was wearing Evening In Paris perfume the other day. The scent of it
instantly reminded me of Mom; I haven't smelled Evening In Paris since
we lost her, yet its fragrance transported me back to my childhood
and to the Mother's Day when I spilled a precious bottle of it.
To me, when I was a little girl, my Mom was an angel, a goddess, a
beautiful lady who didn't say "perfume," as did her elder sisters,
Aunt Marti and Aunt Mae. She said "fragrance." I wanted to be just
If I can only make myself look like her, I thought, maybe I can become
her -- I could sometimes be found clumping around in her high heels,
scrunching my toes into a ball in an unsuccessful attempt to keep
my feet from sliding all the way down into the pointy toes.
She had beautiful hats, too, which I dearly wanted to try on, especially
the ones with veils, but I couldn't reach them all the way up on the
hall closet's top shelf where they perched on faceless wooden heads.
particular Mother's Day, I sneaked into forbidden territory -- my
parents' bedroom -- to practice becoming Mom. I intended to apply
to my face the contents of various tubes, jars and bottles of lady
stuff, using cupsful of red and brown pencils, of fat and skinny brushes.
All these tempting items lived on her dressing table and I had watched
her use them so expertly that you couldn't tell which eyebrow hairs
were hers and which were pencilled in.
I can remember smearing her lipstick across my mouth; some color actually
made it inside the lip lines. I attacked her huge pink container of
powder, and its fuzzy puff made a scented pink cloud as I vigorously
pummeled my face with it.
Standing regally in its prominent position on a special shelf above
the dressing table was the cobalt blue bottle of Evening In Paris
perfume, her favorite. Dad had given it to her that morning for Mother's
In my zeal to become Mom, I didn't notice that each time I reached
for another Momifying cosmetic, the dressing table jiggled and the
Evening In Paris bottle wobbled precariously closer to the shelf edge.
Unaware of the bottle's movement, I gave a frightened start when it
came crashing down, striking the glass tabletop.
The fragile bottle smashed into a million blue shards; everything
was in smithereens except the silvery stopper. In a frantic effort
to stop the perfume from cascading over the table's edge and onto
the carpet where a reminder stain might last forever, I panicked,
clutching at the wet pile of broken blue glass and gashing my fingers.
I can still feel the sting of the perfume as it flowed over the new
cuts, and onto the carpet.
The concentrated scent was heavy, more like a year in Paris than an
evening. It no longer smelled the way it did when Mom wore it, when
it became a part of her, the graceful, beautiful part. The sound of
glass shattering plus that heavy odor traveled downstairs reaching
my parents. Ever after, Dad called that scent Essence of Mischief.
It was also the first of many occasions when Mom said she hoped I'd
one day have a daughter of my own just like me. I didn't know what
she meant by that until I had one.
it comes to Mother's Day presents, my daughter and I are alike, just
as Mom hoped. Sometimes it seems impossible to please a Mom with Mother's
Day gifts, no matter how much you love her. Mine preferred the flawed
presents I made when I was little, like the flowered apron with the
pockets accidentally sewn shut and no ties to go around her waist.
She used safety pins to hold it on.
Or the year I made an artsy, colorful collage using canned food labels
and nobody knew what was inside the cans without labels to tell them,
not even when they shook the tins next to their ears in an effort
to identify the contents by sound. Meals got all mixed up and Cling
peaches sometimes took the place of stringbeans at dinner. Once we
had stewed tomatoes for dessert. The only canned contents we were
sure of was tuna fish, though Dad thought it could've been cat food.
She loved the Mother's Day card I made with photo cutouts of the heads
of my father, sister and self, even though she later had to try to
match the heads with all the pictures of leftover torsos that remained
in her big blue quilted photograph box. My sister, the white sheep
in the family, had made the flawless box for Mom the year before.
When I was old enough to earn money to buy Mother's Day presents instead
of making them, they no longer pleased Mom. No matter how she tried
to hide her disappointment, I can still see the fixed smile on her
face as she opened up her Ginsu knife, "the only kitchen knife she'll
ever need," the ad had said. What she really wanted was a pair of
She had the last Mother's Day laugh years later, when my adult daughter
gifted me with a pair of white gloves, not in my size but in her own.
Since they didn't fit me, she kept them. I suspected, by the merriment
in their eyes as they exchanged glances, that there had been a conspiracy,
because they both knew that what I really wanted was a Ginsu knife.
It's almost Mother's Day again and I've already received a priceless
gift -- from an unknown someone wearing the fragrance, Evening In
Paris. For one shining, vivid moment, a stranger gave back to me my
Who could ask for anything more?
In Cactus" 2002 Column