December 23rd, at some point, had become unofficially celebrated in my extended family as “Christmas Eve Eve“. I honestly can’t remember if this started with me, my sister, or someone else, but it stuck and I’m glad it did. I have long been intrigued by the idea of the “eve” of something referring to the day before. Thursdays at work are always Friday Eve, and if I’m able to celebrate my birthday with friends next year, I will probably spend part of my Birthday Eve to reflect upon the current year of my life before my personal odometer rolls over one more time.
Seeing that today is two days before Christmas, which is something I celebrate, I have started to think about various holiday celebrations over years past and gifts I have given and received. This has been particularly fun to do this year, especially given the current pandemic and my choice to Christmas (v.) at my own home for the first time, ever. At some point years ago, the Dennises decided to call a gift-giving truce and mainly focus on the children. I’m getting the raw end of that stick, as I have no offspring, but it still gives me great pleasure to have been everyone’s favorite uncle.
It wasn’t always easy to find the perfect gift for everybody in the household in which I grew up, but one thing I knew I could count on was that my late father would appreciate, use, and enjoy a good fragrance for Christmas. If he would rather have had something else, he was a great dad for invariably acting like whatever aftershave or cologne I had given him was among the most important things he received that year. And Dad would actually wear it, liberally, to demonstrate that he valued my gift, even if it came from the shelves of the local Perry drug store. As many years as he has been gone, I still have some Polo left that I had given him, which I collected from the house after he had passed. I still wear it on special occasions.
It has been said that our human sense of smell is the one that can most strongly trigger memories. Where my dad is concerned, any of the following fragrances will remind me of him: Grecian Formula, Brylcreem, Aqua Velva, and Old Spice. It’s true that all of these brands are from the middle of the last century, but my dad was very old-school, in the best way. It may have been a benefit and not a hindrance to our relationship that he was literally old enough to be my grandfather, skipping a whole generation, but I have always thought it to be a positive that many of his internationally raised, wartime sensibilities and ideals got passed down directly to me.
My maternal grandmother, who today would be over a hundred years old, used to talk about rationing during the war. She and my grandfather valued thrift, and she would often remind me of this when I would ask for a treat while accompanying her while she did her grocery shopping. She also liked her Avon, which she would purchase from her friend from church named Opal. My grandpa would often receive some sort of Avon fragrance or aftershave from my grandma for the holidays. Once he was done with the contents, he would save the empty bottles made of glass with plastic end-caps, and gift them to me to add to my collection.
I recently came across these two blue bottles while looking for something else in my house, and I honestly don’t remember if they were from my grandparents or picked up from a vintage store somewhere. Still, I was really glad to have found them. In the Mustang is an aftershave labeled “Tai Winds”, which appears to have first been introduced by Avon in 1971. The model year of the Mustang is misidentified as “1964”. Perhaps the “1/2” would have seemed too fussy for Avon, but “1965” would have been more accurate.
Sniffing the decades-old remnants of that bottle, nothing in particular jumped out at me as seeming Asian, but I suppose that’s subject to interpretation. How amazing would it have been for “Tai Winds” to come in a bottle shaped like the then all-new Toyota Celica, but that simply wasn’t going to happen in the early 1970s from a U.S. institution like Avon.
Inside the 1955 Thunderbird is a cologne (not an aftershave) called “Wild Country”, a scent which appears to still be in production today, though in decidedly more modern, non car-themed packaging. I think the ’55 T-Bird was a great choice for evoking the image of the west and wilderness. While I feel that the shape of the glass Mustang was pretty well proportioned, given its application as a bottle for aftershave, something looks a bit off about the Thunderbird. There’s simply too much tail to twist off to get to the bottle cap.
There’s a different story behind this C5-themed fragrance, “Corvette”. This was a purchase from a discount department store chain in Chicago’s State Street shopping district about fifteen years ago. Fragrances keep for only so long before they go rancid, but great memories of going out for the night back then with a few squirts of “Corvette” on my neck come roaring back with just one spray of the atomizer. The C5 was in production from between 1997 and 2004, and it’s hard to think of it as being that old already. Surprisingly, this fragrance has held up really well, both the formula itself and the way this liquid smells in 2020.
The scent of “Corvette” is definitely more along the lines of something I’d wear today than either Avon product. While my dad’s fragrances of choice seemed to be the hyper-masculine sort that smelled like pine trees and leather, mine were and are more of the modern type with brighter, more citrusy notes. “Corvette” seems to fall comfortably between the former and the latter. All of this gets me thinking of what other car-themed men’s or unisex fragrances would smell like, today. Would “Challenger” have a powerful musk to it? Would “Accord” have a vanilla undertone? Polo does already have an “Explorer”, and it’s one of my favorites.
I have more fragrances in my medicine cabinet than I would be able to completely use up in a calendar year, but I like smelling good, regardless of whether anybody else knows or cares during quarantine. That these three scents came packaged in shapes evoking three members of United States Automotive Royalty was going to buy them a free pass with me, regardless of how they smelled. Whether you celebrate, have celebrated, or will celebrate any holidays this December, or if you don’t, I wish all of you out in Curbsideland a great rest of the year as the remainder of the sands of 2020 continues to trickle slowly through the glass. Stay safe.
Dedicated to my father.
Using “Christmas” as a verb.
Wasn’t it the Carpenters who did this first?
In their 1970 song, “Merry Christmas, Darling”, the sentence is,”…I’m Christmasing with you.”
Is this the 50th anniversary of using the word Christmas as a verb…???
Good question. I remember when that song came out, all I could imagine was that Karen Carpenter was standing in for all the service wives and girlfriends whose men were serving in Vietnam, in that singular voice of hers, full of yearning.
I also remember men’s cologne in these sorts of containers; they really say mid twentieth-century to me.
I love Karen Carpenter’s voice. I might have been the only college freshman on my dorm room floor who had The Carpenters’ Greatest Hits in his CD collection. I even like her posthumously released solo album recorded in 1979 – ’80 and produced by Phil Ramone.
Their “Christmas Portrait” album is terrific, even if a bit treacly at times. I need to put that album back on – maybe today.
Karen Carpenter didn’t just have a great voice, she was a mean drummer too! Especially on their early, jazzy stuff like this:
This is great. I remember that their first nationally charting single, “Ticket To Ride” (stalled midway through the Hot 100) came from this album.
Avon had several car bottles, I remember my dad having a few. The Sterling Six with the dual spare tire bottlecap is the most vivid for me, I know that there were a few others of the “old” car variety but I don’t remember which. No Mustang or ‘Bird though. Thanks for the trip down memory lane.
This was in my dresser drawer. I got it free with purchase at an antique shop. Didn’t pay much attention to it until today.
It’s also Tai Winds After Shave by Avon, but it’s a STERLING SIX II. Looks like the bottle has never been opened. I’m wondering what year these came out. 1970s?
I think I also have this one tucked away somewhere! I would also guess the 1970s. There was a lot of ’70s Avon stuff. I remember they even had a children’s line of stuff called “Sweet Pickles” that my brothers and I used to be given things from.
These were fairly common garage-sale items in the ’80s and it struck me as a kid how much sharper and crisper the plastic cap extensions were than the glass main bodies.
They sure pick their cars carefully. There will never be an Eau d’Citation, or Edsel: the Perfume, or any fragrance named for the Vega (who needs it? we already have spilled gasoline). I imagine there’ll be some sort of Tesla perfume or cologne within five years (there already are some joke ones, playing off the name “Musk”). And doing a Google image search, I’m not surprised to find there’s already entire lines of Porsche and Ferrari fragrances.
It’s funny you mention the Vega, because I had toyed with the idea of making reference to “Eau de Vega” and it’s smoky aroma. I couldn’t quite incorporate it into this essay smoothly, though, so I left it out. Great minds.
Eau de Vega would certainly stand out on the store shelves – just look for the bottle that’s already rusting out…
I’ve had this TR3 for a very long time
Brylcreem! Aqua Velva! these names unleash intense memories from my youth. In the intervening years these products have vanished from conversation. Thanks for igniting a wonderful memory.
Avon’s Wild Country was some powerful stuff. It could be used for cauterizing a bayonet wound, but the clouds of gnats it tended to attract might give away your position.
I remember getting the Avon Gold Cadillac for Christmas one year. It is possible that it is still packed away in a box or trunk somewhere deep in the basement.
You are so right that certain smells can trigger a memory.
Joseph, we’re around the same age, and you’ve knocked some cobwebs loose from my childhood brain– I distinctly remember these from the 80s, I wouldn’t be surprised if I had one, or maybe I just saw it at Kmart or something…
Happy holidays and happy new year!
From the time I was a little boy onward family and friends knew I loved cars. Birthdays and Christmas meant cars as gifts in many forms and I could not wait. December 23 is my late parents’ wedding anniversary and the birthday of a friend who is now lost to Alzheimer’s so for me it also is an important day. And yesterday I lost a favorite cousin to dementia so it is a week of looking back for many reasons.
Your Avon cars really brought back memories. I knew I had an Avon VW but the 55 Thunderbird looked familiar, too. I dug deep into a cabinet and here is my collection; most if not all were Christmas gifts. The bottles are full and in their original boxes. Everything from a “Solid Gold Cadillac” to a 1953 Buick Skylark (attention: Aaron). The Skylark even has some decals in a sealed plastic bag that were never installed. I recall displaying the VW and the T-Bird at one time but not the others. Thanks for the memories, Joseph.
My maternal grandfather had the VW Beetle one, his only Avon car, and I remember the bottle as black.
It was, of course, the favorite of us three kids. No word on whether my grandma liked the fragrance.
This brought back memories. At one time I had a few of the Avon bottles. I am not sure what happened to them. If I put them in a garage sale, I am sure I would have kept the Mustang. If I still have it I don’t know where it is at, or it could have been destroyed when my workshop building burned last December.
Another memory it brought back was Old Spice. When my brother and I were teenagers in the ’60’s our great uncle would always give us Old Spice for Christmas. We didn’t like the stuff but didn’t have the heart to tell him and always thanked him. We got to calling it the Old Spice Curse. I think we gave it to Dad as we were into English Leather at the time. Now I don’t use any of those type products. My wife likes it better that way, too.
I was trying to remember the brand I started out on – English Leather, of course! I never liked Old Spice or the Avon fragrances (hence the unopened bottles in their boxes pictured above). And much later when CK came along that was it up until fragrances were pretty much banned in the organizations where I worked and later did consulting.