Making Scents

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From the time I was a little boy, fragrance has always been part of my style. When my mother was finishing school and had to be away on certain nights, I’d sneak into her bathroom and spray bit of her perfume to remind me of her. One unintended bonus was when my Dad tucked me in and said I smelled nice. Maybe that’s what planted the seed, this flippant comment, thrown out in the dark of night to fill the silence, as some sweet, flowery magic settled around me. Since then, I’ve always been aware of the power of fragrance, its potency as a memory-conjuror, and the way it makes an experience unforgettable.

Take, for instance, the peony. There are three distinct, if fleeting, moments I recall from childhood, and all come to mind when I smell that flower’s perfume. The first is of a sunny early summer day in our neighbor’s yard. They had a long bed of them, in various shades of pink and white. I stood there, on the other side of a chain-link fence, smelling the fragrance waft through the metal, and reaching out my greedy hands to touch the pristine petals. Somehow, I wanted to become part of that beauty, to inhabit it and experience it and live in it. Mrs. Moyer came over and politely admonished me not to pick any. I’d hoped my admiration would result in a bountiful bouquet given out of the kindness of her heart. As a gardener myself now, I understand her reluctance to be so gracious.

The second memory is of a still day in my parents’ house. I bounded down the stairs and was about to speed out the back door into the sun-lit day when I paused. Alerted by some delicious scent, I looked around and saw a big bouquet of peonies. They filled the room with their exquisite perfume, probably the only thing that could have stopped the rush of a boy running outside – at least this particular boy. I walked over to the flowers and leaned into them, inhaling the richness and closing my eyes as I took it all in.

The third memory is even simpler: I’m standing in Suzie’s yard, feet wet from the rain that had come during the night, and smelling the somewhat-dampened fragrance of the heavy heads of peonies that were bowed down from the water. Nothing more, nothing less. I don’t know why I was there, or what we were doing, but I remember the peonies, and the perfume, and to this moment that scent brings me back to the possibility of a summer day.

Later, many years later, the peony would come to recall our wedding day, the magic of May, and that wonderful moment in the Boston Public Garden.

In a way, that’s the power I try to harness every time I find a new cologne to wear. I want to leave a memory in my wake, to make an impression. Like so much of my life, it’s done to create an effect, to leave someone – anyone – with something that they’ll remember. It wasn’t a particular scent I wanted to align myself with, as that would be dreadfully boring – but rather the connotation of something pretty, of something beautiful. It wasn’t, “That smells like Alan” which I wanted to conjure, it was, “That smells damn good.”

I’ll work on the Alan part later.

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