The Smell of Brut Cologne Reminds Me of My Grandfather
Tonight, I reorganized the master bathroom at home and came across several bottles and products of Brut. The company, once a luxury brand, has become one of the cheapest two-buck-chuck colognes in the United States and sells for a couple dollars at Wal-Mart. Although I’m normally known for my obsession with high-end fragrances, even going so far as to special order scents from overseas and paying hundreds of dollars per ounce just to sample a new perfume house offering, this infamous brand still sits proudly on my shelf along with the most expensive and exclusive fragrances in the world.
Why? Because it reminds me of my grandfather. It was his cologne of choice and the moment I smell it, I’m instantly transported back to my childhood.
My grandfather (my mother’s father) was a semi-truck driver and lived in a trailer in a little town outside of Warrensburg, Missouri. He was never rich but he made an honest living, doing honest work that helped make the country great.
He passed away when I was 12 years old but I have several memories of him, including stopping by with my grandma to give me a three-wheeler when I was only a few years old and letting me ride in his pickup truck to go pick up chocolate covered long john donuts in the morning. He used to watch wrestling on television, back in the days of Hulk Hogan and Macho Randy Man Savage, as he sat in a recliner and smoked a cigar, beer in hand.
I remember him mowing his lawn on a riding lawn mower and eating white bread covered in gravy with my little brother, which they called “Gator Food”. I have no idea how they started calling it that but my brother loved it.
Papa refused to turn on air conditioning, even in the 100+ degree Midwestern summers, which often made us want to go spend time with the much more reasonable Aunt Donna (grandpa’s sister) and Grams (my great grandmother), who had the good sense to know that God intended for man to sit in the frigid coldness of climate controlled rooms, eat peanut butter brittle and play games on the Commodore 64. Oh, and Grams could cook. I still remember her food.
To this day, I associate the trailer where papa lived with beer in the fridge, my older relatives having packs of cigarettes with lighters in pocket, Guns ‘n Roses music, pregnancies of younger cousins still-yet-unborn, and sitting on the porch drinking straight black coffee with grandma (although, at four or five years old, I mainly held the cup and pretended to drink since it was still too strong for me; kids today have no idea that words like cappuccino and macchiato had not yet been uttered on these shores). It’s crazy to me now to think that when I was 4 years old running around playing on the slip ‘n slide (Google it if you are too young to remember) and shooting bottle rockets out of glass bottles with my Uncle Jerry, who was so old to me then, that he was only 18 at the time; a kid himself!
Looking back, it’s almost funny how non politically correct it was – beer, cigarettes, cigars, explosives, rock and roll, wrestling, trucks … and I loved it all, even though I knew that I was somehow wired differently … my personality showed even at that age. One example: I remember deciding to stay up late and watch the 1988 Presidential election results on television, trying to figure out how the electoral college worked and asking why we wanted a certain candidate to win over another. I would have just turned 6 years old at the time. I was not a normal child. I can still picture the living room, almost all of the lights turned off, watching the news anchor declare George Bush Sr. the winner (although at the time, he was just George Bush since no one had a clue that his son would later be elected President for two terms).
I still remember watching my mom cry and say “he’s so cold” in the hospital as she touched grandpa’s hand after he had passed away. I didn’t cry until the funeral when it suddenly hit me that he was dead. I still remember Aunt Donna suddenly being at my side and holding me as I cried. I had never experienced death. Seven days later, Grams died, as well.
My home life was very different than grandpa’s house. If grandpa’s house was completely non politically correct, our home was a veritable “Leave it to Beaver” episode. My dad owned businesses and was always involved in a project. There was no alcohol or tobacco at home. My Sundays were filled with church services and my dad would come into my room every night and read several chapters in the Bible out loud to me. Every day, mom and I would take naps together and, later, play the original Nintendo. They hired tutors to teach me to read at only 3 years old and when I was a few years older, put me in piano lessons. They bought me Scrooge McDuck comic books and video games, indulging my odd obsession with the richest duck in the world. Two of my younger siblings, Caleb and Kelsey, helped me battle the most difficult video game of all time (Barbie for the NES – there are entire hate filled rants devoted to the impossibility of beating it on YouTube. You should look some time. It was so difficult that some cartridges shipped without the final levels because the developers never thought anyone would get that far; my sister received one of those cartridges and we got to an empty room before having to abandon our quest). We played too many games of Clue and Monopoly to count. Our parents told us several times a day that they loved us. They constantly said that no matter what we wanted to do with our life, as long as we were good at it and happy, they would have our unconditional support, even if it meant selling crepes by the side of the road in France.
So there it is. Every once in awhile, when I slip on a pair of blue jeans, a cashmere sweater, a bespoke shirt, and a Charvet tie, instead of reaching for the newest Creed, Bond No. 9, Amouage, or Clive Christian scent, I instead opt for a couple of spritzes of Brut so that I remember those early years of my childhood, and especially my grandpa despite the twinge of sadness I feel because he isn’t around anymore.
I wonder, sometimes, what he would think of me now. I can’t imagine he’d understand my willingness to spend $2,000 on a fountain pen or the excitement I feel when I open an annual report and find an undervalued stock. He probably wouldn’t get my obsessive need to constantly buy the newest, best coffee machines that hit the market and try out nearly every derivation of bean roasting so I can make exactly the cup that fits my mood. I’m not sure he’d be able to figure out why my idea of a good time is slipping into a sports coat and attending a night at the symphony or opera. I’m pretty sure that my idea of a good time and his idea of a good time would be polar opposites. But I know he’d still love me.
As I go through my day, I sometimes look around, thank God for how far I’ve come, and marvel that I live in a country where success is possible if you simply make the right choices. I’m grateful that I was born into the family that I was, had the experiences that I did, and can look back fondly on those years that seem an eternity ago. Even if I lost every penny I have, I’d still be an incredibly rich man. Things haven’t always been easy and we’ve had our share of heartbreak and setbacks, but still, I’m just so grateful that I can’t even put it into words.