I Feel Pretty, Oh, So Pretty!

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
smell memory - start with a showerMy 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.

smell memory - dairy cowsSee 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

smell memory - dairy barn

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.


  • Patty says:

    Victoria, what is millet? I know it’s a grain of some sort, and I remember my dad talking about eating it when he was young, but I don’t think I ever tried it. Food from youth do reach legendary status.

    We used to do a rice and warm milk dish with raisins that sounds a little like yours. It was odd because we went to a Thai place, and they served us sweet rice, I think it was, and it tasted almost exactly like that rice/raisins/warm milk dish without the raisins. 🙂

    The scents I think of for my mother really are more cooking scents — baking breads, fried chicken, and chicken and noodles. She is a great country cook, but we only found out maybe five years ago that she hates to cook. She fooled us for so long, it was a shock to learn that!

  • Patty says:

    Marina, I know I had that DKNY years and years ago, I remember that bottle. I wore it nonstop for months, then just burned out on the scent. Love to try that Dior and the Message from Orchids. I’m turning into a Shiseido scent sl*t these days.

  • Patty says:

    How in the world did your dad and his family hold onto anything during The Depression in Oklahoma? Wow, that’s a stunner. My dad and his family held onto theirs, but mostly because there were so many kids, they moved to the West and got jobs and sent money home until the worst was over.

  • Patty says:

    Cait, I’m not sure I invented “Scentograph” since I’m not sure if it’s a word or not, but I needed a word that said the same thing as choreograph, setting music to action, but for scent.

    oh, the Stinkin Rose! I so want to eat at that place, but never seem to get there on any trip that direction. I’d take that as a compliment! Garlic is the scent of good things too, the one that overstays its welcome, but it’s homemade comfort food for me.

  • Victoria says:

    What a wonderful post! I associate Diorissimo with my mother, although among my other favourite and memorable childhood smells is the scent of cooked millet in hot milk. For years I have been trying to recreate this simple dish, but it never comes out the way I remember it to be. Maybe, Ukrainian millet has more flavour. Maybe, it was all in the way my grandmother cooked it–slowly in the oven at first and in its own heat, wrapped in blankets for several hours later. It may not sound appealing, but it was so wonderful, as things you remember from childhood tend to be.

  • Marina says:

    Cologne Blanche is a part of Dior’s exclusive (but of course) collection, which also includes Eau Noire (super wonderful, but haven’t bought it yet) and Bois d’Argent.
    Let me know if you have tried Donna Karan New York, it’s a discontinued scent (but of course), comes in a weird looking black/gold bottle. I also got Bal a Versaile (finally!), Message from Orchids (Japan-only Shiseido, super wonderful scent), and some humbler scents like Guerlain Terracota and…um…Coty Wild Woods. Any of this you want, just let me know! As soon as they arrive, decants will be flying in your direction. :biggrin:

  • marchlion says:

    Nope, he moved East during WWII, but still owns the farm… he was the only son, but his father understood that farm life was not what he wanted. A cousin farms it. The house he grew up in is still there but long-deserted and now falling down, we visited it years ago. It was melancholy. His grandfather built it with his own two hands. We drove through there on the way back from NM and our truck broke down. I tell you what, those are some of the nicest,most helpful people.

  • Cait says:


    I enjoy this scentograph because it doesn’t omit the unglamourous. I also really love the word “scentograph.” Did you just invent that now?

    My mom was the perfume lover. My dad and stepmom rejected perfume. Now I make them tolerate my scented self. :devil:

    Once my dad and I went to The Stinking Rose Restaurant in SF and I told him the smell of garlic and roasting meat remidned me of him. “Katie (this is what he calls me and how he spells it),” he said, “Please don’t ever tell that to anyone!” He also smells faintly of coconut.
    But aftershave, no dice.

    His favorite perfume for a woman is Joy. I agree with him there.

    So I too, cannot wait to hear about your best frag friends, Patty.


  • Patty says:

    Mmm… Jergens. I didn’t tie this all together properly, just couldn’t pull the trigger, but the final parallel was me and Jacques, tripping on the smell of someone we loved, even if the person wasn’t there. Did you dad move east during the Depression? My dad’s family moved to California then, many of them, except my dad and Uncle Wood.

    It’s so odd, when I think back through life, I hear music sometimes that go with this, like it is choreographed, but it is also very scentographed. Sunburns for me have the smell of Seabreeze. My sister made me put that on every time I got burned.

    I still call it hardship. 🙂 My dad loved that life, it was fun for him. I deliberately slept in for years, trying to fight against that upbringing, but now I have come full circle and get up earlier and earlier.

    Marina, Dior Cologne Blanche? What in the world is that!?!? It sounds exotic and wonderful, love to try it!! What else have you gotten, you stinker?!

  • Marina says:

    What a wonderful post, Patty. I do associate my mum with some perfumes, but also with a smell of soap and shampoo…

    I can’t wait to hear what you wear when you want to be a baaaaad girl. :devil:

    PS. have you tried Dior Cologne Blanche, P? It is my new favorite and I got an obscenely big vat of it yesterday, so …when it comes, and if you want some, I will be a-mailing it. Also got my hands on some original Donna Karan New York (supposedly smells like Idole)and…um…some other things. I’ve been baaaaad. :devil:

  • marchlion says:

    Patty — great post. And you named some wonderful smells — almond-y Jergens! Noxzema! (Makes me think of summer sunburns). My dad still wears Old Spice, I love it so much, what could be better? He grew up on a farm in Oklahoma during the Depression — milking the cows, driving the tractor, etc. and tells great stories. To him it was not “hardship.” It was called “life.” I am looking forward to meeting your Best Friends!:bouncy: