A Scent Remembered

atomizer for perfume

Nothing is more memorable than a smell. One scent can be unexpected, momentary and fleeting, yet conjure up a childhood summer beside a lake in the mountains; another, a moonlit beach; a third, a family dinner of pot roast and sweet potatoes during a myrtle-mad August in a Midwestern town. Smells detonate softly in our memory like poignant land mines hidden under the weedy mass of years. Hit a tripwire of smell and memories explode all at once. A complex vision leaps out of the undergrowth. ~ Diane Ackerman, A Natural History of the Senses

I have a bottle of my Mom’s perfume on my dresser.

For the longest time after she passed away, I kept the throw pillow from her favorite chair. I didn’t like the pattern, actually, but the pillow smelled exactly like her. The scent faded away eventually, and the pillow is now long gone.

She only wore one perfume: Estée Lauder Youth Dew. I remember the blue bottle, curved to fit perfectly in a hand.  My dad would buy her a bottle every birthday and anniversary.  It was definitely her signature scent.  On at least two occasions I can remember, well-dressed gentlemen came up and actually asked her what perfume she was wearing.

Here’s how the Estée Lauder company described their creation:

“Women still like to feel beautiful, pampered and loved, And that is what Youth‑Dew is all about.”
—Estée Lauder

Created in 1953, Youth‑Dew was the very first fragrance from the Estée Lauder company and it was the first American fragrance to capture the imagination of women worldwide.  Estée Lauder wondered why women relied on the men in their lives to buy them perfume. And why they reserved fragrance only for special occasions. To change women’s minds—and forever change the world of fragrance—Mrs. Lauder created Youth‑Dew Bath Oil.

Captivating, rich and exceptionally lasting, women bought it for the bath, but, as Mrs. Lauder predicted, soon began wearing Youth‑Dew as their fragrance as well. Because it was sold as a bath oil, not perfume, women felt free to enjoy and wear it every day. Instead of using Youth‑Dew by the drop, women used it by the bottle. Men loved it too, saying it was “simply the sexiest fragrance ever.”

Every now and again, as I walk through somewhere there’s a gathering of people, a whiff of Youth Dew hangs softly in the air, and I instinctively look around, my mind playing tricks as I look for my mother in the crowd. But like the scent, it’s only a memory, and just for a moment, I am sad.

And days like today, on her birthday, I spritz a bit in the air, trying to recreate the memory of that scent. But it’s impossible to do, as it lacks that magical combination between the perfume and her, the one that caused men to stop her and ask what she was wearing.

I’m always amazed at how quickly a scent can trigger memories, can take you to a specific place or time, or even to the remembered company of someone special.

What smells trigger memories for you?



Filed under Life

4 responses to “A Scent Remembered

  1. Scents can be powerful triggers. I try to work them into my stories for that reason.

  2. I just installed a new pluggable scent into my “Wallflower” outlet, which when it heats up, disperses a wonderful aroma throughout my house. I always choose scents that remind me of the beach or suntan lotion. I love to imagine the feel of summer, the smell of the ocean and sand beneath my toes, especially during the long, dreary days of winter.

  3. sherri

    honeysuckle reminds me of a being outdoors as a child and it’s a good feeling, but not one particular memory. the faux scent of rose placed in so many creams triggers a sense of foreboding and i’ve not been able to figure out why, but it makes me feel sick in the pit of my stomach. stumbled upon your site because of the quote; one of my favorites. enjoyed the read.

    • Thanks for dropping by and for commenting. I agree with you on the rose scent; for me, it brings a sadness, like a sense of loss or something. Weird how scents work that way…..

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