The Smell of Love

My niece has published a blog post about smell and memories, and this got me to thinking.

I came from a relatively small family (pun intended). I have a total of five cousins (all still living) and just three aunt-and-uncle combinations (all gone now).

The aunt that I was closest to while growing up was my father's sister. Before I was old enough to go to school, Aunt Helen used to take me to her Circle's luncheons. That's my earliest memory of church: watching/helping Aunt Helen and the ladies produce chicken a la king in the church kitchen.

As I grew up, I realize that in some ways she was stuck in a different time period, always with a 1920s style haircut and a favorite expression of "Golly Day, Kid!" She was partial to the color green, frequently wore a single strand of large pearls, and her signature fragrance was Emeraude, by Coty.

When I was a child, she lived in a row house in North Philadelphia. On important occasions, the entire family would somehow crowd around the table in her small dining room, but I always got down as soon as I finished eating because I wanted to go sit in the wonderful wooden rocking chair in the living room, and look at the National Geographic magazines accumulated nearby. The front porch was about the size of a handkerchief, and I loved it because it provided a view of the busy schoolyard across the street.

Our family wasn't very demonstrative. Looking back, I know love was there, though seldom mentioned. Aunt Helen somehow had a knack my mother lacked: She made it clear that she loved me.

When Aunt Helen passed away, very suddenly, Joe and I were living in another state, and couldn't afford to come home for her funeral. I felt awful, and I still feel bad about that, forty years later.

Not long after her passing, still living far from home, I was shopping at a very big clothing sale at the local department store. It was crowded and as I was rifling through a rack of sweaters and shirts, someone came up behind me and began her own search of the tops. My next breath confused me mightily. Only one person in my entire life had carried that scent. Emeraude, by Coty. I didn't turn around, I abandoned the sweaters, I moved away and out of the store, needing to believe that somehow, some way, Aunt Helen was still in my life.

Thanks, Susan, for jogging this memory today.


Pat said…
Powerful. When my daughter was planning her wedding, she began searching for just the right scent to wear for her wedding. She was a bride, brides do odd things, so I let it go until my curiosity got the better of me. I asked her why, with all of the hundreds of details that had to taken care of, was she focused on a perfume. "I won't wear this until my wedding day", she said. "For the rest of my life, every time I wear it, I will think of that wonderful day, and every time my husband smells it, he will remember me as a bride." Smart girl.
WendyP said…
Thanks for sharing Nancy. It brought back memories m. I was only in 4th grade when she passed, but still remember the pearls and Emeraude.
Janet O. said…
There are many things I think back on and connect with the odors and scents involved.
What a tender thing to have that strong memory of your Aunt that can be enhanced by the scent she carried.
Nicole said…
A number of years ago I was browsing around in a gift shop and noticed a young woman following me fairly closely. I would move to one end of the shop and sure enough, she was right there near me. Finally I looked up and smiled at her and saw she had tears in her eyes. "I'm sorry", she apologized. "I don't mean to follow you, but your perfume is just what my mom used to wear. I lost her this year and miss her so much". After my mother passed away I saved one of her empty bottles of Cabochard. When I am really missing her, I take out the bottle and take a big sniff. Sure enough, it's like Mom is right there.
AnnieO said…
Lovely story! I especially like your description of the size of the front porch:)
I have a very big family but really miss my Grandma who died 5 years ago. She didn't wear a scent but always smelled of good home cooking from scratch :)
Barbara Anne said…
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said…
Smells do bring back strong memories. Maybe babies can smell earlier than we believe, and we have that imprinted in us from our first breaths. I don't know. My grandmother's house brings back many memories through scents. She had Cameo soap in the bathroom. I recently smelled that and it took a while to place it, but it was there in the back recesses of my mind. Bad smells also are stuck back there. Her basement had a horrible, musty, dirty smell that I have run across in some old houses. I could never live in them because of that smell.
I do remember Emeraude. Is it still around?
Sarah said…
Smell is a very strong memory evoking scent for me too. I will forever associate Red Door perfume with my Mum. Once when I was 18 and had just moved out of home I was walking through a crowded shopping mall and smelled the scent. I actually turned expecting to see Mum just behind me. Of course, there was no one in particular there, but it signalled to me the scent I associate with where home is.