Mood, emotion and scent are closely related for me and are how I evaluate a new perfume – what I call smell memory.
While I can sometimes find some of the notes in a composition and generally describe what it smells like, the details of a perfume elude me. I greatly admire those who can give those details — I love reading them, and they add so much to what I already know or feel about a scent and often produce ginormous lemmings nibbling at my nose. A place to find a new smell memory
My day normally starts with me getting out of bed, throwing on some coffee to brew, sitting down to get two hours of work in before the youngest teenager has to get up to go to school. He gets up, I get a shower, dress, grab something to eat, and we are out the door. Most days, I have my shower time to think about what perfume to wear that day. This is why I so love my days when I work at home and the weekends. Smelling like I just spilled three bottles of perfume on myself is not unusual, nor are three or four showers on a weekend day, just so I can play in my perfumes again and again. (photo from Anne Scarlett)
March wrote about scent and memory last week, and it set me to thinking about my own scent memories. My mother has never worn many perfumes, and only when she goes out, so when I think of her smell, I think of clean Irish Spring soap and Jergens hand lotion. My Aunt Esther used to visit us every summer. She was such a classy, smart woman, and just a tiny ball of fire, but her scent for me will always be noxcema cream. At night she would put her hair up in a little pink hairnet and slather that crap on. We loved her because she would let us have homemade ice cream any time of day she was eating it, which was most of the day. Aunt Ruby would also come every summer. Yes, there are a lot of aunts, there were 13 kids in my dad’s family. Aunt Ruby brought her dog, a French poodle named Jacques. Having a fluffy, overbred, nervous, man-hating French poodle on a farm was pretty much a bad idea, but she would leave him there with us while she went on a vacation. For our entertainment, we would go get her shoes, slip them on and walk in the door, and Jacque would just go mad, barking and dancing and prancing, smelling whatever Aunt Ruby smelled like, until he finally looked up to find two very silly girls doubled over in laughter. We did this a lot, and it never failed to amuse us. Simple children, I know.
Some of my smell memories from my childhood are awfully disgusting smells. We were raised on a dairy farm. See that idyllic picture on the left? That was a true picture — much of our life was full of the outdoors and bucolic views like that, but the part of a dairy most people don’t see is very different in view and scent. I actually had a picture of this, but you don’t want to see that, do you? Maybe later.
The reality was a 5 a.m. wake-up call every morning of my life that I can remember, a huge breakfast that had to be consumed in about 7 minutes, one part of which was always a big-ass fried egg in the middle of my plate. I hate fried eggs. Hated them then, hate them now, but my father’s rural Kansas religious belief seemed to revolve around that egg being ingested every morning by every person in the family. To this day, I cannot smell a fried egg without bringing back memories of hiding it under my plate, in my orange juice glass, slipping some to my sister to eat, all under the baleful eye of my daddy, who often did look the other way. Scent memory is a powerful thing.
After breakfast, it was a dash to the pasture to get the cows rounded up and into the corral outside the barn and ready to milk. That part of the morning was just stunning. Crisp Kansas air, before the sun was up, dew in the grass, everything still sleepy. Good thing, because that feeling sure wasn’t gonna hold.
See the picture on the right, that’s what my morning started out like — the backside of cows, many who had been in snow or laying in mud or crapping down their back legs. I won’t go into when we had them on fresh alfalfa bales — let’s just say, when they coughed, we took cover. We had to run in a bunch at a time into the barn, put them in stanchions, then chain their back legs together, hopefully without getting the snot kicked out of us or have our toes stepped on (toenails went missing regularly in our house). They would poop there as we milked them, milk would leak out of the milking machines as you pulled them off or put them on, grain got wet, they would wait until you were standing between two of them and then just start leaning on you, crushing you between them. This was at 5:30 a.m. every morning, no mornings off. The smell of sour milk and cow crap was the scent that started my day for at least a decade. After we milked, we had to run to the house, wash up (five kids in one bathroom, that was superfantastic fun) and make the school bus. But every morning, once I discovered perfume, I would spritz on a little scent. Being poor, I normally only had one or two cheap drugstore scents. No memory of what they were at all, except I do remember Stephen B my senior year in high school.
Now, why would I tell you that story? For two reasons. One — that isn’t the smell I remember from my childhood. Easy to describe that smell memory, but I really don’t remember it now, it was just background noise. This and the fried egg smell are my most powerful scent memories. My Daddy wore Old Spice when he went out for the evening with my mom or to school functions. He would have worn it to Church, but he was holding a grudge and would only step foot in church for funerals and weddings. To this day, when I smell Old Spice, I can almost see him in front of me, laughing that big, booming laugh he had; can hear him tell a story or a joke, see his
infectious smile, his massive arms that could bend crowbars. Smelling Old Spice can make me purr in contentment because it is comfort and love and everything good in this world and the next.
The second reason I told you that disgusting cow story — My mornings still start at 5 a.m. or earlier. I don’t have to smell sour milk and cow crap, but I still have to pick out a scent to wear. There is something wonderful and delicious pondering which of my twenty-eleven scents I have that I will wear that day. What am I in the mood for? Is it rainy out or sunny? Winter or spring? Do I feel happy or sad? Do I need comfort, or do I want to be a baaaaaad girl? There are those mornings where I can’t decide, and I go to a handful of scents that are the standards that get me through life when I can’t decide.
This next week, I want to go through what scents I use for different moods. That is how I use perfume, to express my inner life in an outward way.