I just finished reading the "High Profile" section of the Sunday paper. It's akin to the "society" pages of days gone by. On the front page, one person is featured, and part of the feature is asking the honoree to answer seemingly silly, insipid, Barbara Walters-esque questions (Who would you invite to your ideal dinner party? What is your favorite color?). One of today's interview topics was "a smell that makes me nostalgic." The subject, a Vietnam Vet and long-time Director of the North Little Library system, gave such an elegant and insightful answer that it caused me to go digging around in my head for scents and aromas and smells that make me nostalgic.
There are the obvious ones of course, like french toast and maple syrup, or Jergen's Lotion, or leaves burning in the barrel-shaped wire incinerator, or freshly-scrubbed babies' heads, but the two I finally settled on are two I haven't encountered in a long time. The first is:
The scent of an old-fashioned iris takes me to both sets of grandparents' homes. Nonnie and Pop's backyard in Little Rock had the most beautiful iris garden. They must have planted a hundred bulbs. When I was a little bitty girl, they would set me in the big middle of the garden on a bright, sunny day in the spring, when my eyes were sure to crinkle, to take my picture with their old Kodak box camera. I remember closing those eyes, turning my face skyward, and drinking in as much fragrance of iris as my little lungs could hold, then puffing it all out at once while giggling a little girl giggle. Then we would go inside where I could be the manager of a "store" created by opening the two corner floor cabinet doors so they would intersect. I would get behind that "counter" and "sell" them dishes. Then I'd make a big production of closing and locking the store, and we would all go to the den to watch "Wide World of Sports" and share a big bowl of Yarnell's vanilla ice cream. Pop passed away before my sixth birthday.
Bee Mama and Daddy Gus's house in Nashville (Nashville, Arkansas, not that place in Tennessee that mispronounces itself. It is pronounced NASH-vul, not Nash-vill. The emphasis is on the first syllable, both syllables do not have equal emphasis.) had purple irises in the front yard, right beside the biggest purple hydrangea you've ever seen. Granted, I was a little girl, but that hydrangea seemed like its own forest to me. There were yellow irises out back. They had a slightly less powerful fragrance than the purples, a little softer. I remember "helping" Daddy Gus weed his garden with that yellow iris scent in the background, then passing by the purple iris scent when we rounded the free-standing garage on our way to the kitchen for some home-cranked fresh peach ice cream made with peaches that Bee Mama had "put up" in wax-covered paper freezer cartons the summer before.
Hmmm. It seems that ice cream seems to be playing a prominent role in Moogie's journey into memories today.
The next fragrance to stand out is:
Chanel No. 5.
Every year when I was a child, without fail, for their December wedding anniversary, Daddy would carefully wrap and give Mama a small bottle of Chanel No. 5 perfume. Not cologne, mind you, but the real thing -- french eau de parfum. He might have messed up and given her Arpege one year, but Arpege was more for everyday use, not just for special occasions. I probably could still tell you today what it is if I saw a wrapped Chanel No. 5, so distinctive is that box's shape and size. Mama made that bottle last almost the entire year -- she often ran a little short in December if they'd had a particularly social year. She always kept it in the box on her poudre dressing table; it wasn't good for perfume to be exposed to sunlight, she said. When I saw Mama gently and sparingly applying little dabs of Chanel with the glass rod that slipped and clinked inside the bottle, I knew she would soon be dressed to the nines, and that I would have a special babysitter who would bring me little girl treats like bobby pins or Archie comic books. I would also get to have a rare feast of Austex Spaghetti and Meatballs in a can, or a frozen Chicken Pot Pie, or -- heavenliest of all heavenlies -- a Turkey and Gravy TV Dinner with a little chocolate cake dessert in the corner of the aluminum pan! You know, instead of those boring ol' homecooked meals with real meat and vegetables. And cornbread.
As a casualty of adult-onset allergies, fragrance is no longer worn by Moogie. But there was a time, early in our marriage, when Pepper gave me Chanel No. 5. That's when I came truly to understand that he kinda likes me. I probably have that bottle stashed away somewhere. I think I'll go look for it.
And, maybe have a little ice cream.
Why don't you join me?