It is said that our sense of smell is linked closely to memory, thus certain smells can whisk us back to earlier periods of time in a heartbeat.
The smell of lavender is ingrained in my memory and this is because my maternal grandmother, Minnie Goddard, always smelled of lavender. Her skin, her clothes and even her bedroom, smelled like potpourri.
As a kid, all I remember about Sunday dinner at my grandparents’ house was the menu of pot roast or roast chicken – nourishing yes, nondescript and kind of blah, well yes and nothing that a kid would remember fondly decades later. Dessert was always a Canadian staple – butter tarts. So there are no FOOD smells that would evoke memories of time spent at my grandparents’ house.
But, there are scents … if that makes sense.
As a kid, when I visited my grandparents’ house there were two distinct smells – lavender and liniment. The former was my grandmother who always smelled like lavender and the latter was my grandfather, who, if the liniment didn’t wake up your nostrils, the perpetual cloud of cigar or pipe smoke swirling about him did. Even if he was the type of grandfather who encouraged you to climb up into his lap, (and he was not), who wanted to sit in that cloud of smoke anyway? And, as I write this post, I wonder if perhaps initially the lavender fascination was to combat the liniment and smoke aromas?
So, lavender was a definite improvement – sort of. Lavender scent is pleasing to the nose when you smell it growing in the fields, or in a garden. Just a little whiff of lavender under your pillow can lull you to sleep. But a lot of lavender – maybe not so much. Let’s just say Nanny liked lavender. A lot of lavender. Her nightstand and dresser drawers were stuffed with Yardley soaps that friends or relatives brought years before when they came to visit Minnie for tea, or especially around the time the annual “Ex” (Canadian National Exhibition) was on in Toronto in late August. There were always dainty sachet packets layered between nighties and ahem, what used to be called your “unmentionables” – yes indeed.
As a child, I learned early on about Nanny’s infatuation with the scent of lavender. This was especially true during her working years, due to her fondness for long, leisurely baths in the old clawfoot bathtub. At the end of a long day of standing on her feet at work, then falling asleep on the streetcar and usually missing her stop, she would wearily trudge up the stairs to the second floor where she indulged in “me time” (before that word was fashionable) with a selection of bath salts, soap and perfumed talc or dusting powder in this scent. Then relaxed and smelling of lavender from head to toe, she began to make dinner. Nanny’s nightly ritual was Yardley’s of London Lavender EVERYTHING.
When I became a teenager, she decided a rite of passage for her granddaughter was to gift me with a fancy, ribbon-tied box containing a fluffy powder puff in a round box of dusting powder, soap in a purple wrapper and eau de toilette (a fancy-schmancy translation for “toilet water” or a light cologne) in her favorite scent.
Now, I may have loved Nanny with all my heart, but I really didn’t love lavender. In fact, I thought it was a little too strong to be infiltrating my nostrils all day long – translation: it gave me a headache. But being a gracious girl, I thanked her and smiled sweetly as I would never hurt her feelings. Though she’s been gone 35 years, she never knew the truth.
Happy Grandparents Day if it applies!!!
[Vintage Yardley Lavender products circa 1960s from Pinterest]