Sunday, August 11, 2013

Heaven Scent

 by Anna Campbell

Who is this handsome smiling lady, you may ask.

It's my grandmother, Rosetta Campbell. She looks like she's up to mischief, doesn't she? No surprises there!

Recently I found myself remembering a stack of little things about my grandmother who passed away at the age of 102 a couple of years ago. That was thanks to a workshop I did at a writing retreat outside Melbourne on the power of the senses.

One segment of the workshop was specifically about the power of scent. The girl running the workshop had brought along a stack of old perfume bottles and somehow the combination of smells shot me right back to my primary school self.

Gives you some idea of the power of fragrance, doesn't it? This was as if I'd been airlifted back to the late 1960s and early 1970s. I was my prepubescent self again (now, that's scary!). They say smell goes straight to the most primitive part of our brain - the bit that's still basically lizard. Clearly I am harboring a very fragrant gecko in my head!

These photos are bits and pieces from my current makeup drawer. What I really wanted as an illustration for this blog was a picture of those little purple pots of rouge that Coty used to make. I think my grandmother must have mainlined them. Not only that, she never threw any out, no matter how little rouge was left in them. So when I went through her cupboards at her big old wooden house looking for goodies for my dressing-up fetish, her old makeup came out in bundles.

She also never threw out a perfume bottle so the moment I caught the mixture of scents at this workshop, it was like she was still with me.

The other thing she had in droves was stubs of Revlon's Fire and Ice bright red lipstick. There actually was a stage in my life (you have to forgive the fashion faux pas of the mid-80s!) when I too wore Fire and Ice. And I was most disappointed when it was discontinued in the mid-90s.

Between the rouge and the scarlet lips, I must have been the oddest-looking little girl in Australia but, hey, I was having fun.

I think cosmetics back in the day must have contained much more perfume. I certainly didn't get that overpowering miasma when I opened my bathroom drawers as I did when I found my gran's old stuff. On the other hand, were I to have a grand-daughter, she wouldn't get that immediate memory of my presence from a drift of scent. 

This burst of sense memory awoke a wave of other memories. My parents worked together on our farm so my grandmother spent a lot of time babysitting my brother and me. Rosetta and I were both card-playing fiends and she loved to put on her old records. I was a seriously ungroovy primary school kid too - no rock and roll for me but I knew all the words to Richard Tauber's greatest hits and Gilbert and Sullivan's operettas. Rosetta always made the punishment fit the crime when she came upon me with catlike tread!

By the way, a check of these photos indicates that Rosetta isn't the only one who keeps lipstick stubs!

Thank you for letting me wander down memory lane. Do you have any specific memories associated with smells? Have you ever found yourself completely transported back into your past by a fragrance?


Snrize said...

Can't you smell the scent, when I say the words, 'new box of crayons?' It was a smell that inspired my new book series about an art school. I discovered in visiting colleges with my son that all art schools have a certain smell. It's a combination of crayons, chalks, pastels, ink, oil paints, clay, Gesso, wet canvas and sketch pads. It's the smell of creativity!

Kathleen Bittner Roth said...

Recently, I stepped onto our city's public tram just as a woman stepped off. She smelled like my grandmother! I nearly stumbled into the tram as I tried to catch a glimpse of her. I never paid attention to what scents my grandmother wore, or if it was just soap and shampoo, but there it was and suddenly I was transported back in time, to my gramma's garden, to the rocking chairs beneath her oak tree where she gathered nuts and fed the squirrels out of pie tins. Thanks for reminding me.

Cheryl Leigh said...

Let's see...freshly mowed grass reminds me of my childhood, a warm sea breeze takes me back to a teenage holiday in Noumea, Brut aftershave reminds me of my first boyfriend. I'll stop now. :)

Lovely post, Anna. What a grand age your grandmother lived to! I hope you are still writing your wonderful books at that age for us all to keep enjoying. :)

PJ Ausdenmore said...

What lovely memories, Anna! I can see a lot of you in your grandmother, especially the warm smile and twinkly eyes. I have a feeling she was just as much fun as you are!

My mom's signature scent was Tabu. I'm not sure if it's sold these days but Tabu was still around back in the early 80's when my mom died. For years, a whiff of the cologne in a crowd was like a warm hug from my mom.

Freshly mowed grass takes me straight back to the happy, carefree days of my childhood when the biggest decision we had to make was which swimsuit to put on that day. :)

Louisa Cornell said...

What a lovely post! And I definitely see much of your grandmother in you.

My Mawmaw always wore Sand and Sable. Just a whiff of that scent and I can hear her telling my brothers to get a haircut. LOL

And I think you are right. Makeup and lipsticks have very little scent in them these days. My college makeup drawer was a miasma of scents. These days, not so much.

The scent of camellias always reminds me of home - the house where my Mom still lives. There is a camellia "bush" at the corner of the house that has been growing there for over forty years. It is HUGE, reaching almost to the top of the two story house. We call it our other brother "Bubba" and when it is in bloom you cannot fit your hand between the hot pink blossoms. The air around it is saturated with the scent.

Anna Campbell said...

Snrize, what a great example! The moment I read your first line, I could smell the crayons in my imagination. You're right about art schools having a particular smell!

Anna Campbell said...

Kathleen, it really hits you when you live when that happens, doesn't it? I've got to say I got tears in my eyes the minute I opened the bag of combined scents that the girl was using for her workshop. It was like I was five again! Love reading your memories!

Anna Campbell said...

Cheryl, Brut reminds me of school dances. It was the weapon of choice for teenage boys in my formative years! Thanks so much for saying you enjoyed the post. This one was fun to write. By the way, I still remember that lovely article you wrote on perfumes through history for our romance newsletter here! Thank you for saying such nice things. Actually at 102, I hope I'm well and truly resting on my laurels! ;-)

Anna Campbell said...

PJ, thank you for saying that. My grandmother had a wonderful sense of fun! Oh, I remember Tabu! It was a constant at our school dances like the Brut. I remember the ads of the violinist sweeping the girl in the beautiful dress into his arms. Did you get those in America? I'll see if I can find a link. One of my favorite old-fashioned perfume scents is the Spanish perfume Maja. I loved that!

Anna Campbell said...

Found it! Think I loved it because I played the piano and you can imagine how I liked the idea of a handsome violinist in evening gear sweeping me up into a passionate smooch!

Anna Campbell said...

Ooh, I don't know Sand and Sable, Louisa! Maybe it wasn't available here. It's always a surprise to me how powerful scent memory can be. It bypasses everything else! Love your memories of the camella tree/bush. My mother loved camellias - there's a scene in Midnight's Wild Passion where I talk about camellias. Did that for my mum!

Lisa W said...

Whenever I smell cinnamon it reminds me of my Grandfather. He was a baker back in Holland before he came to Canada and worked in construction. He was retired by the time I was born but his favourite thing to do was bake and he put cinnamon in everything. Every time we visited there was always fresh baked goods waiting for us. He passed away 16 years ago and I still picture myself in his kitchen. I try to make some of the things he did but he never used recipes so it's hard to get things to taste the same.

Anna Campbell said...

Lisa, what a beautiful memory! Cinnamon is such a delicious smell, isn't it? For me, it brings back when I first moved to Sydney in 1994 and I used to pass a French bakery on the way home from work. It was a fairly grotty area but suddenly you'd be outside the bakery and smelling cinnamon and vanilla (one of my favorite smells) and you'd feel like you were on the left bank in Paris! It's funny how we can never quite recreate those family recipes, isn't it? I've tried a few of my mum's and they taste good, but not quite as good. Must be all the love they put into the cooking, huh?

Connie said...

Well, well, well, Miss Anna, I can certainly tell this lovely lady is your grandmother as I can truly see the resemblance. I had to chuckle at the Fire and Ice lipstick too. I remember my aunt wearing that shade and I’m betting they still sell it today.

I don’t know about smells but pictures of things like a pineapple upside down cake really takes me back to when my Mom used to make them. And when I see fresh figs, I always think of my grandmother who had a fig tree in her yard.

It’s little things that bring back big memories.

Anna Campbell said...

Connie, I had to laugh. After I wrote this piece I was channel skipping on TV and came across a doco about lipsticks. Apparently when Revlon discontinued Fire and Ice, the outcry was so loud, they had to reinstate it! Hey, my grandmother had a fig tree in her back yard. It was fabulous for climbing!

Janine said...

Every time I cut into a potato, I am reminded of my grandmother. My grandmother was a country lady with huge gardens and we used to sell produce on the road in front of her house. I'll always remember when she would let me go into the root cellar with her to pick out the potatoes for dinner and I always helped cut them up. Even to this day, I think of her when I wash and cut into a potato.

Anna Campbell said...

Janine, what lovely memories. I always think of my grandmother when I hear her favorite songs. She was a very good amateur pianist and loved all sorts of music. She introduced me to a lot of classical pieces like Moonlight Sonata that are still favorites.

Tona said...

The smell that brings me back in time is Chanel #5, my mom's perfume. BTW Anna, my grandmother is right now 101 years young, she is still great. They are amazing aren't they?
I know yours is in Heaven now, but she is still watching over you, and you look a lot like her! :)

Anna Campbell said...

Tona, thank you so much! I was actually looking for her wedding photo - she looks like the perfect 1920s bride with her drop-waist dress and cloche hat - but I couldn't find it. 101 is amazing! So glad you've still got your grandmother on this side of the great divide. I love the smell of Chanel #5, especially when someone's been wearing it for a while. What a lovely scent to have an association with!

Pat Cochran said...

Lots of great memories of the various scents
from my childhood home: the gardenia bush
outside the living room window, the grass
and the pine trees on a warm summer day,
the marvelous odors of Mother's Baked Chic-
ken Cacciatore as it cooked. (She was a His-
panic woman who so could cook anything!)
Thanks for reminding me of the Chanel #5
which my mother and several of the aunts
wore and which I eventually wore, too!

Kaelee said...

I love the smell of fresh baked bread. I grew up in a time when most people made their own bread. Bread reminds me of my granny, my mom and oddly enough a bachelor uncle who made his own bread until he was 95 years old or so. I also love the smell of turkey roasting and the memories that coma along with this are too numerous to mention.

I haven't worn a lot of perfume as my husband is allergic to it. My Mom wore White Shoulders and I am not sure if I would recognize it now or not. Brut and Old Spice I would recognize as a lot of guys wore them when I was young.

Anna Campbell said...

Pat, if ever we meet, I'm going to give you a big hug just to smell your Chanel #5! LOL! Love that perfume. Oh, what a lovely list of memories. I can remember our house full of the smell of my mother's roast beef. I've never had anything to match it anywhere!

Anna Campbell said...

Kaelee, the mention of Brut had me back at my school dances on a very hot summer night in Australia when I was a teenager. And if it wasn't Brut, it was Old Spice. Oh, I love the smell of fresh bread baking. I love the smell of most baking. I made chocolate chip cookies a week or so ago and the house smelled like heaven!

Anna Campbell said...

Thanks for a great day at Tote Bags 'n' Blogs today. I've really enjoyed reading everyone's reminiscences! See you next month when I have a new book to tell you about!