I recently had to write a product story on a certain brand of deodorant. As I researched the product and its history, I was taken back to my childhood and the long-forgotten memory of purchasing my own first deodorant. More than my first bra or my first date, this event stands out to me as an important milestone in the process of growing up, yet until now it had remained buried at the edge of my memory.
I must have been about 11 years old, because we were living in the white cubic-style house in Edenvale. My family has moved so many times during my life that I define phases of our history and my growing up by which house we were in at the time. This particular house had a long panhandle driveway and was in a road called Soetdoring Crescent in a relatively new suburb. Soetdoring is an Afrikaans name, which, literally translated, means 'sweet thorn', and I remember being puzzled by the word. However, being an inventive child, I made up my own explanation as to its meaning.
In South Africa we have an indigenous family of trees called 'acacias'. Most varieties of this tree have long, white thorns that look like tiny elephant tusks. They also produce a clear, sticky gum with a bittersweet taste from their trunk. I'd often broken a thorn off of an acacia and, drawn to the tacky gum (as children are always attracted to sticky substances), would play with the tip of the thorn in the goo, usually managing to smear it on one or another item of clothing in the process. To me it was obvious that 'soetdoring' must refer to this practise.
But I digress... The eventful day when I purchased my first underarm deodorant was sunny and ordinary in most ways. At school we had just had our usual weekly swimming lesson (as a poor swimmer I feared and dreaded these). With wet hair and purple goosebumps, we returned to the changing room to dry off. It was at this point that Carla produced her new deodorant, a sickly sweet aerosol, light pink in colour, that immediately became the envy of the whole class. Lauren also had a spray. Hers was musky and came in a classy maroon cylinder. In fact, there were a few other girls that could boast they possessed this grand symbol of adulthood, but I was not one of them, and I knew that I had to remedy this situation.
For some reason, asking my mother to get me a deodorant was out of the question. It seemed somehow improper, as though my armpits were not bodyparts that could be openly discussed. Talking about wanting a deodorant was akin to asking about the mysterious 'f' word and its meaning. I just couldn't bring myself to do it.
In the car on the way home, I sat with my hands firmly squeezed in the hollows under my arms, thinking of how glamourous it would feel to lightly spritz them with womanly scent. All that afternoon I plotted, and eventually, fishing out the meagre handful of coins that represented a week and a half's pocket money (those were the days where R1 could still buy you 10 Chappies bubblegum pieces), I settled on a plan of action. It would be dangerous - I would have to cross the main road on my own - but it would be worth it.
Carefully tucking my coins into my little beaded purse, I pulled on my fashionable pink plastic sandals and set off on my adventure. Down the driveway, left into Soetdoring, and the first right into the road that would lead me to the busy main roadway that cut through the suburb. With two lanes in each direction, it was never quiet and I was under strict instructions not to cross it unsupervised. Nevertheless, I took up my courage and, seeing a gap, ran to the other side as fast as my legs would carry me.
Reaching the shopping centre on the other side, I cautiously made my way down the steep embankment at the back rather than following the path to the front of the centre, where I was sure I would have more chance of being spotted. Once inside the Spar (our local supermarket) I headed straight for the hair and body care section.
Despite knowing that the longer I lingered the more likely my mother was to notice my absence, I couldn't help but tarry, inhaling the heady, adult smell of every type of deodorant on the shelves. The whole time, I was sure that it I stayed too long, the manager or some authoritative grown-up would come and shoo me away and tell me I had no business there. Re-counting my cash, I realised that an aerosol spray was beyond my budget, and that a roll-on was my only option. Deciding on a powder-blue Mum brand that smelled of clean sheets, I hurried to the till, where I bashfully revealed my purchase to the cashier. To my surprise, she didn't even raise an eyebrow.
Elated and clutching my small plastic bag that concealed my treasure, I made it safely back to the house where I quickly stowed my deodorant deep in my gym bag, only to be produced with grea ceremony in the change rooms on swimming days.
Months later, when washing my tog bag, my mother discovered it, much to my acute embarrassment. She didn't seem at all perturbed, surprised or shocked, and simply placed it on my bedside table next to my Barbie nail polish and my mosquito repellent. For some reason, this made the powder-blue Mum a little less exciting. The next time we did the grocery shopping together, and my mother casually asked me if I still had enough deodorant, my heart hardly even skipped a beat.