Wednesday, April 03, 2013

The Perfume Counter

I am standing at a perfume counter. It’s a place I rarely find myself standing for two reasons. One, I’m the kind of girl who likes deals and would rather tear samples from a nail salon’s year old Cosmo than pay full price for a bottle of liquid that will likely evaporate or spoil before I get my money’s worth.  And two, perfume counters rarely give out actual samples anymore, those cute little tubes with the brand name in miniature across their length, and the idea of committing to a signature scent from a few squirts on a thick strip of gourmet paper, seems absolutely irresponsible.

But I have a gift card from my best friend and strict instructions.  So I’m standing at a perfume counter with a lush-lashed lady who is leaning across the polished expanse of counter between us, with just a glance of appropriate Neiman Marcus cleavage. I’ve decided to trust her because she is wearing a somewhat reasonable amount of make-up.  She reaches for my wrists and I extend them obediently, giving in to the inevitability of leaving with a headache, no matter what perfume I purchase.

She dabs my wrists, a different scent for each pulse point, and begins elaborate descriptions. Her words vaporize as the scent on my left wrist transports me to my mom’s little glass tray, on her side of the deep double sink, in their bathroom. Her pearl earrings lay on top of their reflection right next to the pretty bottle of white perfume.  Gardenia. Yes, that’s it. I can’t remember if that’s the actual name or just the flower it’s fashioned after but it makes me smile to remember the summer I saved my strawberry picking money and gave her the smallest bottle for her birthday.

My right wrist conjures my Grandma Felton, my dad’s mom. Her bedroom was always dark and cool, with any light leaking in from the curtained window fighting its way through the dust. I see on the dresser her pink Avon puff, fuzzy and soft, resting on top of the silky white powder, the same silky white powder that would rest on her wrinkled white skin. I would stare up at Grandma Felton’s skin, either while sitting between her and my cousin Christy on the slippery church bench, as she dug into her purse for hard candies, or while kneeling on a kitchen chair pushed up against her sea-foam green counters while stirring sticky melted marshmallows through a bowl of crunching jumping Kellogg’s Rice Krispies.

I will ask my mom if she still wears that perfume. 
I will ask my dad what he misses most about his mom.

I scoot down the counter, nodding my head and dutifully bringing one wrist to my nose and then the other. I want the clerk to know she has done a good job, that she has pleased me. Not because I will buy either one but because the headache will be worth it.


  1. Wow! KSoo. Reading your gorgeous post I was transported back to my mother's mirrored perfume tray (Shalimar was her signature scent) and was able to conjure my grandmother's powder puff (hers rested in a gold topped jar) and all of the feelings and memories that went along with being a little girl in a big girl's world. I could see and smell and feel it all!!!! And I didn't have to get a headache. Such is the power of your willingness to so beautifully render and share your memories with us. Thank you. Love you! J

  2. I say awesome too much, but this was awesome. As usual, it was so rich and so succinct at the same time. I laughed until I was being taken aback, and touched with emotion. Annie

  3. Gorgeous. There's nothing more potent than smell. Thank you!!

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