Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Scent of a Mother

There are many elements of our environments that can trigger memories... especially those connected to our senses. Certain sights, sounds, tastes, smells - they conjour up thoughts of trips abroad, lovers past, special occasions, burnt dinners, things you wish you could do again and those you hope to never make the mistake of doing again. Ah, those senses.

Just the other day, I was walking behind a woman when it hit me. The smell of her perfume wafted through the air, into my path and into my nostrils. My olfactory centers began sending signals to my brain - flashes of memories hit me, like those scenes from movies when a person's entire lifetime plays out in their minds. Her voice. Her laugh. The way she would re-enact her high school cheerleader chants. The shape of her face and the curvature of her smile.

I knew the scent.

I know it by heart.

Red Door.

It was the scent of my mother.

I remember right after my mother passed away, I had to move her car into the driveway and as I sat in the driver's seat, the smell of her perfume was in the air as it lingered on the seatbelt she had worn not a few weeks earlier. Instantly it was like she was here again, joking with me, talking with me, sharing my love for Harry Connick Jr and all things important to the 23 year old I was at the time. I must have sat in that car for hours that day, breathing in her scent, sobbing hysterically, wishing she wasn't really gone and it was all a bad dream from which I was about to awaken.

A few years later, I was walking into a department store past the perfume counter and there it was: that gorgeous red bottle with the gold accents, one that I recognized in an instant as the one which sat atop the bathroom counter in my mother's home. I went over, sprayed a little on my wrist, and breathed in deeply, feeling the warmth of her arms around me and yet the aching of my own arms to be able to hold her. I put the bottle down and walked away, half in an attempt to be rid of the saleswoman behind the counter and half to be rid of the pain it caused to be reminded that my mother was gone.

I knew that scent by heart, and my heart remembered.

Coco Chanel was famous for creating her signature scent, Chanel No. 5 (adored by Marilyn Monroe) and having it sprayed wherever she went, as a symbol of her uniqueness as a woman and as an individual. Even after her death in 1971, her scent remained, forever encapsulated in a gorgeous glass bottle with the number 5 embossed on the front. Perhaps that is what is so captivating about a smell - it is the one tangible memory you can have of a person long after they are gone from this earth.

When I smell Red Door, it as if my mother is right next to me, something that neither photos or video nor even my own thoughts are able to accomplish.

I have been wearing Victoria's Secret Pear Glace for over 10 years, and even my husband notices if I decide to wear anything other than that - he says it just doesn't smell like me. I'd like to think that one day, maybe my girls will remember me by this scent as well and think of me should they happen to catch a whiff from someone else.

It is my signature scent.

The scent of their mother.

So how about you? Do you have a signature scent? One that you wear religiously, that defines you, that makes others think of you even when you're not there? I suggest you explore this option if you haven't already. It is a legacy of memories for your loved ones, in a sense.

As for me, even if I stray for a little while, I always come back to my favorite Pear Glace, as it was, and always has been, my scent. I like the idea of lingering for a while after I'm gone... and one of these days, I might just go back to that perfume counter and ask the saleswoman for a little help finding the scent of a mother.

And my guess is, it'll be in the shape of a red door


  1. This is so beautiful, Rhonda. You & Tara both bring such honor to your mother. I'm so sorry that y'all have to be without her, but I know she's so proud of the women you have become!

  2. This brought tears to my eyes. My mom's scent is Red Door, too. Even the smallest whiff of it makes me think of her hugging me before I left for school when I was younger. Being just 23 years old myself, your story tugged at my heart strings. I think it is quite a blessing that our olfactory has such the "memory" that it does. Little treasures, these moments are, that we can't get from photos and videos like you mentioned.

    Great blog!

    God Bless,
    Molly Marigold


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