Thanks to the miracle of antibiotics (which lasts for ten days, instead of eight), I’m my old, energetic self again and happy to get back to writing. Sandra Tsing Loh gave me the perfect opening to begin a conversation on this bog about what an aunt of mine used to darkly refer to as “The Changes.”
But seriously, it’s Christmas Eve. Does anybody really want to read or write about menopause? I think not.
Instead I want to write in praise of sweet-smelling women.
When I was a little girl, my mother and all of the capable, well put-together women I knew each had her own distinctive scent. If you know anything about the alchemy of perfume, you’re aware that the same perfume mixes with an individual’s body chemistry to produce a unique aroma.
At holiday time and at other family gatherings, I loved breathing in the symphony of scent that was produced by a roomful of grandmothers and mothers and aunts and great-aunts. Greeting them at the door, gathering their coats and my great-grandmother’s fur stole, I’d give myself over to the mixture of scents that was my heritage, as the women of my family bustled around the kitchen to make things special.
Friends’ mothers and grandmothers had their own scent, just as their families had their own traditions. If you complimented a women on her perfume, she’d proudly name her signature fragrance — Joy, Fracas, Diorissimo and, of course, Chanel Number 5.
My mother went through perfume phases — moving on from Jackie Kennedy-inspired French traditional elegance to freer pheromones. Remember Charlie? You could track the changes in social mores from the 1950s to the 1980s by the scents she wore.
These days there is less of a divide between girls and women. I still dress pretty much the way I did when I was sixteen, in jeans and clogs and comfy sweaters. So do most of my friends. Our kids call most of us by our first names.
So it makes me happy when my daughters identify me with my scent (these days it’s Euphoria by Calvin Klein, though I miss my more exotic past, which was accented with Samsara by Guerlain).
I hope it instills in them the same sense of trust and belonging that I so loved as a girl.
The other day we were in the mall and found ourselves in the perfume section at Nordstrom. Though so many of the elegant touches I remember as a girl, like after-dinner mints, have faded away, you can still get perfume samples at Nordstrom.
Daughter #2 tried Chanel Number 5 and I explained its historical and cultural significance. Then she pranced over to a display table with more contemporary scents and sprayed them on over the Chanel.
I cringed momentarily at the aromatic collision and then smiled, thinking of the joy that awaits her and her sister as they experiment with the scents that will accent their lives.
We drove home in a car that reeked with what I referred to as Katy Swift Bieber as the girls clutched their perfume samples.
Once in a while I encounter a woman who smells so good I feel compelled to compliment her. And once in a while someone asks me a question you don’t hear very much these days: “What are you wearing?” and they are not wondering about my clothes. My step mother-in-law (happy birthday ESMIL) is one of those sweet smelling women. When she comes to visit, she unpacks her mini perfume containers and arrays them in the guest bathroom. Her bathroom at home is similarly arrayed with beautiful glass vials. I hope she knows how happy this makes me.
My mother and grandmother are no longer alive to share holidays and traditions with. Every year we make latkes to honor my grandmother and keep alive one small piece of my heritage, that can be passed on to my daughters.
And every day I wear perfume, partly for me, and partly for them, so that its scent is imprinted in their memories.
May you enjoy the sweet-smelling women in your lives during this holiday season. If you’re so inclined, ask them about “The Changes” they’ve experienced. And then let’s talk about it in the new year.