On paper Gram and I didn’t have much in common. Gram had been a homemaker her whole life, taking care of her husband and raising seven children. I was a dedicated career woman. But we loved spending time together discussing current events and my business accomplishments.
“I have something special for you,” Gram said one day when I was visiting. She handed me a box full of papers.
“They look like recipes,” I said, shuffling through handwritten notes. Gram knew how much I loved to cook when I wasn’t busy working late at the office.
“These recipes aren’t for food,” Gram said. “They’re lotions and balms and soaps. I invented them myself years ago. I always thought they were just as good as all that fancy stuff you find at the store.”
I pulled out a sheet of paper. Across the top in her elegant script were the words: bee balm soothing mint lotion. I remembered getting a bee sting when I was little. The instant Gram spread her homemade remedy on it, the pain began to subside. Obviously Gram’s recipes were really good.“Why are you giving them to me?”
“I thought you might try some,” she said. “Are you interested?” Sure, I thought, but what do I know about soaps or balms or lotions? I asked her a few questions about ingredients, and Gram taught me how to make soap molds out of a simple wooden crate. Then I was on my own.
It took me a few weeks to gather what I needed and do a little research on how to modernize some of Gram’s ingredients. Finally one weekend, I got my mixing bowls down from the kitchen cabinet. I would start with one of the simpler recipes: lemon zest and eucalyptus soap.
Gram had warned me to be careful mixing the lye and water. Once I added warm castor oil, it was time for the ground lemon peel, lemon essential oil and eucalyptus oil. Then I poured the mixture into the rectangular molds. I covered the molds with a wooden lid and wrapped them in towels to keep the heat in.
The molds had to sit for a couple days. Eagerly I checked them each night when I came home from work. When the time came to cut them into bars, I couldn’t wait to lather one up! But Gram told me the soap couldn’t be used for six to eight weeks, or else it would dissolve too quickly in water.
I inspected each marbled yellow bar, perfect works of art. I couldn’t wait to find free time to dive deeper into Gram’s treasure trove. It was funny that out of all her relatives, Gram had given the recipes to me. All I knew about was business.
No matter how tired I was in the evenings or on the weekends, I found the energy to make soap. Gram was impressed with my results. In only a few months I had stacks of bars of soap. What to do with it all? Sell it?
That was a typical businesswoman’s thinking. But Gram had used these recipes to care for her family and to share with her neighbors. That was personal. How would she feel about me selling her homemade secrets?
After work the next day I drove straight to Gram’s house.
“Any samples today?” she asked.
I grabbed a bar of a recent batch from my purse and handed it over.
Gram brought the bar up to her nose and inhaled deeply. “Lavender,” she said. Then she ran it across her cheek. “Smooth as buttermilk.”
“I was just going to make one batch,” I told her. “But I’m hooked.”
“Wait until you try the lotions!”
“I want to make everything,” I said. “But I have something to ask. What would you think of me turning those recipes into a business?”
Gram’s eyes went wide. She doesn’t approve, I thought. “It’s okay, Gram,” I said. “I’ll just forget it.”
“Forget it?” she said. “It’s exactly what I prayed for! I always dreamed of selling my soaps and lotions when I was young. But it was a different world back then. I had a big family and didn’t know any mothers who were also entrepreneurs. I knew if anyone could make a business out of these recipes, it would be you!”
With a blessing like that I had to make it work, and struck out in my new career. Gram’s bath products were so enchanting, I named the company B.Witching Bath Co. Today we have two stores in New Jersey and our lotions, scrubs, soaps and facial-care products are sold in retail stores throughout the country.
Gram would be proud to know that I’m not only an entrepreneur, but a mother now too. She passed away just as we were getting the business up and running, but Gram is still my silent partner. Along with the angel who made sure her dream came true.
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