Wednesday, April 30, 2008

A Sense About Scents

While I was making a pit stop in the teachers’ lounge yesterday, I saw a jumbo bottle of Jean Nate' After-Bath Splash on the counter. I could not believe it. One sniff and I was transported back, way back, to the 70’s. If asked, I would not have been able to conjure up a memory of this smell, but as I placed a few drops on my wrists, I felt about 11 years old again. I was in elementary school, digging through my mother’s things, trying out her jewelry and face creams, maybe even riding my bike the one mile to the drug store to buy a bottle of it and my first (roll on!) deodorant.

Throughout the day, I sniffed my wrists and thought about other scents and what they meant to me.

Shortly after Jean Nate' came Love’s Baby Soft. This is also when I started applying light blue eye shadow to my lids in the bathroom at school. My sixth grade picture (with pink sweater and red shirt!) shows a hint of this covert operation. I thought I was pretty subtle with my application, but when I came into the classroom after having my picture taken, a boy immediately said, “Nice eye shadow.” Yikes. I had 4-6 weeks to wonder just how obvious it would be in the photos. Love’s Baby Soft represented 6th through 8th grades, as I gingerly tested the waters of becoming a teenager.

High school meant getting out the big guns, scent-wise. It was the 80’s, the age of excess. My sister and I now had possession of our parents’ credit cards and weren’t afraid to use them. We were still girls inside, but our changing bodies and changing tastes led us to apply some heavy-hitting and expensive “adult” perfumes each day before school. I leaned toward Opium and White Shoulders, while she favored Giorgio. We had big hair, big shoulder pads, big attitudes, and big scents. A sniff of any of these still catches me off guard. Not only do they seem almost overpoweringly strong to me now, since I haven’t worn perfume in about 15 years, one whiff makes me feel young again. I don’t necessarily mean in a good way. I’m talking about the angst, the late-night phone calls with boyfriends—phone cord stretched as far as it would go for maximum privacy-- and the major insecurity that went along with navigating complicated social terrain. No amount of hair mousse, stonewashing on my jeans, or expensive perfume could make me entirely comfortable in my own skin even though those were special, exhilarating times.

I don’t know which scents take you back, or where they take you. It could be something that reminds you of your mom, grandmother, or a lost love. When I told my husband I might be interested in starting to wear perfume again, he quickly suggested Chanel #5. I’d be interested in hearing what it reminds him of. I even purchased a bottle of my mother’s favorite perfume a few years ago to see if smelling it would help me feel connected to her. Memorable scents might not be perfume—how about Bain de Soleil suntan oil (we didn’t call it sunscreen in those days), Ponds Cold Cream or even Ben-Gay? I’d love to hear about the scents that transport you to a different time and place.

I can’t help but wonder if my kids’ memories of these years will be conjured up by Bounce sheets and dog pee.
If you would like to subscribe to my blog, please go to the very bottom of the page to the button that says: Subscribe: Posts. Thanks!-- Anna See


Alexandra said...

I love your posts

You have such a style that is warm, honest: you don't hide from the truth.

Wish I would have discovered you when I began blogging a year ago.

It's lovely here.

Anonymous said...

Reading your past blogs from years ago so I'm not sure if you will get the comments. Loved this one. I associate so much with scents too.

Lissa said...

Chamomile tea takes me back to my grandma's farm. By the time I was around it really wasn't a farm any longer, but it retained the name.

I lived in Hawaii shortly after I graduated. I lived with an aunt who loved perfume. For Christmas that year I received a gift set of Estee Lauder perfume. Whenever I get a whiff of any of her fragrances I am instantly transported back to that beautiful tropical island.

Anonymous said...

Bain de Soleil ... Remember the commercial "Ban de Soleil for the St. Tropez tan"? A naive/native Minnesotan, I misheard that as "for the Central Plains tan" lol