Tuesday, June 19, 2012

The Scents We Left Behind

Does anybody remember the perfume Charlie? I baptized myself with it in college. I loved the ads with the leggy future Charlie’s Angel, Shelley Hatch, strutting her stuff. Somehow I felt if I wore Charlie, I’d maneuver through my uptight college campus the same way. I even remember the theme song sung by Bobby Short. But really, I hated the fragrance. It was way too strong. It wasn’t me.

But there were other perfumes of yore I really miss and long to try again. Some conjure up boyfriends who are now just sepia images in my memory. One liked my Chantilly but asked me to wear more of it. He also asked for more of other things I wasn’t quite ready to give. A friend sent me a vintage Chantilly ad recently that read, “There is enough Chantilly in this innocent pink spray to shake your world”. Those words are enticing...but...

What about Sweet Honesty? I wore this Avon scent for a while. I loved the innocent, flower child-teenage girl that was photographed in the Avon brochure. Recently, I ordered a 99 cent Sweet Honesty antiperspirant. It shot me from my bathroom back to 1973. Suddenly, I saw myself in a peasant blouse and Landlubbers.

I tried in turns, Emeraude, L’Aimant, and L’Origan, Coty’s three graces. I fell in love with L’Aimant when I was summering with a friend whose great aunt wore it. It had just the right softness and sweetness my fifteen year old heart craved. The aunt gifted me her bottle, telling me I was young and beautiful and she was old and a recent widow. Sadly, she died later that year of her broken heart. I never forgot her or her kind gesture.

Perfume can draw halos around certain times in our past. The most popular girl in high school wore Shalimar. I took a page from her and wore it too for a while. It never really made me popular except with my grandfather who loved it. Smelling it now, makes me think of him and fences off that time when his life still overlapped mine.

Later, I wore Coty’s Musk, Ylang Ylang, and Patchouli which came in a large white compact with solid stripes of each fragrance. My sister and I painted them on our arms and mixed them up. The result was heady and warm until I developed a skin rash that itched like mad and can still be seen in the pictures from my Junior prom.

Did you wear Ciara? That conjures up my disco days when going out at 9:00 pm was way too early. We wore Qiana dresses and suntans. Ciara ads were everywhere in 1976 and so was the perfume. The local Rexall had plenty of it, most of it purchased by my sister and I. We loved Ciara’s spokeswoman, Lauren Hutton and her gap toothed grin.

I was at the perfume counter the day White Linen hit the selling floor. I had read about it in my Bazaar. A newly minted working girl, I wanted something crisp but pretty for work. I was devoted to it and my young man told me he could smell it on his rag sweater for days after being with me. I loved being associated with a particular scent and once I tried to enhance the connection by spraying it on his duffle bag. Whether he noticed or not was never clear but I received an engagement ring not long after.

Fragrance has always possessed me in a special way. And as the soundtrack of my life could never include just one song, there are a blend of scents that trail and waft around the people and events that were meaningful to me, like halos of windblown ribbons.

Sunday, June 17, 2012


When my daughter was a small child, I gave her a book called The Little While Friends, about pals that she would meet and enjoy briefly but never see again. I was thinking of the friends found on the playground and in waiting rooms at the dentist but, in hindsight, I have come to realize that Little While Friends have appeared throughout my life too.

Such it was with Vicky, a darling young woman (we were really girls at the time) that I had a short and heady friendship with.  A kind acquaintance introduced us, knowing that Vicky and I, both newlyweds with traveling husbands, were meant for each other. Our “blind date” occurred in a dear little museum cafe where we chatted non-stop over tuna melts and iced tea.

Vicky and I were the same height which I loved.  We also wore our hair in a similar chic bobbed style - hers, however was a striking auburn which I admired very much. Vicky was a bright crayola crayon and I felt like a chalk pastel. She wore one of those great Asian designer outfits that were popular at the time, all brilliant red and turquoise. I was in a pink chiffon blouse and gray skirt. Over the next two years, Vicky taught me how to dress more vibrantly and also how to live a connoisseur’s life.

Sometimes, when both our husbands were away, I would spend the night in the attic bedroom of her small and pretty Dutch Colonial home. I slept under the eaves in what was her “wrapping room” which one night was filled with beautifully wrapped Christmas gifts to be sent to far away nieces. To have a wrapping room seemed to me the height of luxury, with ribbons and colorful papers in a joyous tangle. Vicky would bring me black coffee (only Hawaiian Kona) on the mornings I slept over and when I asked about milk and sugar, her knowingly wise-beyond-her-years reply was, “One day you will have to switch to all black coffee for health reasons, so you may as well learn how to like it black now”.  And she was right. Vicky was discerning in everything from her beautiful cobalt blue London Fog trench coat and her special handcrafted jewelry, to the blow dryer she used and her velveteen couch.

Together, we discussed not just coffee, but hosiery, lingerie, winter gloves, as well as where to find the best croissants, blueberry muffins, wine. Nothing that Vicky wore or consumed was less than the best she could afford and she taught me how to search for these things and how sometimes it was best to save my money and wait for the best to show up. We had so much silly fun together. One summer night we went on a wild goose chase to four drug stores searching for a mascara we saw in the latest Glamour magazine. The mascara was not to be found but later, the adventure over, we split an ice cream sundae while sitting on the top of an old picnic bench under the stars and chatted about our favorite perfumes.

On an icy cold and lonely night, Vicky made me a special home-cooked meal of Chicken Divan, from her grandmother's recipe. An old fashioned dish, we ate it in her dining room with the built in oval china cabinets filled with all her cherished things. It was one of the most unforgettable meals I've ever had, the ingredients were fresh, the chicken succulent - and it was lovingly made just for me by a hostess who said she didn't cook. We felt so grown up at the candlelit table with Vicky's wedding dishes and a bottle of wine.

When Vicky became pregnant, I had a ball helping her find cute maternity clothes, nursing nightgowns and then later, baby items. Together, we made lists of what she would need for the hospital and to bring the baby home in. Just weeks before her due date, we finished turning the wrapping room into a sweet little nursery. Sadly, Vicky's baby girl died before birth.  I remained silent the night I visited her in the hospital having just found out I was to be a mother too. There were other friends expecting as well and this was a source of deep sorrow for my friend and it changed everything.  Soon her protective husband took her to live on the opposite coast near his family.  I missed her terribly.

Vicky's inability to spend time with me and her leave-taking felt like a disappearance.  But our Little While friendship remains a sacred gold thread on my life's tapestry. She left behind my final girlish memories before life became serious with motherhood.  The day she moved, she generously dropped off an exquisitely wrapped and lovely baby gift for my newborn daughter.  Inside the sparkly pink card was a handwritten recipe for her grandmother's Chicken Divan.