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Widow’s Row with Too Much Cologne

Smell evokes a time and place.

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In my childhood church, there was a pew known as Widow’s Row. It was the third pew from the front, right-hand side, and you sat there only by invitation.

The row reeked of cologne, as women who were losing their sense of smell put on too much fragrance. Scents popular in the 1960’s — Blue Grass, Chanel №5 — evoke Sunday morning for me. This is the secret of a conversation or blog oriented to age-peers. We can share a frame of reference like a spritz of Chanel №5 from a pocketbook.

I realized it was time to retire when I cracked a joke repeating a line from Woody Allen’s Annie Hall and nobody in the work meeting got the reference. They were all too young. When I then explained the joke, a going-nowhere-fast effort, a woman archly explained that “she didn’t watch anything by Woody Allen.” I wasn’t trying to provoke a cancel-culture conversation, just a reference to a great line from a great movie.

I’ve retired to the Pacific Northwest, but I lived in New York City in the ’70s and 80s, so find common cause with a friend here who moved from metro New York. It could be a family role, profession, or other shared commonality, but everything in part is framed by age. What music is your soundtrack? What movies can you quote? When did you start using a computer in your job? Remember the smell of ditto paper?

I’m a firm believer in Be Here Now and nostalgia has its limited place. But for cultural referents that are the norms of daily life, it’s nice to be with fellow travelers.

As for that diminishing sense of smell, I love the unbidden associations with aromas, and hope to retain them. It helps to attend to the smells we may otherwise ignore. I have been heartened to read about smell therapy, most often in response to Covid.

We can all appreciate the smell of new — new car, new baby. Seasonal smells are part of what transport us into the holiday, whether it is ginger and cinnamon or fresh rain or burgers on the grill. Aroma therapy promotes lavender for calm, peppermint for nausea.

And Sunday morning was burning tallow candles, Luden’s honey and licorice cough drops from my father’s suit pocket, dinner’s pot roast. If you smiled, thank you, fellow traveler.

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2 Responses

  1. SingingFrogPress
    | Reply

    Yes! You’re inspiring all sorts of olfactory memories to wake up in my imagination.

  2. Mary
    | Reply

    Thank You! Skin So Soft, my sister sent me just to evoke memories, now it’s used in MN as mosquito repellant. And now if I want to use a scent, I do it when I will be alone. And makeup, the goal is to look like you don’t use it – Can you imagine trying to understand those concepts when we were teeners/20sumthinns?

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