Monday, February 26, 2007

It Has a Smell

Mum always had the best smell.

When I was a kid and mum was still a working nurse, I would often stand beside her meager dressing table, assorted with the humblest of talcum powders, perfumes, and lotions, and would admiringly watch as she methodically adorned herself for work. Clad in a crisp two-piece nursing uniform (only ever white or light pink) that she bought from Sears, she would initiate her modest beauty ritual.

She always began by gingerly proceeding to pull back her long, silky and slightly wavy black hair into an elegant bun. As she combed her hair to remove non-existent tangles with one of our many fine-toothed combs (we never used hair brushes for some reason), I would play with the brown and beautifully designed clip that she wore to hold up her chignon (I like the word chignon, I rarely get to use it). It often looked to me like a pretty insect with wings. Mum would commonly hum or sing while she got ready, sometimes I would sing along or just listen.

Once her tresses were finely combed, she would kindly ask me to pass back the clip (at which point I would stop forcing the insect from doing gymnastics on the dressing table). The next step in the regimen was to set her face (because “nurses should appear decent for their patients”) and this would start with an ample application of Nivea cream for moisturizing, followed by smoothing in some light chocolatey-coloured foundation that smelled quite nice.

If the foundation had a lovely fragrance, the next step smelled even better. Mum would sprinkle some Timeless talcum powder that she purchased from Avon, into her hands and gently massage the velvety-soft dust onto her face and neck. She smelled like heaven incarnate. I would often make fingerprints in the remnants of powder that accidentally were sprinkled onto the table and then walk my fingers along my cheek, leaving a trail of white prints on my brown face. A powder puff would then gently be dabbed on her face to even out any creases or blotches. A little Vaseline would afterward be glossed onto Mum’s lips (so as to avoid chapping “not for showing off”). For the final touch, she would spray a little scent from Avon on her wrist and then softly touch her wrist to her neck.

The best part of the whole ritual was the embrace at the end, where I would inhale the scent of her neck and face. The end of the ritual also quite sadly meant that Mum had to leave for her evening shift and that my brother and I would only see her again in the morning rush before school. Sometimes in the evenings, we missed her so much that we would take to smelling her housecoats, just to remember what being loved smelled like.

It smelled like warmth.


  1. Commenting because I lost my own Mum recently. She used Imari from Avon. I'm going to buy some so I remember how she smelled. Funny the details you latch on to when you lose your Mum. These blogs about your own Mum are helping me and my aching heart. Thank you.

  2. Mimi, My sincere condolences on the loss of your mother. There's nothing worse than losing a mom. Imari was a lovely fragrance, I remember it well. It's so clear how much your mother meant to you. Thank you so much for your beautiful comments Mimi. You touched my heart. It's almost been a year and a half since I lost my Mum and what everyone says is true: it doesn't get easier and the hurt never leaves but you learn to cope. Hang in there, you'll find your way. And you're right about the details we latch on to after losing our mothers. I keep jumping into memories and exploring experiences, words, places, feelings etc. I've never realized that I had such a deep treasure trove of experiences with Mum to draw from. I'm so honoured that my words and experiences can bring you some measure of comfort. Feel free to drop a comment or email any time.

    Much love and hugs to you Mimi.


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