s Gym Bag.” Seems he has a friend who likes giving him unusual gifts—in this case, it was a bar of Grandpa’s Wonder Pine Tar Soap found in a garage.

The packaging depicts a trustworthy old-timey white-bearded gentleman. Whether dispensing wisdom at a family gathering or helping the kids put on the show that will save the local library, Grandpa is undoubtedly a pillar of whatever community he produces his manly soap—in this case, suburban Cincinnati. He’s made his acne-and-psoriasis relief aid since 1878, so it must have satisfied a few customers over the centuries.

Grandpa's Wonder Pine Tar Soap (2)

Despite testimonials from Amazon customers that Grandpa’s white-lathering skin care aid smelled like everything ranging from “wet railroad ties” to “beef jerky,” I decided I’d pick up a bar if I ever encountered one. How could I resist something Sweet Juniper described as smelling like “a pair of leather gloves you find under a kerosene lantern in the back of an old barn”?

Besides, trying a bar of Grandpa’s matched Sarah’s mission of weaning me off my traditional shower aid, a cheap bar of Irish Spring. She achieved her goal: even after we split, I haven’t gone back to buying my old standby. Experimentation rules—take my discovery of Dettol soap. Found in Asian supermarkets around Toronto, the traditional Dettol soap smells exactly like the antiseptic Mom dabbed onto childhood scrapes and scratches. The small bars produce an aroma which will make the world think you’ve suddenly developed a compulsive-obsessive cleaning habit. Even if your bathroom is as grotty as the one in Trainspotting, Dettol will convince anyone you use five-star housekeeping service.

Grandpa's Wonder Pine Tar Soap 

Several months ago, after lunching at our favourite Thai restaurantin Metro Detroit, my sister and I wandered into a health food store in Ferndale. After loading up a basket with exotic flavours of Blue Sky and Zevia sodas, a package bearing a familiar trustworthy face caught my eye. One box of pine tar soap made its way to the cashier.

Last week, I cracked open the Grandpa’s.

If the Dettol soap left my bathroom smelling like a freshly-mopped floor, Grandpa’s Wonder Pine Tar’s aroma suggested a rustic backwoods cabin in the dead of winter. The sort of item you’d want to match the scent of a fireplace or wood-burning stove. A scent that makes you wonder why you haven’t worn a checked-flannel shirt since the grunge era. While a subtle trace of fragrance du lien ferroviaire wafts off the brown bar, it’s not as horrible as some descriptions lead you to believe. Its rustic charms complemented the deep freeze we experienced last week. 

Grandpa's Wonder Pine Tar Soap (3)

As one recent satisfied Amazon customer puts it, “This stuff smells like a man should smell. Every girl I've gotten close to has noticed it and liked it.” I wouldn’t be unhappy about that unexpected bonus. 

Grandpa: honourable gentleman, local pillar of wisdom, evoker of rustic cabins, potential matchmaker.


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