Friday, April 25, 2008

The Scent of a Mother

There are certain smells that can send me back into the years of my childhood--my grandma's southern cooking, lasagna baking, the smell of tinsel at Christmas, to name a few. But nothing stands out so vividly or can transport me to a different time and place than my mother's perfume.

It hasn't been one constant smell throughout the years. Instead, my mother has several signature scents that have permeated the hands of time and can literally create a time capsule of what was happening at the time she wore a particular perfume--a "soundtrack of smells" you might say. These scents remind me of comfort when I had the flu, a tight hug before I went to school, a delicate spray on my own neck when I was playing dress up.

For example, there were the "Coppertone years". Yes, technically this isn't a perfume, but for the years we lived in Charleston, South Carolina while my dad was in the Navy, this was what was slathered all over my mother's body nearly every day. These days were marked with trips to the beach, digging in the sand, dodging hungry seagulls, and just soaking up every bit of sun we could get. Ah, the days before we knew the damages sun could cause. Now as I spray Coppertone all over my four very fair-skinned children's skin I am transported back to days when life was relaxed. I don't remember every detail of living in South Carolina, but that smell always makes me think of the times there with my mother.

Next came the days of "Joy" by Jean Patou. On my mother's dresser sat a smallish bottle of this beloved scent. My dad had bought it for my mom as a gift. She cherished it and used it sparingly since money was tight in those years. It was saved for special occasions or Sundays. Whenever she wore it, I always felt like my mom looked a little more "fancy" and even more beautiful than she usually did. The cruel joke in all of this is that the smell also reminds me of when my dad died suddenly in a car accident. "Joy" seems like such an ironic name for something that can make me relive such sadness. But, as my mother hugged me in those days and weeks that followed his death, I remember breathing deeply and smelling her perfume. The smell that reminded her of happier times.

Around the time that I was 12 or 13, Mom began to wear "Beautiful" by Estee Lauder. She was just coming out of a terrible marriage to a horrible man. We were on the cusp of finding our way out of a nightmare and this smell seemed to represent a new path and fun! It was time to put the past behind us and these times were ones I remember fondly. My mom had a whole new outlook on life. We went places, had fun, went shopping. The world was ours.

Over the next few years my mom met and married again. My step-dad is truly a dad to me in every sense of the word and loves my mother very much. One of his gifts to her at Christmas one year was a bottle of "Knowing". This is the scent that took me through high school and college. I think that if you ever want to feel like a teenager again, just go cover yourself in a scent that you were around a lot during that time. One whiff of this and I'm back in high school. Every morning I would hug her and the scent would linger on my clothes as I went about my day. If I was having a particularly bad day like many teenagers do, I could just breathe in the faint scent and I knew that at least at home, there was someone who loved me--even if a stupid boy or a mean friend didn't. As I went away to college and struggled so terribly my Freshman year with home sickness, I would sit in my dorm room and sniff my clean clothes that I had washed when I was at home over the weekend. Invariably, my mom would fold them and leave her mark. I wanted so much to be independent at that point in my life, but I just didn't know how. I knew it was time to grow up, but I couldn't figure out how to do it.

Throughout the years and all the different smells, what has remained constant is the way my mother's scent has comforted me. Now I have four children of my own and I wonder what kind of memories are being branded into their minds by smells. Will it be the Pine Sol that I use to mop the floors? Will it be baked chicken since I so often cook those to get meat for casseroles and other dishes? Or, will it be one of my many perfumes that I love so much? Whatever it is, I hope it brings back memories of love, of being cherished more than anything else on this earth because that is the greatest feeling in the world.

Write your own mom story and enter it here.


Colleen said...

So ironic to come hear and read this because right now I have a blog in draft about my own mother. Only it has to do with plants. Hmmm... could it be something about mother's day approaching and being caught between the two worlds of being a daughter and being a mom? Scent is a powerful time machine. You reminded me of the names of the scents I remember from my youth. My mother wore Ciara for a while and my Grandmother wore Emeraude (spelling?). I remember after a while the scents were over-powering and it seemed like we all, grandmother and mother, rebelled and moved on to other scents. I'll be on the hunt to find those smells and see what they do to my emotions/memories/time-travel now. Also, I don't ever remember you telling me about your mom's marriage after your dad died and before your step-dad! You'll need to tell me my friend.

Colleen said...

OMG, I completely spelled 'here' wrong in my first sentence!! Maybe it's a Freudian slip meaning it's like I can 'hear' your voice as you tell this??

jennster said...

this is very sweet... my mom's perfume always DROVE ME NUTS. lol.. but her chocolate chip cookies, that's another story. she should have worn that for perfume.