Saturday, 9 May 2009
Scent profile of a Mother
In nature, animals and their young come to recognise one another using their acute sense of smell... a biological trait that has evolved over the millennia. The same can be said for humans: long before the introduction of deodorants, fabric softeners, soaps and colognes managed to diminished our basic capacity.
This being said, I have come to think of the scent associations I assign to my own mum as this Mother's day draws near. This year, we will be celebrating in different hemispheres and on opposite sides of the earth... "together apart", we like to say, as if that rationale somehow lessens our genuine desire to spend the day together.
So, soon the day will have come and gone and I will have thought of her, called her on skype, and felt my heart sink when I see how her hair has greyed and lines grown deeper, after another year living abroad. But there will be one 'constant' that I know she will have indulged in... and that is wearing her signature perfume: Estée Lauder's Youth Dew - from a bottle my wife and I sent her after we moved overseas.
As a 5 or 6 year old, I recall sitting on the edge of the bath as mum put on her makeup in the bathroom mirror. I would chat excitedly about something that happened at school, or something I had seen on television; whilst she would stretch her mouth into an unusual-shaped 'O' when applying her mascara. At the end of the ritual, she would spritz her decolletage with Youth Dew and I would watch the thin film of perfumed particles over-shoot her shoulder and drift to the floor. If any scented molecules shifted near me on the air, I would recoil in horror for fear of being perfumed with the scent of a girl. I would then follow her from the bathroom to the bedroom, (cloaked in her sillage), where she would clip on her earrings and decorate her neck with stones, all the while recounting tales from my day. She would listen patiently and respond with an encouraging "mm-hmmm" when needed, as she prepared to go out.
Occasionally, before leaving, mother would ask me to look through her handbag - to pass her a watch or a pen, and I would enjoy digging down deep and rummaging through her fragrant leather satchel. The hide smelled raw and sharp, and the brass button closures ore-like and cold. When diving to retrieve the object in question, my palms would often re-emerge also with a peppermint or a broken cigarette accidentally pinched between my 3rd and 4th fingers. Normally I'd drop the menthol cigarettes in disgust and attempt to wipe the smell off on my t-shirt, or, swoop upon the mint and smell its powdery-white shell, before dissolving it between my tongue and the roof of my mouth. The room was a twirling symphony of scents, and my mother was the conductor.
Finally she would lean down and kiss me between my cheek and my ear, and I would run to the bedroom dresser and wipe away the lipstick smudge left there with my shirt sleeve. I would follow her to the door and wave as she entered the car and she would wave back enthusiastically.
Long after she was gone, with the fading taste of mint dwindling on my tongue, I would be left in the house with a fog of Youth Dew imbuing the air around me, and the scent of tobacco and leather on my hands.
And I thought it was magic.
Happy Mother's Day, mum.