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The Morning After the First 2020 Presidential Debate and

A TGB READER STORY: About a Scent

By Brenda Verbeck

The ability of a scent to stir a memory is an amazing thing. And it can be an immediate trigger for evoking the feelings associated with an event.

I have never used Coty’s Emeraude, but having been the victim of overzealous perfume sales people in stores like Bloomingdale’s I’ve been hit with it from time to time. Actually, it’s an indelible imprint in my brain, as well as on my olfactory equipment.

When I was a teenager, I spent summers at my aunt’s bungalow colony in Rock Hill, New York. It was adjacent to another small town called Glen Wild and I became part of a small group made up of locals and a few of us who were summer kids. The local boys had cars or trucks and it was great fun to go driving around the country roads in the evenings.

On this particular evening, when I was probably around 13 or so, we passed an accident. Clearly it had just happened. The car was off to the side of the road at a crazy angle. The people in the car, I think there were four of them, were lying helter skelter.

We backed up and got out of the cars, running to see if they needed help. They did. This was on a pretty much deserted back road, not close to any homes and remember, this was around 1949 – well before cell phones were even a concept

I could see that one of the men was bleeding from his ear. Having had a course in first aid as part of my high school curriculum I knew that it meant that he had a fractured skull. The others seemed mostly dazed though there may have been bruising, contusions, what have you. But we had no idea. We were just a bunch of kids wanting to do the right thing.

So we somehow got them into our cars and drove them to Monticello Hospital. The one woman was in the same car I was in and she absolutely reeked of a strong perfume. Never one for strong perfumes, which tend to give me a headache, I felt engulfed, trapped by this overwhelming aroma. And I also felt very sad. I was worried about the man with a probable skull fracture and I also felt very helpless.

We had no idea what happened to them after we dropped them off at the emergency entrance, but that scent stayed on my clothes for days, and in my nostrils forever. I identified the scent on one of my forays through a department store soon after that, probably Namms in downtown Brooklyn.

Wherever I am and someone is wearing it, my nose knows, and it evokes an immediate response of sadness.

Fortunately, few people today, at least in the world I inhabit, wear scents out of respect for the many who have allergies, and lighter scents, generally, seem to have become more popular; so it has not assailed me for a long time, but I know that one whiff of Emeraude puts me on a dark country road, feeling sad and helpless. Funny that.

* * *

[EDITORIAL NOTE: Reader's stories are welcome. If you have not published here or not recently, please read submission instructions. Only one story per email.]

Comments

Interesting story. I've read that fragrances, odors, smells all serve as particularly strong cues for memory.

While I have lost my ability to smell after a stroke I do have the memory of our school nurse. Bless her heart Bea taught those desiring to become nurses, not to wear heavy scents, she did not practice what she taught. :-) I've no idea the brand she wore.

Might be kind of odd but the smell of nail polish remover evokes long ago, warm and happy memories sitting with my very young mother.

Indelible experience! Good kids.
I remember the name Emeraude but not the scent.
Faith

Anyone remember Jungle Gardenia? Liz Taylor supposedly wore it. Potent stuff. I applied just one tiny dab. (Carried gardenia bouquet at my wedding.) My mother-in-law, however, decided she like it too and started wearing it -- seemingly a bottle at a time. Ugh. Totally ruined it for me. The last scent I wore with any regularity was Calyx, a light, green scent. But that was probably before I retired. Any persistent scent now makes my sinuses go crazy.

A parent walked into the elementary school where I worked carrying a warm Cinnamon Crumb Coffeecake. My mom used to make the same coffee cake. What a wonderful memory came back.

Funny thing. My Emeraude experience is exactly different. The bottle I have now is the last one my mother had. It was on her dressing table when I emptied her apartment out last year. My mother used to wear it often, and I borrowed some from her one morning in my senior year of high school. I sashayed into the cafeteria, and at the lunch table, waved my wrist under the nose of a boy I liked, asking him, "Do you think it’s too strong?" He swooned. Reader, I married him.

Beautiful writing I am transported with you.

Luci

Great story, sad, true, mysterious. As someone else wrote, you were "good kids."
And thanks for the good writing.

The one-room elementary school I attended had hardwood floors. The floors were oiled every summer as a sort of waterproofing for the coming winter. The pleasant odour of that oil on wood never fails to transport me back to September mornings 75 years or so ago.

I loved this story about young people Doing the Right Thing.
And just yesterday, I got on an elevator that had apparently just been exited by someone wearing heavy scent. The smell was like an arrow piercing my brain -- so painful, my stomach flipped a little. I immediately thought, "Oh no, Emeraude. Do they still make that?"

I remember cloying perfume and some that were quite nice. But I no longer wear any and I can’t think of any friends that do either. They make such wonderful soaps and body lotions today that there is no need.

The scent of Canoe brings back my favorite boyfriend. The scent of chicken and dumplings conjures my grandmother, who stood over the stove, stirring the pot. I miss her - and her dumplings!!

Such wonderfully evocative writing! You took us with you on that summer evening. I, too, am averse to strong scent——one if the benefits of being quarantined is not being exposed to other people's choices.

Claudia, You made me laugh with your story!

Thank you, both for a great beginning to the day.

My husband and I were talking about this very thing yesterday! The aroma of apple tarts brings me back to autumn days getting off the school bus and walking through the front door just as our mom was taking some fresh out of the oven for us.

The perfume stories bring a memory of giving my mother-in-law, grandma, and great aunt a ride to a baby shower one Sunday afternoon years ago. As each one entered the car clutching their handbags and wearing their Sunday best, pearls and all, the scent of Estée Lauder became increasingly potent. It so happens it was the perfume of choice for all three, and that scent graced my car for some time!

I spent summers in Rock Hill, too (at Lakewood House) and recall a neighbor there who had a specific perfume that gave me an instant headache. I never learned what it was. I still suffer when audiences at entertainment venues over-do their perfumes and colognes. I am so dizzy when I leave that I have to hold onto the walls until I get into the fresh air! Thanks for taking me back to my teen years in the Catskill Mountains.

What a compelling piece. So evocative. I've been on that road. In West Virginia. Thank you, Brenda Verbeck, and Ronni.

My family lived on the California coast when I was five to seven and I still can conjure some fragrances I've rarely smelled in nearly 80 years since. Eucalyptus in particular comes to mind.

Otoh, I spent a lot of time immediately outside the WTC ruins after the 9/11 attack. The stench was constant, invasive. Mercifully, an expert noted on a local public radio broadcast, It's not what you think. I chose to believe her. Burning computers and.printers and other office equipment would have been enough.

Then one December day the fires stopped burning and the stench went with them. I thought I'd never forget it. In fact, I've never been able to dredge up the memory, not even a trace.
————

To dfisher:
I, also, remember that smell of the burning site of the World Trade Center. My husband’s company had let go 3,000 of their staff because the company had lost so very many clients in the W.T.C. and he was out of work. We had nothing to do in October, 2001 and so took the train in to NYC to walk around the fenced off, smoking, and stinking site (sorry, it WAS what you thought it was). We were joined by other walkers, all bearing witness to the tragedy, making the awful circular pilgrimage around the fencing. There was one spot, where, by climbing on top of a mailbox and then across some debris, you could look down into that smoking, tragic pit. Strangers helped each other up, many crying as we looked down. An elderly woman (80s) wanted to see. Two strong men lifted her up and then back down. That smell was wretched. It was death of a most pitiless kind.

Sometimes in the summer, I’d catch a faint “mossy” scent in the water while showering. I’d be instantly transported to the greenhouses my father worked in when I was a small child.

Youth Dew by Estée Lauder was my mother’s perfume. Although I never really liked it, I enjoy being reminded of her if I get a whiff of it.

If I remember correctly, I thought Emeraude was a less-expensive copy of a more expensive perfume, was it Shalimar?

I always found Youth Dew, by Estee Lauder a cloying smell and it reminded me of a friend who always wore it and also David Jones department store. As soon as I walked in the door I could hit me.
I know I'd recognise the smell of my older brother's school book covers which were either oiled or waxed, a true smell from another era.

Nice story!

My grandmother wore a carnation scented perfume. I loved it and each time I would leave her and have to go home (200 miles away), I would dab some on my wrist and get smell her on the trip home.

My mother's signature scent was Opium. She was careful about how much she applied and I never thought she overdid it.

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