I remember the television commercials and the ‘tag’ advertisers used to sell the Dana cologne, Canoe – ‘that’s why I canoe, do you?’ It was the sophisticated alternative to the other mass-marketed cologne, Brut by Faberge. Canoe was crisper, lighter and cleaner than the alternatives – more like a bracing sea breeze (according to print and TV ads). And Canoe was my Dad’s choice.
I remember the scent, like others from my childhood – like the smell of chlorine on my skin after swimming all day, the diesel exhaust of the school bus, or the scent of the floor cleaner my Mom used every Friday afternoon when she scrubbed the kitchen floor on her hands and knees and I was warned to keep my distance.
These are olfactory memories – we all have them, and they can be very strong, very emotional and very important. Olfactory memory can be ordinary (as in, natural – a child recognizing mother’s scent, associating food or comfort or safety with associated scents) and developed (as in, experienced or nurtured through affectionate or avoidance reactions – the smell of baking bread is a trick realtors use to make an open house seem ‘homey’ or the acrid odor of an accident scene which reminds you of an automobile accident). Olfactory memory can elicit explicit and implicit memories which leave us frightened, warmed, lost, secure, happy and even hungry.
Canoe cologne is that kind of trigger for me, and it was for my Mom.
That’s Why I Canoe; Do You?
The day I wore Canoe cologne
Was the day my mom didn’t recognize me
As if she forgot who I was
And didn’t remember the trouble I’d be
Every day around our home.
How I’d laugh, goof and fight
With sister and brothers even when told
To stop or she’d go crazy
But I wouldn’t and she seemed fine ‘til old
-I wonder if she was right?
The bottle belonged to my dad
And I found it at the back of a closet
A last memento of him
-his smell so hale and hardy, I knew it
and put it on because I was sad.
He died more than thirty years since
And mom had made it on her own with all
Of us to support and love
Working and crying and we’d try to recall
His face, hands, beard, smile and wince.
I feared losing what I knew of him
As years passed and life changed as we grew
And he wasn’t here to see
What we were doing, but our mom knew
How I’d grown from Jimmy to Jim.
And married and had kids with my wife
just like he did and mom said Dad’d be so
pleased with what I’d become
and I had to take her word and know
she’d remember, connect, his to my life.
But now dementia and her aging years
Were taking from me just as they were robbing her
Of my memories, her life
And what it was like when, and there’s no cure
To regain both our joys and tears.
She’s resting most of each day
And takes her pills, a little food, chitchat
About the time and weather
-Not today’s, and thinks the dog is a cat
so I stay quiet as long as I stay.
She’s napping now and that’s my cue
I kiss her on the cheek and say it’s Jim
And she says Dad’s name
Because she says I smell just like him
That’s why I Canoe; do you?