Thursday, April 06, 2006

In Memoriam

Just this week, I lost yet another of the spunky dames of my family. As I was talking about these ladies with my mother, trying to envision them at their most alive, I realized that scent is one of the strongest emotional triggers. So I present to you an 'olfactive memorial' of these very special women.

Grandma Eleanor and my dad, New Jersey, circa 1947

We lost my grandmother this week. She'd been slipping for a long time, and I like to think that she's happily reunited with my grandfather (after 10+ years), sipping martinis and dancing to Frank Sinatra. She was a vibrant woman, the consummate hostess and an adventuresome traveler. She always brought my sister and I dolls from their trips which were dressed in the region's traditional dress. These mementos sparked my love of travel, and I pay it forward by bringing ethnic accessories to my nieces and nephew from my trips.

Her scent was YSL's Rive Gauche. The aldehydes, lemon and bergamot top notes remind me of her sparkling, bright personality - and the lemon and lime trees she grew in Florida. The rose and jasmine heart are evocative of her ladylike elegance and the santal and oakmoss base remind me of the outdoorsy life she shared with my grandfather, a passionate sportsman.


Auntie Bobbie, New York, 1945

Last summer, we said farewell to my Great Auntie Bobbie. She'd been raised in orphanages along with my grandfather. After growing up with very little, she took a job as a telephone operator and loved to spend her hard-earned money to dress glamorously and lavish gifts upon her nieces and nephews - and later, her great-nieces & nephews (a group I am lucky to be a part of). One of her funny habits was always leaving the price tags on the gifts! :)

Bobbie's signature scent was Shalimar. The name comes from the gardens in Agra where the emperor built the Taj Mahal as a tribute to his departed love. I imagine her reaching for its elegant bottle, shrouding herself with the richly opulent notes - and releasing her inner queen. Like a benevolent monarch, she took care of everyone around her and was adored by loyal friends. We honor her memory still.

Image: Bobbie looking regal on New Year's Eve, 1956

Grandma Berta in the 1980s

My Grandma "Berta" (Roberta) passed away almost 20 years ago from breast cancer. [I am reminded that a number of companies sell products to benefit breast cancer research - stay tuned for a feature in coming weeks.] My mother remembers that "GrammaBerta," as we called her, wore Tabu. Its spicy-sweet, amber musk fragrance probably made her seem much more imposing than her 4'11" stature. This fiery lady never let her small size get in her way - she'd even stand on a stool to whoop my rambunctious uncle!

One other scent I associate with her is apple pie. She made the most beautiful pies for Thanksgiving... and the apple pie emerged from the oven with a perfect, bonnet-like pastry crust. The hot apples were just bathing in cinnamon, rivaled only by the spices lurking nearby in the pumpkin pie. Of course, I had to have a "sliver" of each!

The last "Grand Dame" of my family is still with us, but sadly my Great Aunt Eunice seems to be following the same path as her sister, my Grandma Eleanor. I don't have a picture of her now, but will try to find one soon. She's a lovely, elegant lady - a lover of art, a Francophile (she married a Frenchman and split the year between the Hamptons and Lyon), and took me on my first trip to Europe when I was 16. She's the only person I ever met who could downshift from 5th gear to 2nd on the highway and not notice!

Eunice always smells citrussy and fresh, and I had thought perhaps she wore Roget & Gallet's Extra-Vieille or Annick Goutal's Eau d'Hadrien. Tonight, I found out that her scent is "4711" - a light refreshing cologne that was invented in Cologne, Germany and has been popular for over two hundred years. Like her, it's a true classic.


> One piece of advice to all of us: have professional portraits of yourself taken every few years. It may seem vain at the time, but trust me that your family will cherish them for generations to come.

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What a regal tribute, BC. And a testament to how beauty can help to create a personal signature. Well done!

 
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