Mother’s Worth

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My mother smelled good.

Most of her life, she worked as a waitress and brought home the good smell of the kitchen with her. With her limited education, waiting tables was one of  the few jobs she could get. After she married my father, he started his own business as an electrical contractor and used the G.I. Bill to attend college at night. Mother’s paychecks weren’t much help, but her tips were. She made good money that way.

For a while she worked at a Mexican restaurant, and her uniform was a white blouse and a black taffeta skirt. When she would come home from work, the aroma of corn tortillas clung to her clothes. I remember hugging her around her legs when she was wearing that taffeta skirt. Those two hungers –food and love – intermingle in those memories, and I can’t eat enchiladas or tacos now without thinking of her.

Mother’s perfumes, though, are more important than the food smells, as far as my odor-evoked memories are concerned. One of her favorite scents was White Shoulders. It has always been one of my favorites, too, although it doesn’t smell the same on me as it did on her. The notes of the perfume play out differently based on each person’s body chemistry, but the melody is recognizable.

Mother’s signature scent was a perfume by Worth. It was called Je Reviens, but she always called it Worth. It launched in 1932 and was immensely popular during the 1940s.

She said that when she wore it, men would stop her on the street to ask her what perfume she was wearing. I’ve heard other women say they experienced the same thing, but I’ve always wondered about that.

In my mother’s case, one or two men may have stopped her just because of the perfume. Most, I think, just wanted to talk to the beautiful, curvaceous woman they saw walking down the street, and that fine smell gave them an excuse.

The original perfume became increasingly difficult to find over the years and was resurrected as Je Reviens Couture in 2004, the year my mother died. It has been reformulated, so it’s not the same. The original Je Reviens, like all perfumes made prior to World War II, used only natural ingredients.

Before mother died, she lived with my brother, so I spent time with him after her death. One evening he called me into his room. In his walk-in closet, he had a drawer of keepsakes, one of which was an empty bottle of Worth oil that mother had kept. He carefully opened it, we each took a whiff of the lingering scent, and then he closed it up again. I still remember that night of laughter and tears and the two of us, standing in a closet, taking hits off a perfume bottle, trying to resurrect mother from a bottle labeled Je Reviens, the French for “I will return.”

 

29 thoughts on “Mother’s Worth

  1. I wore White Shoulders for years. I dated a guy who loved Shalimar. I can’t smell that perfume without thinking of him. For my Mom, my memories are of strudels and kiffels. Yummy smells.

  2. My mom: freshly baked bread – cardamon or cinnamon swirl usually. She was a great cook & baker, even with diabetes when she couldn’t eat sweets, still baked them for dad & four kids. It’s funny, I can see her perfume bottle and can’t remember the name! Bet I will by the end of the day!

    • I love the smell of freshly baked bread, too. There were a few years when we lived in Alaska that my mom did a lot of baking. We’d come home to jelly-filled donuts or cinnamon bread. Delicious. Let me know when you remember the perfume.

  3. So beautiful .. taking the lid off the perfume, smelling and then recapping it. My Mum died when i was quite young but i have the crystal decanter that she stored her perfume in, sometimes i do the same thing (off and on with the cap) and even though it is Very old now, i can still get a whisp of her scent in there.. this was a lovely post.. thank you.. c

  4. My mother used Jergens Lotion (the original cherry-almond fragrance). I buy a bottle of it every once in a while and am reminded of her. Smells often trigger wonderful memories.

  5. Ah yes!The power of those memories! Perfumes sadly are just not the same anymore, so astringent. My Grandmother always wore Blue Grass which is smewhat similar. Anyone remember Revlon’s Moondrops, now unavailable but fondly remembered.

  6. The ending made me really sad, almost tearful, which I’ve never had from reading a blog before. The final smell, like a final goodbye almost. I’m not sure if it’s supposed to be sad or not but it’s also very beautiful. Lovely post, sorry about your mother, though :<

    • Thank you for your comment, olletron. The laughter and the tears are all mixed up in the story and in my memories. I have lots of stories I remember about my mother that still make me laugh, but then sometimes they make me cry, too.

  7. My mother likes Blue Grass by Elizabeth Arden. I absolutely love that fragrance and think it’s the most beautiful of them all…I know it’s because she wears it. Many of my perfumes are on empty to near empty now, so if Santa thinks I have been good enough, perhaps I’ll get some more.

    • It’s amazing what that association between love and scent does to us. I enjoy wearing perfume but you have to be careful these days because it seems there are more and more people who are allergic to them. Maybe it’s the synthetic ingredients in the newer ones.

  8. ahaha, you’re mom’s beautiful and poised. my siblings and I also remember our mother by her smell. she was also more poised than all of her six daughters, dang. she could carry a dress better, too. always better, dang. oh, well…

    it is strange, poised and wonderful mothers who bring out uneasy, stiff and awkward offsprings like us, hoho. don’t you think so, ms. yearstricken? 🙂 😉

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