Sunday, February 11, 2007

Scent of a Woman

About a month ago, while shopping with Reda, I stopped suddenly in the perfume department.

[Aside: I don't wear perfume. Ever. I used to, and in fact used to enjoy wearing different scents, depending on my mood and outfit and destination. But then I started dancing, and most of my going-out destinations were dance events. Now, this might seem strange to you, to stop wearing perfume when I started dancing more. Because when would you want to smell good, if not when you're closely embraced with a dance partner, right? The problem is, many people have allergies to perfume and cologne, and I don't want to hurt my partners. So as a general rule, it's good not to wear fragrances out to dance; if you do, keep it light.]

So since we know (now) that I don't wear perfume, why did I stop? I stopped at the Lancome counter, beside a disply of Tresor. I picked up the bottle, brought it to my nose, and inhaled a deep whiff of the scent. I closed my eyes, and smiled contentedly.

"What's that?" asked Reda.

I answered back, opening my eyes to look at the bottle, a familiar shape I know so well, "This is what my mommy smells like."

It is, too. All I have to do is catch a wafting scent of Tresor, and I can see and hear and feel my mommy, holding me close. I remember smell very strongly, though I don't always realize it. But I love to be able to hold someone I love, breathe deeply, and know that what I'm smelling is so uniquely her - so intensely him.

During winter break, Mom, Seeser, and I were at a drug store, picking up a few random items. While Mom was in line to pay, I was idly looking at the candy and gum beside her, while Seeser stood near the door waiting to leave. Suddenly, I noticed a pack of Cinnamon Trident gum. Excitedly, I picked it up, opened the outer flap, and smelled the gum inside.

With a few tears in my eyes, I held it out to Mom. "Smell it, Mom," I said. "It smells like Dad."

It's easy, as the years go on, to forget some of the little things about those we've lost. It's been almost eight years since my dad died, and I cry sometimes, when I realize how much I've forgotten. It's hard, for example, for me to call his face to mind. There are pictures I can remember, but that's different than just remembering him, what he looked like in real life. And sometimes, it's hard for me to recall the sound of his voice, the way he called me "Boomers" or the way he muttered under his breath when he broke something he was trying to fix.

But sometimes, when we least expect it, it hits us, and we remember. All I needed was that pack of Trident, and it was like he was right there with me. Those moments? They're the good moments. They're the moments that take me home.

So what are the smells that take you back, and where do they take you? Share with me. :)


Jane said...

The smell of some lipsticks, esp. Revlon take me back to when I was little and my mom would kiss me. She wore Channel #5 and that scent also takes me back to about age 4/5 when really I remember little else.

Scent is such an amazing trigger for memories, and sometimes it sneaks up on you in the least expected moments.

What a lovely post!

Anonymous said...

damp cedar reminds me of the place where I spent all of my summers-and many of my happiest times- growing up. I still have a piece of my daughter's clothing that hasn't lost its scent from when she was a baby. I could get fall down drunk on the scent of baby and wet cedar.

olfactory memory is actually the strongest form of recognition. it's the oldest and most primal of our senses- it develops before we're born and it's the only one we never fully lose.

Still Jill B said...

My great grandmother's bathroom smelled like Dove Soap and Rose-scent. A few years ago I stumbled across this bath-fizzy ball that is the exact same rose scent (there are different types), and my friends think I'm crazy.

There are also the somewhat-less-pleasant ones. Certain guys have their certain scents of cologne, and I dread that I'll one day find some perfect guy who wears the same cologne as a certain someone else, and I won't be able to be around him b/c of it.

Definitely a good topic to hit, sister.

Amanda said...

There is a sweet milky smell that takes me back to walking to elementary school and through a path overrun with clover and mint. It was before my folks split, before a lot of things, when I still got to be a little girl. I lvoe when it takes me by surprise and I can float back to trail behind the fleet footed little girl with the long tangled hair. Thanks for taking me back.

Anonymous said...

SUCH a good post!! And god..."This is what my mommy smells like." I just about cried.

There's a very specific combination of scents that, in harmony, evoke the Girl Scout camp where I spent many summers: sweet fern, bayberry, woodsmoke, red kool-aid, avon's 'skin-so-soft,' and warm canvas.

It's uncommon and elusive, but so satisfying. Every once and awhile I'll be with my mother on a summer day and we'll turn to each other and say, "Did you smell that? Camp!"

Anonymous said...

Wow. I thought MY Mum smelt like Tresor :)

It must be the fragrance of choice of stylish Mum's the world over.

These are the smells that forever speak to me:

Yardley's April Violets Talc and Anzac Biscuits cooking- Grandma
Paco Rabanne and Dunhill Red cigarettes - My Dad
Storms - Home
Frangipani - Living in India in 1979
Nivea Body Lotion - Canada, 2002
Stella by Stella McCartney - me :)

Beautiful post my sweet

Anonymous said...

what a great post.

whenever i smell lilacs i smell my childhood. we had them in the backyard growing up.

Anonymous said...

Oh, I am so a scent person. Certain scents take me instantly to a moment in time when that scent became inscribed in my memory.

My Grandfather worked in the Tide factory for Proctor & Gamble Company. The original scent of Tide reminds me of him and being at my Grandparents' house. That and Zest soap.

I wore an oil perfume for awhile of the scent "China Rain". I wore it when my husband (then fiance) travelled across country on a Greyhound bus to Portland, OR to visit my best friend. Smelling that scent reminds of me the greenness and beauty of Oregon.

The smell of hay reminds me of being at my other Grandparents' house. They had a small barn and a horse, goat, ducks, chickens, dogs, cats and a parrot at one time.

I love the smell of freshly snapped green beans, too. My Grandmother kept a large garden and grew corn, lima beans, green beans, sweet peas, carrots, tomatoes, etc.

The smell of a densely wooded area on a warm humid day when you can smell the ragweed & other brush. Also reminds of my summers spent at my Grandparents' as a kid.

The smell of chlorine at the pool... the smell of musty books in a small neighborhood library... even the smell of natural gas from a gas stove.

I could go on and on.

Teacher Anonymous said...

The smell that reminds me of my mom is cherry Lip Smackers. She always used to have that flavor and my sister and I were always borrowing her chapstick. The smell also reminds me of the good times, pre-divorce, when my mom wasn't all crazy-like. She's changed flavors of chapstick since then, so it makes the scent-memory all the more special.
My dad's smell is Polo Sport cologne. I was once dancing with a guy whose smell was very familiar, so I asked him if he was wearing any cologne. It was in fact Polo Sport, and he wasn't so thrilled when I told him he smelled like my dad.

My great-gandmother's house had this very musty old-person smell that I was never very fond of, but I later wound up with a quilt on my bed that smelled just the same and it brought back all these nice memories. It turns out that she made the quilt, so that was where it picked up the scent.

jittacatgirl said...

fresh cut grass - mowing the front and back yard for $20 during the summer

rubber asphalt - i can't even walk by a track without my stomach turning, because the smell reminds me of track season and being a constant bundle of nerves

humidity, grass, and dirt - same effect, smells like the warm-up run before the race

litterbox - reminds me of litterbox


isn't it funny how tenny and nora smell COMPLETELY different? i think nora smells really good. i like snuffling her.

Anonymous said...

"This is what my mommy smells like." It did make me cry (which doesn't work well in the middle of an office while trying to answer real estate questions). I love the story, the post, and most of all I love you.

Anonymous said...

Well, most people think I'm nuts, but I love the smell of hotel rooms/hallways. I can't even describe it well, except that it's clean, cool, and crisp. Seriously, I love being scheduled in the banquet room at work, because it means I get to walk down the hotel's second floor hallway on the way in and out. I just keep inhaling the whole time.

I assume my love for the smell is a simple association back to vacations and such. Time off from day to day life. Ahhh, it's good.

Lara said...

jane - isn't it funny how smell can bring back memories of a time you think you can't actually remember? i'm glad i was able to remind you of those scents.

kara - mmmm... baby and damp cedar. yeah, those are both excellent smells. and yes, our olfactory memory is a wonderful (and sometimes painful) thing.

jill b - yes, i know what you mean about guys. there's a lotion i have that smells so much like a guy i loved, and every time i use it, i cry a little. i'm glad you enjoyed the post, though.

amanda - that was a lovely memory. i'm glad i could help take you back.

jen - apparently, my mom *did* cry, so there you go. and yes, those are the moments i mean, when you least expect it and it just hits you and you're transported to another place and time, for just a few seconds. so nice sometimes.

lala - "stylish mums the world over." i love that. it's so true, because my mom is damn stylish. ;)

ali - yummy! lilacs are a beautiful smell.

becky - see, i often don't feel like i could go on and on, because when i *try* to remember the scents, i can't. it's more often that i'll catch a whiff of something on the breeze, and for a moment i remember something, and then it's gone again. so fleeting, yet so sweet.

teacher anonymous - i know just what you mean about that musty smell, where you don't like it at all, and then you can't have it anymore, so when you can catch the scent you're so grateful. strange and sad how these things just fade away.

jittacat - yes, nora smells lovelylicious, and tenny just smells like boy cat. :-P fresh cut grass reminds me of football games with my dad, especially if the grass is wet.

mom - sorry for the mid-workday tears, but i'm glad you liked the post. i enjoy being able to remind myself of you simply by picking up a bottle and taking a big breath. :)

seeser - i don't think you're nuts. i agree that it's a great smell, and i think your reasoning for why is probably right on. good vacation times, with that hotel smell.

Anonymous said...

When I think of growing up in SoCal, I think of citrus. Oranges and grapefruit, mostly. I also think of the way pavement smells after rain, even though rain was rare.

I have fond memories of your dad. I'm sure he's proud, as we all are, of the woman you've become.

Lara said...

lilit - it's funny, but for some reason, i never associated the orange smell with orange county. not sure why, but that one just never struck me all that closely.

thank you for your kind words about my dad. i have fond memories of the time you and i spent with both our families. i hope your parents are doing well. they were (are still, i presume) good people.