Friday, July 15, 2011


I know I’ve mentioned before that my Shopping Gene got left out at birth.   If not for a sale now and then in the Lane Bryant catalog, I wouldn’t have a rag to my name.    And a MALL---I wince when I write that word, for it affects me like it sounds---like PALL and MAUL and FALL and GALL---any of the rhymes which connote unpleasant things.

But last week, we took Sweetpea to a lovely little playground inside a m***.    It was huge, with a thick, rubber carpet, nice comfy benches all around, and several smooth, safe things to climb on and drive and slide down, with wonderful puzzles ranged all around the wall, just at child-height.

And sitting there in the cheerful small chaos of two dozen little ones, I caught a fleeting whiff of yesterday, something so unmistakably linked with other days, other travels, that I sucked in great gulps of the familiar scent, like I’d just emerged from an underwater swim.

That leather/plastic/powder/Woodhue/Coppertone scent was right THERE as I tried to soak it up, thinking I must be dozing off in the sunny comfort, the chatter of small voices, the after-lunch lethargy of a busy morning.    And in a few moments it was gone---perhaps wafted away down the hall in a mingling of perfumes, of the breaths of expensive stores, of ladies fresh from the Club and the Pool and the Spa.    It was all those things, and none, for it was a scent of ITSELF, from fifty years past.

It was the indescribable scent of the little square chunky SAMSONITE train case of my teens, with all the fresh shiny nylony lining in that perfect golden beige, and the pale buff mother-of-pearl outsides.    And, though my own train travels had been limited to riding from home to Memphis and back, just to shop for the day, “train case” it was---exotic and elegant and the Audrey Hepburn in my Jane Withers world. 

We had the whole set, and they were perfect for our family:   Mother and Daddy shared the BIG suitcase, I had the second size, Baby Sis’ little shorts and shirts and playsuits just fit in the smallest one.   

 Mother and I put all our toiletries, rollers, hairbrushes, suntan lotion, and any other small needs in the nice almost-cubical sturdy kit with the neat flip-up-lid-with-mirror.   

The arranging of the unyielding SQUARE rigidity of the luggage and the cases of canned goods always caused Daddy about a three-cuss packing of the trunk, along with the bags of groceries and toys and beach necessaries.   We always got a motel with a “kitchenette” in anticipation of getting enough crabs for a “boil,” for aside from the one big night that we went out for a seafood dinner, we ate almost all our meals in the motel.  

Then  the little train case and the games-and-colors-case for Sis in the backseat with us girls, most times with a case of Pride of Illinois corn beneath our feet, and off we went.

And I LOVED that little train case---I’d gently click the latches over and over, just to look in when it was filled, and sometimes I’d raise the lid just a fraction, just to lean down and smell that overwhelming scent of the extraordinary, the not everyday, the going-places.   There was a sweet aura of mystery to that clean, fresh, one-of-a-kind mingled scent which accumulated beneath that magical lid.  
Everything in its place, captured in the most cunning little shirred-garter things all around the sides, with the shining fabric clutching the long-ago fragrance of every item.

We pack now, in soft zippery bags which sling over a shoulder, contour to fit a trunk or beneath a plane seat, roll along neatly behind our quick airport strides, and it’s JUST NOT THE SAME.   They smell of poly-something, and nothing-in-particular, unless the Listerine got loose, or maybe the little purple flask of CROWN, with the accumulated odors of airport gates and passing strangers and stale coffee, and will never have the fleeting, scrumptious, faraway-place allure of that clunky, elegant old Samsonite.

Et Encore----tres chic, non?

Any elusive, illusive, evocatively  memorable scents which conjure, conjure?


Bellwether Vance said...

I KNOW that case!! Except mine is a medium blue. There is a smell, a bygone era -- pancake makeup, and rosewater. I gave my case to my daughter when she needed a carrier for her tubes of oil paint and brushes. Those smells are far too assertive for scents merely evocative -- and now I love THAT smell even more. Turpentine, linseed, undug pigments.

DearHelenHartman said...

I just bought a blue one - with sparkles - a few weeks ago in pristine condition. They are so fun.

Justabeachkat said...

Isn't it strange, yet wonderfully soothing how certain smells immediately flood us with memories?! Love it.

Happy weekend hugs,

Caro said...

There is a deep toffee brown one in our upstairs closet right now. Don't know what they are made of but it still smells the same as 40 yrs ago ;-)

Southern Lady said...

I loved this, Rachel. Every now and then I get a whiff of something that takes me back to my kindergarten "cloak room" and the smell of wet little rain boots and raincoats hung neatly from the pegs. I want it to linger, but it's only a whiff and then it's gone ... and can only be conjured in my mind, along with the memories.

RobinfromCA said...

What a wonderful memory this evokes! My mom had the white set too and I loved the train case the best. It always had the faint scent of my mom's Channel No. 5 in it. The larger cases were filled with clothes but the train case...trinkets like my mother's jewelry and treasures like lipsticks and nail polish. Magic for little girls! I think the sense of smell brings back memories like nothing else can. As Bob Hope would have said..."Thanks, for the memories."


Kim Shook said...

I had a forest green one - with the matching medium suitcase to go to college with. When I started using is for stage make-up, the frangrance got even more interesting!

Beautiful post, Rachel. I could see that motel kitchenette, smell the Coppertone and hear the click of the latches!

Tonja said...

I had the green one as well. How I loved that case. And, actually I just got rid of it when we moved to the Creekhouse, even though I had not used it in ages. Mine had little pockets, but also strips of covered elastic to hold the bottles upright. I would arrange and rearrange till I found the perfect bottle to fit each one. My 'scents' were of Youth Dew, and Diorissimo. And, pressed powder, and then, Merle Norman. What memories.

You know, God gave us such wonderful senses. Isn't it strange how just one sniff of a familiar scent can take you immediately back to where you smelled it and when you smelled it. You actually relive it...if for just a few seconds.

As usual, Rachel, you take my soul to wonderful places every time I read your words. Thank you, my friend.