I have a confession. In my makeup box are some items that really should have been thrown away years ago, but I keep them because they are portals to the past. A tube of Este Lauder lip stick once opened transports me to my grandmother’s bathroom circa 1982 where she stands in a slip and bra, preparing for Sunday morning church. She wore Este Lauder lip stick, and though this free tube with purchase has never been my shade, the smell is a link to my Grandma who died over five years ago and stopped wearing lip stick long before that. I don’t think I’ll ever throw it away.
The other item is a tube of Aveda lip balm, almost nine years old. I’ve had it since getting an Aveda make-over at the Ronald McDonald House in LA. I bought it the day after the make-over in the same shopping center where they host the Oscars. Yes, that theater is in a mall . . . it’s very American. That tube of shaded lip balm isn’t as smooth or wearable as it was many melting summers ago, but the smell reminds me of being a brand new mother in a storm with my husband and my son, us willing Liam to survive. It’s a totem to my highest hopes. Maybe people would think I would want to forget that time, but when I smell that lip balm I am connected to the person I was and I feel almost like I can reach back to her from here where things are still scary but wonderful and hold her hand. It is a bittersweet reminder of how far we’ve come and how necessary it is to remain vigilant.
Smell is so powerful. When I walk into a Cracker Barrel store it always smells like my other Grandmother’s house where gravy was always on the menu. When I pass a cloud of second hand smoke, I can always tell if it is Camel or Marlborough, and when it is I linger and remember my dad. I know that’s not good for me to breath it in, but it’s so rare that I find a link to him that I take the risk. Old Yankee Candle company Rose scented wares take me back to a farmhouse we occupied for only two or three months. I sat on the floor rubbing rose-scented lotion into my mother’s swollen feet. I was five years old and she was pregnant with my youngest sister who is now a mother of four. There is no faster way back to the past than the perfect smell.
Photographs are powerful reminders but I believe the strongest link to our truest memories is in the air, and when certain smells cross our path we are blessed to find our way home to places long faded and forgotten. What smells do you treasure?