It’s the August doldrums, and I figure the nine of you who are still reading the blog can put up with something a little different.
You may remember several months ago I was waxing lyrical over a lost fragrance from my youth, a gift from my mother, and in my mind I’d pictured a classic like L’Air du Temps, only better. Then the name of the fragrance —Trailing Arbutus — came to me like a shot in the dark and I googled it immediately — and was so embarrassed by the Avon name staring me in the face that I resolved quietly to forget all about it.
Then Katie at Scentzilla did a post reminiscing about those Avon collectibles that folks of a certain age remember from our childhoods. We gave them to our moms, they gave them to us; the bottles were often novelty-shaped (shoes, animals, cars) and, let’s face it, filled with mediocre fragrance like Moonwind or Topaze. Or Trailing Arbutus. But Katie’s post got me contemplating buying a bottle on eBay. (If you have no idea what I’m yammering about, search “vintage Avon bottle” on eBay and sit back in awe.)
What does the 1979 Anniversary Keepsake Edition of Avon’s Trailing Arbutus conjure up? The precise smell of being fifteen and at loose ends, with a mother who was ill and losing her grip on reality, and also going blind, somewhat more slowly. The combination threw her into titanic rages, which we hid from as best we could. My father dealt by spending a lot of time at work. I dealt by hanging out in my room with the curtains drawn, staring at my unicorn posters and listening to Joni Mitchell’s Blue album over and over again, on the stereo, as she sang
I wish I had a river
I could skate away on
I wish I had a river so long
I would teach my feet to fly
Oh I wish I had a river
I could skate away on
I made my baby cry…
You go ahead and laugh, but I felt hope listening to Joni sing about various pains and joys and sadnesses, even the stuff I was too young to relate to — those mournful lyrics about hanging out in bars listening to jukeboxes and arguing with old lovers and whatnot. It’s still one of my favorite albums. Joni got me through.
So I bought the damn bottle. I found one in a box, unopened, hoping to minimize the age damage, but still, it wasn’t exactly Nombre Noir to begin with, was it? And now it’s almost 30 years old, so my expectations were pretty low. I thought I’d let that genie out of the bottle and see what happened.
It smelled perfect — the room, the dark green bedspread, the peeling wallpaper, the dust, the books, Joni on the stereo — the whole deal, in an instant — all the fear and hope and stillness, the waiting and the inchoate wanting — right there in one tall, beribboned bottle.
I can’t say if this really smells like trailing arbutus (i.e., May flower) because I’ve never smelled May flowers. Probably not. Objectively, this juice is crap; it smells more like hairspray than any real flower. But I don’t care. The record may be a little scratchy after all these years, but I can still hear Joni in the background.
top: eBay image of the bottle I bought
Joni Mitchell, Blue, lyrics from River: lyricsfreak.com