A sharp smelling, green bar of soap

When I was a child, visiting my grandmother in the long summer holidays, I loved to sit early in the morning, because my grandmother got up never later than at 6.30, on the rim of the bathtub looking at her. My grandmother never yawned. Nor did she make any comments about her look. She threw half a litre ice-cold water in her face and applied two small drops of Eau de Cologne behind her ears. She never wore earrings and when I wore a nose-ring she looked at me, asking if I planned to start a career as a dancing bear. I didn’t. My grandmother was kept not busy with many bottles, tubes and pots most women and more men are surrounded with, she just would have curled her upper lips in slight annoyance. But every morning, my grandmother rinsed her hands, brushed her fingernails intensely, cut her fingernails as short as possible, and dried her hands and arms most careful, with a towel just for this purpose. Strictly it was forbidden to wipe my chocolate-spilled face or my always dirty fingers with it, the latter my grandmother treated as rigorously as her own. The soap, she used and she bought it twice or thrice a year in a pharmacy was not soft but possessed a feeling of sandpaper, a big green bulk, with squiggled letters, I never managed to decipher. The soap smelled of pines and some essential oil, a harsh smell that always made me sneezing. When she was in a good mood I was allowed to make her hair, using the shell-formed combs I loved so much. When she was in a bad mood, she just grabbed some hairpins, cursing the world through clenched teeth.  At 7. 15, my grandmother left her home, with her a big, black leather suitcase. In her bag she carried a piece of the same strange smelling piece of soap, and when she returned in the late afternoon, she went into the bathroom, repeating the same procedure she did in the morning again twice or thrice times. Sometimes she sat at the kitchen table, examining her hands, looking out for small cuts or scratches. Then she sighed and climbed upon the chair to get the big, brown iodine bottle, and i was told to get a pair of tweezers, gaze and carefully applying the liquid upon her hands and arms. She did not even move an eyelash. Not once. No need to make a fuss, she said, and she looked away, thinking of the lost world, where her true self laid buried, and she got up to make dinner. But sometimes when I read as today, how people still praise the health sector of the GDR, then I get angry and angry is no word for the feeling, when I think that my grandmother, who was a dentist had to treat patient after patient without gloves, day after day, year after year, because the praised system did not care enough for its personnel to supply its doctors with the simplest measures against infections and whatever diseases. Once my grandmother asked in a meeting why this were the case, but the answer she got, again is a great witness of the excellence of the GDR healthcare system, because it was simply the case that the immune system of the eastern doctors and nurses was stronger than of their weaker western German counterparts. For her question my grandmother paid with a number of night shifts in the local hospital, but outstanding and an example for solidarity, was the system, so say those who defend it with their bare hands. Still, today in my drawer lies the last piece of the sharp-smelling, green soap my grandmother used as long as I know her, and later, many years later I realized how much she must have hated this scent.

2 thoughts on “A sharp smelling, green bar of soap

  1. Es ist so interessant wenn man bzw ich sich ein gewisses Bild macht und dieses Bild sich als falsch heraus stellt. Für mich war klar, dass ihre Großmutter in Westdeutschland gewohnt hat. Ich könnte nicht sagen warum. Wahrscheinlich aufgrund Ihrer Reise in den langen Sommerferien.

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