My mother bought me my first perfume, it was Pretty Peach by Avon, a little girl appropriate choice. I was thrilled, to me perfume was magical, brought to me by my mother who I always longed for. She didn’t live with me, so I would hope to have her visit each sunday. She would bring me gifts, I can see now that it was probably to assuage guilt that she felt at having left her children.
All my thought of her are now tinged with sadness, the smells she brought to me, the thoughts of her happiness, are just broken threads to hang onto now that she has gone.
She had sold Avon as a teenager, she was already married with a child then, and needed to make extra income. She became pregnant with her second child, me, when she was 19. Ultimately the stress became too much and she left home and left her children behind.
Though she sold Avon perfumes, she didn’t wear them, she was intensely picky when it came to fragrances, and had many classics which she would never wear. It is still a puzzle to me.
In her room she had a full set of Kiku products from Faberge. It was bright yellow, shiny, like golden sunshine spread across her windowsill. Talcum powder, perfume, mirror set, bath oil, and more. She never used a drop of it. When I would often ask her why, and could I play with it, or use it, her only answer was ‘It’s too expensive’. I would think, what is this magical relic that is so beautiful and precious that it can never be used. It was designed to be smelled, created just for that purpose, but by cruel ironic fate, it was made so good that it could never be used at all.
This was the same tale for many enchanting mysterious boxes and vials. She had a package of Opium, in the most ornate box with silk tasseled bottle. It was strictly forbidden to ever touch it, yet it stood so enticingly on her dresser, the gold glimmering at every angle.
This was most certainly ‘Too expensive to use’.
Hidden in drawers were chic bottles of eau de parfum which she has bought while in Paris. Miniature bottles, huge bottles, fancy bottles, plain bottles. All unused.
When I was 13 we went to a local chemist store, it was tiny, and crammed with items, only 3 people could fit inside the shop at one time. Behind the counter were shelves to the ceiling, filled with perfume bottles. While she got served, I sprayed a tester in a brown and yellow floral bottle, it was a heavenly lemon concoction. I told her it was amazing. She swiftly scolded me, ‘It’s cheap! Put it down’. She vehemently disapproved. It was Aqua Citra, the sister of Aqua Manda, a very popular scent of the time.
Within a few years I was selling Avon myself, and wearing it, pleased to know that she had done the same at my age.
In 1996 when I was pregnant, she got diagnosed with terminal cancer. She was 46. I went to her hospital bed, disbelieving this could really happen. I was wearing Clinique’s Aromatics Elixir. She noticed immediately, despite the hospital surgical smells, Aromatics Elixir is strong enough to break through most odours. She told me it was lovely. That was all I needed, I went to the nearest department store and bought her the biggest bottle they had. Feverishly I presented it to her, this would make her happy, she could use this and be fragrant and divine and get well, and everything would be right.
Perfume is magical, but only in our minds.
The next day I visited her bedside, my grandmother was there, the unmistakable scent of Aromatics surrounded her like a cloud. Coyly I asked what it was. She told me, and brandished a large bottle. My mother had given my grandmother the perfume I had given her.
I never asked why, I wasn’t disappointed or dismayed.
This was her personality, she knew she was dying, my desperate futile attempts did not govern reality and my good intentions could change nothing. She died within days.
Perhaps she just never felt worthy of using what she considered such expensive perfumes. She was actually worth countless moments of joy, untold love, riches of emotional strength. She was priceless to me .