I remember the mildew smell of the old patchwork quilt on which my siblings and I rested in the yard during those hot, steamy days of summer; the smell of bacon and onions wafting through the house as wilted lettuce or spinach sizzled in Mother's big iron skillet; the scent of freshly laundered clothes rising from the ironing board as she moved the iron back and forth across them.
I remember the smells of homes of those closest to me: My great-grandmother Elsey's living room (vanilla-scented smoke from Paw Paw's pipe) and her kitchen (Lux soap, which lay on top of her skirted sink). Maw Maw George's house (floor wax), her dresses (that fresh-from-the-clothesline scent), her Christmas fruitcakes (rum). And her yard (Honeysuckles, which ran from the house and all the way down the lane to the mail box).
I remember the scent of Tweed perfume that rose from Maw Maw Wilson's dresser at which I spent much time gazing into the wavy, tilted mirror; her cold hall in the wintertime (wood burning); Irish lace curtains: (dust, and something pleasant, which I'm still unable to identify), and her upstairs bedrooms (mothballs).
I remember the deep, mysterious scent of the earth after a summer rain; the scent of moist soil as Daddy broke up the ground for his garden each spring; the scent of fresh-cut grass mixed with the smell of gasoline as he mowed the yard each week; the scent of wood shavings as I stood at his knee watching him plane the wood. (I played with them, amazed that the shavings looked just like my curly hair.)
I could go on forever.
When I was around eleven, as I was helping Maw Maw George clean out her closets, she pulled out a big box stuffed with all kinds of things. One thing that really caught my eye was a tiny crown-shaped perfume bottle with a unique stopper. Maw Maw told me it was a Christmas gift from Uncle Tom who lived in Detroit. I had never seen a perfume bottle like it.
I pulled out the stopper and sniffed it. Although the bottle was empty, the scent still lingered: floral, romantic, light and airy. I couldn't get enough. I sniffed the bottle over and over.
Although I didn't know the name of the perfume (don't guess I thought to look at the bottom of the bottle!), that light, romantic scent stayed with me. So after I got my allowance the following Saturday, I made a bee-line to the dime store. I didn't expect to find that exact scent, but I hoped to find something that smelled similar.
No such luck. All I found was Blue Waltz and Evening in Paris. Blue Waltz smelled cheap. Evening in Paris smelled nice, but I didn't have enough money. It cost ninety-eight cents.
After I became a teenager and had long forgotten about the crown-shaped bottle, I went through many perfumes: all the Avon perfumes: Here's My Heart, Topaz, Somewhere, Woodhue (after saving my allowance for a month), and a few others. Back then, there wasn't the array of perfumes that are offered today, and stars had not yet begun to sell their 'signature' scents (which, for some reason, irritates me no end!).
When I got married, I was still wearing Avon perfumes. But after I began my first full-time job in Chicago and had money to burn ;), I branched out, trying Chantilly (ugh!), Taboo (too strong), White Shoulders (too heavy). I even tried Joy, which was then advertised as the most expensive perfume in the world. I didn't like it either.
Then one day, while sampling one scent after another at the perfume counter of Marshall Field's, I came across a tiny bottle shaped like a crown. Not the fancy bottle with a unique top like Maw Maw's, but crown-shaped, nonetheless. A thought ran through my mind: Could it be? Could it possibly be?
The instant I sniffed it, I knew it was.
The name of the perfume was Prince Matchabelli's Wind Song. It has been my everyday perfume for many, many years.
I'm told Wind Song doesn't smell the same on everyone; has something to do with body chemistry, experts say. But I have had many people (mostly men) through the years walk right up and ask me what perfume I'm wearing. "I'm going to tell my wife to get that perfume!" one gent said; "Ahh...I've never smelled anything like it," said another. And a coed from ISU once told me I smelled like her grandmother. "I loved my grandma so much," she said, "And Wind Song makes me think of her."
I've read many reviews on Wind Song, and although many women love it, others say it smells old-fashioned, out of date. But how can a smell be out of date? Is the scent of flowers out of date? Musk? Spice? That makes no sense to me.
Not long thereafter, I discovered Nina Ricci's L'Air du Temps. A light, airy scent, something like Wind Song (but more expensive), I wear it when I go out in the evenings. Like Wind Song, the reviews are about the same: many women love it; others say it smells out of date. But their opinions make no difference to me. I doubt that I will find any that suit me better than Wind Song and L'Air du Temps, old fashioned or not.
"When nothing else subsists from the past,
after the people are dead,
after the things are broken and scattered
the smell of things remain poised a long time,
like souls· bearing resiliently,
on tiny and almost impalpable drops of their essence,
the immense edifice of memory"
The Remembrance of Things Past