4: The Scent of a Mother

4: The Scent of a Mother

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Touched by an Angel

The Scent of a Mother

Two things make the women unforgettable, their tears and their perfume.

~Sacha Guitry

A bottle of Shalimar sat upon my mother’s dresser. Right next to it was a signed picture of Jean Béliveau. In his prime, he was the handsome star hockey player for the Montreal Canadiens. Next to her children and husband, Mom’s two favorite possessions were side by side. A simple plastic frame encased the photo. The art deco Shalimar bottle by Baccarat was filled with an exotic fragrance, a blend of night-blooming flowers, vanilla and mysterious musk. The blue glass stopper was Guerlain Paris’s signature. A tidy ribbon encircled the bottleneck, much like the scarves or pearls that often graced my mother’s neck.

Our home was perfumed by Shalimar on a regular basis. I remember being upstairs in my bedroom when suddenly the heady scent wafted, silently but powerfully, into our rooms. I knew Mom was getting ready for an evening with Dad. Often my sister and I would watch her getting ready. Lying across her bed, we watched as she dressed “to the nines.” The finishing touch was a ceremony that never varied. She dabbed on her special scent behind her ears and at the base of her throat. We always giggled when she then stroked the final dab on the most intimate of places. Our giggles turned into full-blown laughter as she said, “You never know who you’re going to meet!” And out the door she swished, making a grand exit and leaving the scent of Shalimar in her wake.

We have continued to laugh through the years. My daughter recounted the first time she was introduced to my mother’s wit and wisdom at the tender age of ten. Very seriously, she watched as her grandmother went through her ritual, passing on advice to the bemused little girl. Her own daughters had squealed with delight when they listened to their great-grandmother’s story, passed down from their mother. And so it continues through the generations. Monsieur Guerlain unknowingly created a different kind of legend, but one of which I am sure that he would wholeheartedly approve.

Mom tried a different scent once. Her new choice was Forever Krystle, popular at the time of the hit TV show Dynasty. The beautiful Linda Evans played the part of Krystle, the second and “nice” wife of oil tycoon Blake Carrington. This flowery perfume was the total opposite of Mom’s classic fragrance, and because it underpowered the personality of my mother, it only lasted a brief time. Forever Krystle was forever no more. Back to the beribboned bottle waiting patiently next to Jean.

My parents’ fiftieth wedding anniversary marked an especially poignant time for us. A surprise party planned by her four children was a huge and emotional success. Old friends came from afar, as did family that had scattered to different parts of the world. We all watched in awe as Mom danced with our father, her great and only love of so many years. The singer crooned their special wartime song, “Yours,” while Dad softly sang to Mom, “Yours till the end of life’s story,” with tears streaming down his face.

After my dad passed, the scent of Shalimar no longer lingered. The bottle remained untouched. Jean’s picture faded. Yet both remained in their place of honor.

Now the four of us sat together, surrounding our mother as she lay quietly in her hospital bed. No scarf, no lipstick, no curls. She was more beautiful than ever.

I bent over her for one last time, and caught a subtle scent. I called my sister over and she too was amazed as the fragrance became stronger. My brother, returning from the coffee shop, was perplexed when he smelled the familiar but still unidentifiable scent. The nurse pulled open the curtain, and sternly asked, “Who has sprayed perfume in here?” My sister and I glanced knowingly at each other.

The scent of Shalimar, the scent to last through the ages, had permeated our entire surroundings. Our mother made the grand final exit, and we could almost hear her say, “You never know who you’re going to meet.”

~Sharlene Walker

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