When it comes to shopping, I would say my brand loyalty is fickle at best. But there are a few staples in my house that will always be stocked in our cupboards: Pantene shampoo, King Arthur flour, Red Gold tomatoes, Weisenberger grits and Irish Spring soap. I was looking at a cake of it this morning in the shower and realized just how many memories are embedded in that little bar.
I.S. and I go back, way back to the early 1980s when I was about 4. It all started with the Irish Spring commercials. They would feature a man and woman who both had singsong Irish accents. They would be riding horses, walking a springer spaniel while competing in a dog show or doing something else that likewise required a certain amount of pedigree. These people were attractive, well dressed, so happy they were nearly giddy. Then they’d pass by one another and — woo, wooo — whistle at each other. The somehow asexual sexual tension was amazing.
Then the woman would drive the point home: “Irish Spring. With a fine, fresh scent so you’re fresh and woo, wooo, clean as a whistle.”
My favorite part was when they took the bar of soap and carved a slice off of it with a pocketknife. The man would then explain that the variegated core of the soap proved it had two kinds of deodorizing agents.
The way that knife cut through that soap was like butter, and I badly, badly wanted to try it.
But alas, we were a Zest family. This soap was green like you get when you’re seasick. Smelled like sorrow and industry. The only cool thing about it was that the word Zest — the ‘Z’ angled forward like it was in a hurry — was stamped into the bar and when the soap was fresh, which lasted exactly two minutes, it was fun to run your finger over the relief of the letters.
But then it was just wet Zest. Leaving a film on the moons of your fingernails no matter how short your showers were (and believe me, mine were short). Leaving a toothpasty-type puddle in the soap dish. No whistling. Not Irish. No shamrocks in my future, boy.
But then something miraculous happened: Around the age of 8, a pack of Irish Spring came home with my dad from the grocery store. My little brother Matthew and I were always fascinated when dad came home from his Saturday trips. You’d think we’d been starving all week the way we crawled all over the bags searching for Coke, chips and chocolate bars. But this time, after I saw the Irish magic, I didn’t even look for the possibility of Old Dutch. I looked up at my dad and saw him in a new light. All this time, he must have wanted to carve into it with a pocketknife too!
I smelled the lucky green box.
It smelled like promise.
Now, switching soap brands for a family on a pretty strict budget might have had some political ramifications for my dad. For one, I think my mom truly did have an affinity for Zest. God knows when it came to soap, she had some opinions — Dove and Ivory were for shrinking violets, Dial was for brutes — so I imagine choosing Zest had been purposeful. How she felt about Irish Spring, which admittedly does have some powerful cologne undertones, I don’t know. All I knew is I could hardly wait for my next shower.
And it didn’t disappoint: truly fresh, truly clean. If I could have whistled, I would have.
From then on, Irish Spring was a staple in our house. Especially in the summer, I have fond memories of it. Unlike Zest, it was powerful enough to finally wash off the smell of the Deep Woods Off I always had to use to keep the mosquitoes at bay. And when we went camping, there it sat in our yellow travel soap holder, ready to wash off the lake and sand.
Naturally when I became an adult, I continued to stay loyal to my Irish Spring. It’s cheap, it smells great, it’s a good color and it is a piece of my childhood. So here is to being clean as a whistle.