by Honour McKenzie from Toronto, ON
Dec 14, 13
My Dad discovered the scent of Old Spice in the fall of 1961.
He made sure everybody knew what he wanted for Christmas that year.
We were a family of immigrants, just the five of us in Canada. Dad had joined the Canadian army in England as a means to immigrate here in 1953. We followed in 1954. He was always hard to buy for, so we were thrilled that year that we were able to buy something that he would honestly enjoy. It was a welcome change from socks and underwear. Had Dad left it at that – at telling us about the Old Spice – this story wouldn’t exist.
But he didn’t leave it at that. He told everyone on Base Borden what he wanted, every chance he got. He went so far to tell his messmates that if they knew who his Secret Santa was, please tell him too – that he wants Old Spice.
Now Stuart, soldiers do not do Secret Santa. Or they didn’t in my dad’s day. They may collect money for a charity, or even collect gifts to distribute to children in need, or they buy a buddy a drink in the mess.
But at some point, someone on Base decided to play into Dad's fantasy.
On Christmas morning we woke early. We had our breakfast. It was a family rule that we had to eat before the gift opening, but by 8 a.m. we were fully immersed in the gift exchange.
I don't remember anything I received, but I remember Dad liking the Old Spice soap on a rope that I gave him. My sisters gave him aftershave and Mum gave him cologne.
At 9 a.m there was a knock on the door. Odd, we had no relatives in Canada. Who would be visiting on Christmas Day?
Dad was a Military policeman, so our expectation (when we heard the knock) was that Dad had to go out on a call. But it turned out to be a neighbour with a small parcel in his hand.
The neighbour explained that he had been handing out the gifts from under his own Christmas tree when he came upon a parcel, which was, strangely, addressed to my Dad. No idea how it got there.
The neighbour stayed for a sociable 20 minutes and had a cup of coffee with Dad, spiked with something that wasn’t cream.
Dad opened the gift: Old Spice cologne.
"Lovely," said Dad. "Just what I wanted."
As the neighbour left, there was another soldier on the stoop.
"Monty, I was walking the dog this morning, and it's the darndest thing, I found this wrapped gift lying on the ground. It's addressed to you, so I took the dog home and came round with it."
The wrapping paper was different, but the size was identical to the previous box. Old Spice Cologne. Lovely. Just what he’d wanted. “What would you like to drink?" said Dad. Twenty minutes later, a knock on the door caused the guest to drink up and take his leave as yet a third soldier arrived with a small parcel, the size and shape of which was now familiar.
The soldier explained that someone had left the parcel in the mess the night before and it had Dad’s name on it, so he thought he should bring it over.
This went on, every twenty minutes for the rest of the day. The provenance of the gifts was anonymous every time but we all went along with the joke.
Like all good military campaigns, it was timed to the second: no man arrived empty handed, no man stayed longer than 20 minutes, no man left without being offered a drink. And no man brought any gift other than Old Spice Cologne. At one point, Mum had to run to a friend’s house to see if she had any rye to spare. We had run out. Normally the bottle purchased for Christmas lasted until sometime in March. Not that year! Our suppertime conversation was full of laughter at the joke that had played out so successfully.
We never again bought Dad cologne, but occasionally a new soap on a rope appeared, or talc. And every Christmas we laughed anew at the 27 bottles received that day, and to this day, neither my sisters nor myself can see the ads or pass a display of the product without a smile on our faces. Dad died in 1982.
His teenaged grandsons inherited the remaining 2 ½ bottles of cologne.