Scents and memories

My mother had one of those mirrored trays with crystal perfume bottles that she kept on her dresser… very shiny and fancy and exactly the type of thing we kids were never supposed to touch. After she passed away my dad tried giving it to me, to put on my little girl’s dresser, and I remember throwing a crying fit because I was so afraid to have it for myself. Imagine if I ever dropped one of those gorgeous bottles of perfume!

Eventually I convinced myself to take it from my mom’s dresser and put it in my own room. It never quite fit with the pink canopy bed and I still haven’t gotten over the ambivalence I felt about that damn perfume tray. It’s probably in storage somewhere or up in the attic. I don’t dare throw it away, but I don’t want to have to look at it everyday, either. Silly how an object can be tied up with so much emotional baggage more than 25 years later. I guess maybe I feel like I still haven’t grown up enough to use anything so… elegant, so classy, so like my mom.

Part of my ambivalence might also be associated with the particular perfume my mom liked. I don’t necessarily remember her wearing it – I can’t remember the sound of her voice, never mind what she smelled like – but I do remember the scent in those bottles.. Chanel No. 5. Overbearing, flowery, full of vanilla … ick. The perfume itself had probably gone over years before and that made it even more awful-smelling and heady.

I’ve never been one for perfume anyway (any wonder why?!) but many years ago I was given the tiniest bottle of the most perfect scent – bergamot and jonquil, jasmine and mandarin… in an understated black rectangular bottle. Perfect. That little bottle went quickly and I spent years trying to find more of it. Turns out it was discontinued. It reappeared a couple years ago at a ridiculous price and I’d refused to buy it. Until today. Today I spoiled myself and bought the big bottle.

I don’t do it often, but it feels nice to be spoiled once in a while! And having that scent on my wrist again makes me smile and feel happy. Happy except that it reminded me of my mom’s perfume tray collecting dust somewhere.


So… any favorite perfumes out there? Any that you love to hate? I’m hoping none of you are big Chanel No. 5 fans.

Please note: Someday this will return to something resembling a nature blog. I feel like I’ve been “off-topic” a lot lately!

18 thoughts on “Scents and memories”

  1. When 38 and living in Tampa, FL, a girl who had applied way too much of the dreaded Chanel #5 noticed the subtle scent of Old Spice deodorant and commented, “Oooh, what a classic couple – Old Spice and Chanel”. The thought of those two scents mingling together about made me sick. Besides, I don’t date strippers – current or otherwise. With that in mind, I suppose avoiding restauraunts on S. Dale Mabry would have been advisable, but it was the only place in town to get a meal when I got off work (electronics shop) at 3:00am. It was quite a show…

    I personally find most of the stuff bottled and sold to be offensive anyway. Around these parts, both sexes seem to apply half a bottle of whatever stinky crap they buy en masse at Big Lots. Makes standing in line at the gas station or local restauraunt a real exercise in both tolerance and holding one’s breath. I’m sure my curmudgeonly ways are shining brightly, but I’d prefer a drop of real vanilla (which is an orchid extract) or perhaps just the smell of clean over stale BO mixed with an artificial fragrance. (One of Chanel’s claims to fame was in being an artificial composite.)

    Beside, one of the most ill-tempered and malicious women I have ever know wore the dreaded Chanel #5. So you’re not alone in regards to personally offensive scents and potentially negative memories. 😉

    Years ago, I seem to remember a perfume called Jungle Gardenia that was tolerable – but I could be completely wrong about the name. Women’s fragrances aren’t exactly my thing…

    Now, Laura, I feel all violated. I’m going to rebuild an automatic transmission, change the oil in the car, and beat on something metal with a big hammer. Argh, Argh, Argh… 😉

  2. Anything really sweet and rose smelling makes me want to run for the hills.

    These days I am more of a Lovely by Sarah Jessica Parker girl, and I do still love the Dazzling Gold by Estee Lauder.

    Perfume certainly does conjure up memories, doesn’t it? Anything worse than being stuck in an elevator with a man doused in Polo?

  3. Dr. Know: You get points for being a good sport anyway!

    Old Spice… hmm… I think my dad used that as aftershave.

    I work with a few ladies who drench themselves, as you mention, to the point where you smell them long before and long after they’ve been around. Good thing their choice of fragrance isn’t anything too awful.

    Fracas smells strongly to me of gardenia – at the beginning at least, yet I’m not sure that gardenia flowers are part of the mix of that scent.

    I’d read once that the scent of vanilla is many men’s favorite, so I guess you’re not far off the mark in that.

    Oh and thanks for pointing out that spelling mistake… I’d looked at it dozens of times in draft and was sure it was correct. Made for a good joke anyway!

    Axe? Sounds very… romantic? Ick.

    Jayne: Rosey.. yes that’s too much.

    Polo… hmmm… how long has that been ‘the’ fragrance for men? Gack.

  4. Contrary to your statement, this post IS about nature. What is more basic than human nature and our memories and relationships? It does a body good to reflect on our emotional baggage and the items that bring the baggage to light periodically.

    I was an adult when my own mother died. She had always worn the same Estee Lauder perfume for years. For months after she died, I slept with one of her sweaters that still smelled strongly of Mom.

    So…bring out the items or keep them stored away. You are the only one who can decide and neither decision is right or wrong.

    I’m delighted you “spoiled” yourself. That’s an important part of human nature as well. You’re not off topic. You’re right on as always.

  5. Thanks for pointing out that I am average – or the norm – which is something I strive NOT to be. 😉

    As for scents, I ommitted one critical criteria:


    Better to have a potential victim lean towards you to catch a hint of a provocative scent than to overpower them with stench and drive them away. Right ladies?

  6. Laura,

    You are not off topic at all. Nature is a broad subject, ya know. If anyone is usually off-topic, it’s me!

    My parents bought me a bottle of Chanel No. 5 when I was a teen. I believe about 6 years ago I finally discarded that same bottle. I should have kept it as a keepsake but I hated the smell of that perfume.

    Over the years I’ve loved Clinique Aromatics Elixir (a little dab will do ya). It’s citrusy and musky. Wore it for about ten years. Then I moved to Calvin Klein’s Eternity – very light and clean smelling. Wore it for about ten years also. Now I’m wearing Hypnotise by Lancome – very light, powdery floral scent. Those have been my top 3.

    Men wearing Polo or those other similar fragrances! GAG! And I don’t mind telling them “Oh, go away. I need oxygen.”

  7. The scent that reminds me of my Mom is Odalisque, even though she doesn’t wear it anymore.

    Flowery, sweet junk makes me gag.
    Male cologne….I jump on any man who wears Realm. Grr.

    My two favorites for myself, both of which are nearly impossible to find:
    Colors by Benetton and Dolce Vita by Christian Dior. You have to get them on eBay, I think, and then pay out the nose*.

    *No pun intended

  8. Okay–you asked for favorite scents. I found a perfect perfume for me–light, not cloying. It’s called Red II (by same makers of Red)–BUT it has been discontinued. My husband scours the Internet for it, and buys bottles wherever he finds them. I am down to the last 2 bottles, then I fear no more.
    I found most touching your comment that you can’t remember the sound of your mother’s voice. My mother has been gone now for 17 years–and I don’t specifically remember her voice. And strangely, I don’t remember any perfume associated with her at all.
    Smell is the one sense that is most evocative of memory, so it would be nice to have some particular perfume by which to recall a loved one.

  9. The worst assignment for a manager was always to have to deal with a person who did not like the smell, or the amount, of the cube-mate’s perfume (or aftershave). There was one lady we all just gave up on and let her have a cubicle all her own!!!!

    Anything by Mennon because G. Mennon Williams was the Governor of Michigan when I was a teeny weeny kid there!

  10. My mom still has the mirrored tray with all those perfumes on her dresser. I don’t remember her ever wearing perfume, but she always had the bottles.

    I’ve only ever worn light essence oils, and only every now and then. I find most fragrances overwhelming even when done lightly.

    My father has been gone for 16 years. I can still remember the sound of his voice and sometimes hear it in my dreams. Do you dream of your mother?

  11. Robin Andrea: Funny. I remember just one dream of my mom – I was in college, I think – and dreamt of the two of us driving around in a little red convertible. I remembered in the dream that she had passed away and dreamt of wanting to have some long conversation with her about all that had happened in my life since she’d been gone, but I think I probably must have woken up before we ever got to that.

    I was too little, I think, when my mom died to have many really solid memories of her. Most of what I know of her has been told to me by others.

    And yes… fragrance easily overwhelms. I have to be really careful of shampoo and soap, even, because my skin is so sensitive and prone to irritation from *something* in most brands.

  12. Rabbit’s Guy: I think that must be why manager’s are so well paid.


    KGMom: I have to sort of wonder why they do that – discontinue scents that way – but then I think of how many new fragrances there are each season (every celebrity has their own, right?)

    I scour local shops for my favorite body lotion and buy it by the gallon (well, almost!) wherever I do find it. At the moment there’s a tiny shop about an hour away that I visit just for that.

    Remember Jean Nate? (gag!) As a kid, we always bought that for my grandma, so think of her if I ever get a whiff of it. I’m not sure that she even liked the stuff.

    Susan: I had to think if I have a favorite men’s cologne. Only name I came up with was Grey Flannel. Do you know it? Smells like clean to me.


    Oh and btw, thanks for the hint on future b-day gifts. I’ll keep my eye out for them for you.

    Mary: lol! That Chanel probably smelled as bad as my mom’s bottle after so many years!

    I remember liking Eternity very much. Soapy and clean and nice. I don’t know the Lancome you’re talking about, but most of their stuff is nice.

    Dr. Know: Yes… moderation. No point having the potential ‘victim’ pass out on you.


  13. NCMountainWoman: Thanks for making me feel a bit better about the occasional tangents here. And really, you’re right that the idea of ‘nature’ as it applies to we humans is oftentimes something that I try to write about, however tangentally I manage to do it.


    The thought of an adult, you, sleeping with a sweater that smelled of your mom to help you through that period of immediate grief. Speaks to the importance of scent as a vehicle for memory and powerful emotions, I guess.

    Liza: That’s one I know and yes, it’s nice. My BIL works in the fragrance industry and once in a while brings me a bag full of samples. Lucky me!

  14. Love to Hate: ‘Obsessio’…esp on someone who lives in a house with a smoker…yuk.
    Anything Avon or Estee Lauder (pardon me, Mom…your employer) although I like other products made by both, their fragrances are fake & give me a headache. And yes, ‘Channel #5’ (and all the other #’s), ‘Joy’, ‘Paris’…any of those, not so much fake but horrible anyway….and…


    Wish I could like: ‘Jessica McClintock’ smells wonderful on my friend Babe, and ‘Shalimar’ is delicious on my mom-in-law Rusty, but neither work for me…’Happy’, too, on our receptionist Linda smells clean, on me it sours.

    If I have to love any fragrance: I seem drawn only to Sea-fresh fragrances like ‘Inis Energy of the Sea’ from Ireland, ‘Tursiops’ & ‘Seashore’, Bobby Brown’s ‘Beach’…think I got a theme goin’ on here?

    It’s funny, because I work with people with severe environmental allergies who cannot tolerate fragrance, and the few times I’ve ‘accidently’ worn any of the above, I’ve heard ne’er a complaint.

    These sea fresh/beachy fragrances are not only evocative of all that I truly love, but they don’t turn on me, or make my tummy turn either, some of those cheap perfumes make my digestive juices boil!

    My own skin & hair -newly showered with water & a natural soap & clean shampoo after a day in the sun is my very favorite fragrance of all. And of course, my hubby smells just right to me.
    They say our beloved scents are primal…they’re right.

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