The Power and Reminders from Scent
My Ladybanksea Rose in bloom
I’m almost 56 years old. That’s a lifetime of memories, experiences, loss, and gains. They say scents of our past linger with us for years, and I’ve found that to be true. For the life of me, I can’t remember if my grandmother wore perfume, but I remember her house smelled like fried chicken and homemade gravy on Wednesday night, roast beef and rolls on Sunday after church. My grandmother also had a bayberry candle she kept on an antique table in her upstairs hallway. This was no cheap imitation of bayberry, but the real thing. To inhale it even when the candle was cold was to smell something really lush and green, and for forty something years, I’ve not found another like it. My grandmother probably knew who was breaking off bits of her treasured candle, but she never said a word to me.
Yesterday I picked up a tester of a Lampe Berger Paris home fragrance, and it smelled like my mother. Roses, very lush and beautiful roses, a scent she embraced in old age. She used it in body lotion, potpourri, hand soap, and more to the point of me being overwhelmed with it. When she was younger and going out on dates as a single mother, she wore Ma Femme, a lush sexy fragrance I’ve not been able to find for years. When I watched her apply make-up, her Revlon loose powder had a distinctive fragrance too. All these lovely date night fragrances bring back her sense of excitement and hope. I thought she was so glamorous and beautiful as she sat there primping and preparing in what now we’d call vintage lingerie.
My Aunt Betty’s house smelled like clean laundry, perhaps because of the laundry room just off the back door everyone always came through. It smelled like clean Horton laundry, and not ours because it was her house, her laundry detergent. On the Thanksgivings we met at her house, it smelled like roast turkey, smoked goose, and maybe venison, the latter two my Uncle Dub was responsible for cooking.
When I was a teenager, I cleaned my dad’s house to earn spending money. He lived in a nearby bungalow my mother owned, and which was haunted by at least one little old lady who’d died there. That house smelled cold and masculine from my dad’s shaving cream and aftershave, both of which are drugstore staples and nothing extraordinary. One day I was washing windows in an empty bedroom and felt someone walk up behind me, then there was the overwhelming scent of a little old lady’s toilet water. This over the scent of ammonia window washing liquid. I slowly turned, knowing no one was there and looked about the empty room. Who knew ghosts wear perfume?
Years ago my children’s allergist banned real Christmas trees from our house, and I complied in the name of getting them well. Plastic Christmas trees are great, but artificial Christmas tree potpourri and oils do not smell like the real thing. Christmas is supposed to smell like fresh evergreens, cookies, roasting dinner, and no chemical can reproduce the same scents correctly. I compromise now with fresh wreaths on my outside doors and potted Rosemary plants.
For my husband’s St. Valentine’s Day present this year, I dragged my youngest son with me to Dillards on a quest for a new men’s fragrance gift. A lovely and patient young woman pulled out bottles of men’s perfume and sprayed bits of card stock embossed with the different scents, then offered us a container of coffee beans to clear the perfume scent out. What an interesting thing that was, and it did work magically. In the end, my son helped me pick out Versace Eau Fraiche, which smelled masculine and lovely without the heady and overwhelming musk so many men seem to like. My husband seemed to like it, and God knows my fashion-minded son adored it.
It’s funny how scents can trigger emotions. When I sniffed that rose scented oil, it triggered almost a visceral feeling of loss for my mother. I stuffed the cap back on and kept looking for lavender. For some reason lavender with its clean scent attracts me, and that’s what I want my house to smell like. Not an overwhelming rose scent that depresses me, a bayberry that eludes me, clean laundry, or realistically a dog that needs his weekly bath. No, I want my friends and family to remember me when they smell lavender. One day I hope to visit France and stand in a field of real lavender, brushing the flowers with my hands.
And the perfume I wear? It’s an old college favorite, Shalimar, which reminds me of Baton Rouge and happy shopping trips to Maison Blanche, university, a future full of promise and fulfilled dreams. That’s a lot in a scent, but then there you have it. In a world where we have to be considerate of the scent sensitive and allergies, where church incense is railed against, and we tiptoe forward in step, I strive for an unobtrusive happy medium. When I hug a friend, I’d rather they get a slight whiff of Shalimar than burnt toast or gasoline fumes.
I’ve always been rather odd like that.