The Blue Jar and Lysol
by Robbie Lewis Lowe
I'll bet my dark chocolate bar that if you polled a hundred people, the majority would say it's a food smell that brings on their most intense memories. For myself, two non-food smells are what rocket my way-back machine into action.
A whiff of mentholated chest rub triggers profoundly comforting memories. Twice in my childhood, I spent a week in an oxygen tent after an episode of what they called "asthmatic bronchitis", which meant I couldn't breathe and I sounded like a fog-horn until an ER nurse gave me a shot of adrenaline. I gradually grew out of asthma. But when a head cold became a "chest cold", Mom worried. So out came a blue jar of the aromatic goo. Mom lathered a generous amount on my neck and chest. It was like a long, soothing hug that assured me I would be fine. She also dabbed a little on the end of my tender-from-sniffling nose. Then she pinned a small towel under my p.j. top and covered me up and I knew that those vapors were making me well. That and Mom's tall Tupperware tumblers full of hot, honey-and-lemon tea (with a tablespoon of whiskey added) made being sick a nearly pleasant experience. If I did develop a croupy cough, Mom imitated the hospital procedures. She rigged a make-shift tent over my bed with a sheet and put a kettle of steaming water on a table under the tent. It was warmer than the hospital oxygen tents, but it got results. Later, Mom bought an electric vaporizer that had a place near the steam release to put some mentholated chest rub, the theory being that the patient benefited from breathing the steamed vapors. She rubbed a gob of it on my chest anyway. I'll always believe Mom's devices kept me out of hospitals. At any rate, I was a snug little bug in my own private tented world, breathing that wonderfully comforting stuff!
Those colds usually grounded me or one of my three sisters separately, but the stomach "bug" tended to hit most or all of the household at once. As I recall, vomiting was usually the primary symptom! So Mom -- even when she was a victim herself -- had the nasty job of cleaning up after kids who didn't make it to the bathroom on time, or sanitizing icky buckets. She always followed up those types of cleaning jobs with a liberal spray of Lysol brand disinfectant to keep the "bug" from spreading. But you still knew somebody "threw up". In those days, Lysol only came in one scent. Today you can buy it in a lemon or "clean linen" scent, among others. I'm glad because, to this day, the smell of original scent Lysol spray triggers a nausea response in me. I guess that smell imprinted along with the smell of ...well, you know, that very unpleasant smell that occurred before Mom cleaned it up and sprayed the Lysol! Ew! Where's that blue jar?