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    The Scent Of Time

    My mom’s birthday was March 25th, and I didn’t notice … she died in 2012, so while I’m sure she didn’t notice either it’s an odd feeling  that the day passed for me as nothing more than another ordinary Sunday.  I thought about it, and her, today when I read a wonderful piece in the New York Times titled, “Smells Like Home”.  Maybe more impactful than the article itself were the multiple comments from folks who contributed their little bits of themselves and what they remembered; what prompted their emotional reactions and why.  Really wonderful stuff overall, and more than worth a Sunday read.

    My story is about Mom’s perfume, me, and my younger brother at Christmastime around fifteen years ago.  I should preface it by saying that though she was showing the first signs of Alzheimer’s, it was still negligible and she was most definitely still Mom.  Nonetheless, memories for all of us were precious.

    She wore one fragrance: Woodhue.  It isn’t made anymore and I have no clue what company originated it - all I do know is that she smelled like it (as did every room she was in when it was first applied and fresh; especially the kitchen) for enough years to make a bottle a standard gift when I was very young.  Time passed, many, many things changed and Woodhue’s presence disappeared.  I honestly don’t know if it happened because it wasn’t available or because Mom stopped buying it, but either way I stopped paying attention to her lack of any scent other than older, aging woman.  Maybe because I was turning into one, too, and forgot to remember a lot of things that should have mattered, or perhaps I stopped thinking of her as young enough to wear perfume.

    So, while doing the obligatory on-line shopping that Christmas season, I happened through total happenstance upon a website selling discontinued Woodhue.  Well.  After tripping along memory lane on my own for a bit, I called my brother - who, perhaps even more than I, shared the same trigger - and announced that I had found The. Perfect. Gift.  You know the one, so I won’t explain further, except to say that we instantly became the children we had always hoped to be and I giddily not only paid the somewhat exorbitant price but expedited shipping, to boot.  For some reason (known only to memory plucked nostalgia) I had to have it in my hands immediately … and when I did, my brother and I happily plotted how best to give The. Gift.  At this point in our family life, there were just the three of us, so we were certain that giving it as the last “special” gift would cause angels to sing and candles to light spontaneously.

    Here’s what really happened:  Mom opened the elaborately wrapped box, looked at the Woodhue label and said something like, “Well, look at that.”  When she looked up at us, smiling her gift-receiving smile and noticing how breathlessly we were awaiting the second coming, she added, “Can you help with the box?  I can put some …”.  I think we interrupted by diving on said box, drooling over the actual bottle and spraying it in her general direction.  She beamed.  Guess what caused her the most happiness: the perfume or her adult children turning back into her little kids?

    I suppose my point is that to my brother and me the scent of Woodhue did, and still, represents a piece of our memory that belongs to our mother.  To her, it was a perfume she used to love and wear.  There’s a part of me, as an older woman myself edging closer to the age she was then, that recognizes the importance of both.


    I love the canny moment where your Mom saw the lay of the land and did her best to help you all get through it.

    It was actually a fun moment.  She knew the perfume, of course, and was greatly amused that we were so excited to give her something that she hadn't thought of in years!

    I aint got much.

    I despised my parents.

    My son kinda likes me?

    Why I am not sure.

    But my best remembrance of my Mom was her bread.

    Bread and yeast I guess.

    She was really good at making bread.

    And that fragrance shall forever be in my conscious?

    the end

    It's not about your Mom, Dick.  It's about what makes your memory come alive in those times and ways that catch you totally off guard and catch your breath, the bits that are so buried that we can't find them when we try.  It's the not trying that makes the difference.

    A certain scent or a certain piece of music seems to ring little chimes inside the brain of an Alzheimer patient. That last little connection, I think, brings us all happiness, even though it may be brief. My mother's birthday is May 21st. She would have been 105! And isn't it something that we remember birth dates and not death dates?

    It's funny - my writing seems to have lead more folks to think of either Moms or Alzheimers, or both.  Neither of which was really the point ... but I find it interesting that as is often the case, it's the little things that seem to capture the attention of the reader.  I mentioned her (then undiagnosed) issues with memory as what I though of as an aside, and that it was about my Mom was just because that was my particular story.  Likely my own fault since I've written about both before, but I'm somewhat bemused nonetheless.  Oh, well.

    Here's a wish for you to remember your Mom on her upcoming birthday as you surely do every other day of the year, however that may be.  And as all wishes go, may you be blessed by it ... this one belongs to you, my friend.

    Well, what I think is that it's all inter-related in a way. First I think of how the whole aromatherapy thing works on us. Then I've read many things from the neurology field how the minds of Alzheimers patients can be accessed via sense memories, most memorably I remember Oliver Sacks talking about music effects. Then there's that we associate sense memories with Mom because she's usually the main one loving us when our brains and neurological systems are still growing and developing. And vicey versa, she knows she did that and she no doubt remembers it in her soul, watching the kids grow and develop and knowing she could have an effect, and getting frustrated when she couldn't. And how something as simple as a scent can take us back in time, hopefully to a time when we felt the ultimate in safeness and comfort. Etc.

    This comment from the Times article to which I linked stuck with me:

    I was in middle school and our English teacher had us close our eyes and she passed down the row holding something under each of our noses. Then we were to write the first thing that popped in our minds. I smelled something I didn't recognize but the image of a specific chair in my grandmother's house immediately came to mind, so I wrote about a brown rocking chair. When we finished, she revealed it had been tobacco leaves in a pouch - the kind for a pipe. I was totally confused. Later that evening I shared this with my parents. "Oh yeah, you used to sit in Papa's lap while he packed his pipe. That was his chair." Papa died when I was three - but that smell was stuck in my brain with that chair.

    J. Miller

    That's the sort of thing I was referring to with my story, even though it was completely different.  Aren't they all?

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