“Don’t drink the fabric softener!”
My Nana always yelled the most helpful things.
“Stop throwing hammers!”
“Keep your fingers out of the fan!”
“Quit hiding in the refrigerator!”
Nana was a boisterous Irish woman with a booming voice. Real Irish, not a seventh-generation American who brags about their ability to drink and bad-mouths every other immigrant population. She wasn’t one of the people who demonstrate their ethnic pride by wearing a green cardboard top hat once a year. She was right off the boat, as they say, although she was terrified of bodies of water and boats and came to the United States on a plane. I can remember a stage in my life where I assumed everyone had an Irish Nana. Just as everyone had a mom or a goldfish or a plastic airplane that made jet noises when you pushed the big red button. Everyone had a Nana who sang songs no one else did, who gave hugs better than anyone else could, and who always yelled the most helpful things.
“Don’t drink the fabric softener!”
I don’t entirely recall why I poured a tall glass of fabric softener. I guess it seemed reasonable at the time. I clearly remember Nana running toward me. She was one of those well-fed grandmothers who looked like she was made entirely of several corned beef briskets held together by pant suits. She had glasses that looked like they were cobbled together from the business ends of high-powered telescopes. It is the only memory I have of her at a full gallop. Her face was just ghostly. It marked the end of fabric softener in our home and hers. We had been using dryer sheets for most of my life. Exclusively dryer sheets for us after that point. That week of liquid fabric softener was fluffy and aromatic and over way too soon. All because I had the urge to pour a tall glass of it. On the rocks, with a bendy straw.
My mother had inherited Nana’s distrust of laundry additives. Pouring some foreign bluish goo halfway through a laundry cycle just didn’t sound right. There was a conspiracy everywhere after President Kennedy was shot, at least that’s what my father said about her. She had her idiosyncrasies, like everyone else. Nana was always telling us how much better off we were as Americans while simultaneously telling us how much better she had it growing up dirt poor. It sounded something like this:
“You kids have it so much better than we did. We didn’t have a television, let alone the cable. We had to talk to each other. Share stories. Have a good laugh. We had it so much better than you do, poor things.”
Nana was obsessed with putting things in plastic bags. The kinds with the twist tie at first, then the press-and-seal and eventually, just before passing to the great plastic bag in the sky, the slide-lock. Everything in her house was in plastic bags. Her food and clothing. Loose change and mail. Even holy water. Sometimes it was little bottles labeled “Holy Water” inside of a plastic bag. Sometimes it was a bag of water with “HOLY” written on the side. I once thought it would be cool to throw a baggie of holy water at a vampire, like a deadly water balloon. Hasta la vista, Vlad! Or maybe throw a really big bag at the vampire and then shoot it with a shotgun right before it hit him so it exploded and he’d be screaming and smoldering?
Nana refused to wash anything with hot water. Not her hands, not her dishes and never clothing.
She had a collection of records featuring her favorite tap dancer, Chauncey Callahan. She would listen for hours if you let her. It drove my father up every wall in her house. He would break at some point and demand to know how you could tell if he was even dancing. He might have just had tap shoes on his hands. Nana would stare into space and tell him that he had to use his imagination. Dad said he could do that without the record. I loved her record player. It came from an era when entertainment systems were actually furniture. After she died, my older brother and I moved it out of her house. It weighed six tons.
Whenever she saw an Asian person, Nana said, “Hmmmm.” I have never known why, but she refused to eat Chinese food.
I’m guessing that the fabric softener entered our households at that time because of a commercial featuring a fluffy teddy bear giggling and comparing a tower of his fluffy towels to the tower of not-so-fluffy towels created using the so-called leading brand. I vaguely remember the commercial, but my brother remembers mom and Nana picking up some at the supermarket immediately after hearing the bear’s sales pitch. I’m guessing there was a coupon involved. And the bear must have built a strong case.