Loyalty is a well-known characteristic of Southerners, and just as they are loyal to china patterns and sororities, Southern ladies are also deeply devoted to their perfumes. Our signature scents speak more about us than who our people are, because while we can’t choose our relatives, good breeding teaches us to take great care when selecting our perfume.
If your family has been in the South long enough to have had a cannonball-landing-on-the-front-porch story, then chances are, your great-great (etc.) granny dabbed a little bit of vanilla behind her ear while she was baking a pound cake, just before Pa came in from plowing the field. Generations of Southern women, who have perfected the art of flirting, have known that after the stomach, the way to a man’s heart is through his nose.
Smelling good isn’t just for romance. When returning home from college, my son scoops me up and always comments, “Mmm you smell good!” He could be relating what he smells to his favorite meals or the perfume I wore when I would hold him and read, “The Little Engine That Could.” Whatever it is he detects, it always makes me feel good that he notices.
Women world-wide love to smell good, but Southern ladies have to put more thought and effort into the process because we’re under pressure to compete with our intoxicating environment of magnolias, gardenias and peach blossoms. Training us early, my generation started out on pink bottles of Love’s Baby Soft, then moved on to sneak spritzes of our mother’s Charlie and Shalimar. My two grandmothers are not only eternally linked to their signature toilet waters, which cracked me up as a child, but also to the scents of their soaps. One was Ivory, the other Dove.
Wanting to be unique and not smell like every other woman at the PTA meetings, I shunned the ultra-popular Channel no. 5, and instead opted for Channel no. 22, therefore making me a wild rebel. Then, they stopped making it. I don’t know why, but I couldn’t find it anywhere.
While I conducted the very important search for a new scent, my friend Mary Sue gave me a gift basket filled with fun little trinkets, and amongst the pens, candles and candies, she included a spray bottle of cologne. I recognized it as being one of the inexpensive drugstore sprays, but wasn’t picky, so I tried it and loved it. A hint of cinnamon, vanilla and something else I couldn’t identify — it was heavenly. Almost like a warm cookie.
I got in the habit of spritzing on just a little bit of the cookie concoction every morning, and people around me went wild. I’d never had so many compliments on my perfume and total strangers would ask me what it was. I didn’t try to put on airs, and openly admitted it was an inexpensive drugstore spray. Everyone was very impressed at both my delightful aroma and down-to-earth frugality.
Seeing Mary Sue at a bridal shower, I had to tell her how much I loved the cologne she had included in my gift basket, but she had no idea what I was talking about. “I never give perfume to other people because it’s such a personal choice.” She explained. “I’m sure you just forgot.” I told her. “It was a plastic bottle about this high, with a picture of a flower on the front.” I reminded her.
Mary Sue had a strange look come over her face, then as good friends do, discreetly leaned over and whispered in my ear, “That wasn’t perfume. It was air freshener.”
“Oh, dear God in heaven, help me now and save me from myself and my poor eyesight!” Mary Sue and I laughed so hard we almost spilled our little silver teacups of green sherbet punch.
I’ve finally settled on a new signature scent and only purchase it from a reputable cosmetic counter while wearing my glasses to ensure its authenticity. When my son returns from college, he tells me how good I smell, and also raves about how my powder room smells like warm cookies.
This story first appeared on AL.com in the Mobile Press-Register, The Birmingham News, The Huntsville Times and The Mississippi Press. Click HERE to see it at AL.com.
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