Today as I was sitting next to my daughter on her front porch, masks on, heater in front of us, my granddaughter Adeline ran to her mom and hugged her. She then said, “You smell like Nana.” I of course noted,
“That’s must be a wonderful smell.” When it didn’t get the laugh I’d expected, I had an ‘aha’.
Oh, my God. I have a Nana smell.
It’s ironic, as, just that morning after showering, I saw my very expensive bottle of perfume in the medicine cabinet that I never use and thought, “I should put some of that on today.” This is because of my new campaign to try to do something special about my appearance, even if I see no one.
I see no one. The only people I do see besides my husband are my children and grandchildren, and that’s once a week, always outside with masks, hats and lots of heavy overcoats. No one ever notices my earrings or the new eye shadow and liner I’ve started to apply each morning, which I find quite fetching. But no one noticed any of that before the pandemic. Nanas are largely invisible entities unless they bear gifts.
This morning, I had put on my antique jade hoop earrings, which are elegant and delicate. I pay no mind that they don’t go with my royal blue sweatshirt and jeans, or my camel sweatshirt and jeans, or the grey sweatpants and matching sweatshirt I wear most days. I simply focus on the pale, yet powerful green lace of the design and think of my friend Alice, who is Chinese and taught me to always wear jade for good luck.
I don’t wear perfume. Never. My mother wore Chanel No. 5 her whole life, and that was her smell. Whenever I sense it, in a store or passing by an older woman (this was before I became an older woman), I naturally think of her. The scent brings back a lifetime of the after-whiff of a hug, of seeing my mother dress for an evening out, always beautiful and perfectly groomed, that grand scent following her down the hallway. I often recall going into her bathroom, seeing the elegant bottle on the counter and watching the level go down, millimeter by millimeter, only to be replenished at Christmas by another.
After the “You smell like Nana” comment, I am considering adopting the practice of wearing perfume. It’s a big leap for me, never having acquired the habit. But I do like the scent that’s been sitting the medicine cabinet for a few years, and which I assume, hasn’t gone bad like old milk. And, if I’m going to smell like Nana, I might want to choose how I smell rather than have an iffy default setting.
My granddaughter’s comment also felt meaningful in another way. I am her Nana, and at six years old, I am someone she already has a breadth and depth of banked sensations and memories, whose presence apparently includes a signature scent. I felt grateful that I’d registered as an entity in her sensory vocabulary.
The next time I see that branch of the family, I will have a different smell. Subtle, of course – even I know the rules of perfume. It may be the beginning of the new legacy of things I will leave behind after I’m gone. Not just the paintings and jewelry and antiques I’ve kept from my mother, but something that, when my grandchildren are grown and out and about in the world, they might stop in the street after having caught the trademark scent from a stranger passing by that they always associated with me. It’s a lovely gift, really, because it piques and sparks memory and emotion in an elusive, yet intimate manner.
Scent. Such a simple offering that, because of the perfume industry, is an evergreen gift. I have a whole new appreciation for the tradition and importance of that business now. I just hope that when I audition my new offering, it will be acceptable. Otherwise, I’ll have to face the reality about where my natural scent might originate, and I’m not sure that’s a journey I feel like taking right now.
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