In what world do the strange, twisting tendrils of scent become so thoroughly entwined with fate as to be indistinguishable? Where do we store those memories, the olfactory ones, that make up the bulk of our sensory processing? How does it become so difficult, yet remain so easy to pluck those strings of scent for the beautiful memories that are played back to us. Perhaps it is always such. Perhaps we only imagine it.
My mother was young, a strong-minded, strong-willed woman the product of Second-Wave feminism and a life time love affair with Tom Waits. She believed women had the right to all of life's pleasures, and that those pleasures included beauty, romance, and a little bit of vanity. She certainly had her vanities. She woke early, before five in the morning, every week day but on the weekends she would sit at the small bathroom vanity and apply her cosmetics, slowly, over an hour. When I was very young, I was content to ignore her ministrations, as I eagerly escaped to hot sun, green grass and the weekend. As I grew older, however, I became more and more interested in this weekly ritual. It was an event that took my mother from a businesswoman with a spine of steel to a creature I did not quite know as "mother", yet loved her all the better for it.
My father was gone, gone too young and my mother rarely spoke of him. Instead she prepared for weekends with friends one loving application at a time. Her face first, no heavy creams or liquids but a fine veil of Coty Airspun powder, followed by a dusting of rouge - CoverGirl. A wash of pale shadow on the lid, also CoverGirl, with brown eyeliner smudged in-between lashes coated in blue Maybelline GreatLash. It doesn't surprise me that I remember the exact brands to this day, for my mother only bought what few cosmetics were sold at our local Five & Dime. The money she earned from that suit and tie job she fought so hard for, went for a different vanity. That one, there, I see it in my eye. The box of powder on the counter. Elizabeth Taylor's Passion. My mother never wore perfume, not that I ever once saw. Instead, every weekend she would dust her decollete with her puff of Passion.
I was still a child when I first saw my mother use Passion, but she wore it faithfully all through my years as a rebellious teenager, to adulthood, to kids of my own. I remember watching her put on her face, then her "weekend red" lips and finally, her dusting of Passion. Then, she would hug me, carefully so as not to smear her lipstick, and I would breathe her in. This woman, who was as beautiful as a flower on two magical days, and smelled of musky, blooming nights. How odd that I once smelled Passion on a tester stick inside Macy's, and it smelled nothing like her. Perhaps what I smelled was only the powder. Perhaps it was only my mother.
In that moment she would hold me tight and whisper in my ear, "Savin' all my love for you." A line from her favorite song. Then she'd be gone, no longer a woman clawing her way to the top of a world dominated by men, or a widow saddled with a child who grew more and more rebellious by the day. No, she was that other, the strange beautiful other who turned the heads of men and women alike and left a trail of Passion in her wake.
I loved her. I loved her then, I love her now, and I loved her so strongly the day I patted Passion over her neck in the funeral parlor that my heart could have broke for it. This is what I remember of my mother. Softness and strength, beauty and compassion, relentless talent and drive. All of those memories, cocooned in a veil made of Elizabeth Taylor's Passion. So today, I get dressed and as I am ready to leave for work, I hug my children tightly, ever so tightly. I hope that they smell lavender soap and cigarettes, Chanel Cristalle and above all else, the love of a mother perfectly cocooned in her scent.
I'd trade off everything just to have you near, savin' all my love for you.
I hope that you enjoyed that snippet of an olfactory journey, and that this Mother's Day you hug the women you love tightly, breathe them in, and keep that memory dear. Pleasant journeys~
"Saving All My Love For You"
(c) Fifth Floor Music Inc.