The Scent of a Mother

10 May

 

mom holding me at beachWhen I was young, it never occurred to me that my mother would grow old someday. She was just my mom—a pretty woman with soft, shoulder length brown hair and a lovely smile. As far as I was concerned, she would be there forever to take care of me. If I was sick in the middle of the night, she would be there to open up the pull-out couch in the living room and let me lie down with her until I fell asleep. Every day when I returned home from school, there would be a snack set out on the table, complete with a folded cloth napkin. After helping me and my brothers with our homework she would then battle it out with us at the piano where we’d whine and cry until we learned to play the B-flat Major scale—and play it well. All this and she still managed to have dinner on the table every night promptly at 6:30.

 

Back then, I thought she was perfect. I loved the smell of her so much that often when she was out running errands and I felt lonely and afraid, I would sneak into her bedroom, open the top drawer of her dresser where she kept her bras (back then she referred to them as her bureau and her brassieres) just so I could inhale the sweet perfume of her clothing. I’d play with her scarves, try on her jewelry and try to decipher the love letters my dad wrote to her when they were dating. She was a beautiful mystery to me and imagining a life without her made my head spin.

 

My mother pregnant with me.

My mother pregnant with me.

When I hit adolescence and my world turned inward, my mother began to embarrass me with her stretchy polyester pants, orthopedic Dr. Scholls shoes and out-of-date haircut. Even the freckles on her forearms made me cringe. I hated that she drove a weird, foreign car that sounded like female genitalia (‘66 Volvo wagon) when everyone else’s mom drove an American-made car. I hated that my mother was so friendly that just for the heck of it would initiate a conversation with anyone she came in contact with. Once, when we were shopping at Sears, I accused her of being overly talkative with the sales clerk just to embarrass me on purpose.

 

My junior high school girlfriends told me I was lucky to have such a mom—that she was the “cool” type of mom—someone who had absolutely no problem answering their questions about boys and sex. At their urging, she would come into my room, sit on my bed and join the conversation.  On hot summer evenings, she’d let us go skinny dipping in the backyard pool until it was discovered that my brother had assembled the neighborhood boys in the yard of the house next door so they could spy on us through the holes in the fence.

 

Mom in the kitchen.

Mom in the kitchen.

My mother wasn’t the perfect mother—the truth is, there’s no such thing. Yet, in every single childhood memory I carry, my mother’s presence is there, supporting me, cheering me on, and loving me with her unconditional and overflowing love. This has always been my truth and more than anything, I hope that I’ve been able to pass this on to my own children.

 

Today, I think about my mother as I wonder how many more Mother’s Days I’ll have to spend with her—ten, maybe fifteen if I’m lucky. I’m sure that when she gave birth to me, she didn’t stop to think that I would grow up to be an adult and have my own family someday. She certainly didn’t imagine herself approaching eighty years old. She simply held my tiny body against her warm chest, inhaling that sweet, powdery baby smell and marveled at the perfection of me, imagining that I’d stay that way forever.

 

The other day, I saw my youngest daughter in our bedroom, holding my pillow against her face.

“Isa,” I asked, “What are you doing?”

She looked up at me with a sheepish grin on her face. “Just smelling your pillow,” she said.

“Why?” I asked.

“Because it smells like you,” she said.  “And it makes me feel safe.”

 

Mom and Isa posing with a painting done by my friend, Melani Guinn.

Mom and Isa posing with a painting done by my friend, Melani Guinn.

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10 Responses to “The Scent of a Mother”

  1. Rossandra White May 10, 2014 at 7:26 pm #

    Oh, dear, you did it again. I am so moved by this. I too remember going into my parent’s bedroom and feeling afraid that they would be taken away. Not death, specifically, just not there. But I never really felt that connection with my mother, it was more of a general fear. I so envy those who “felt” their mother, that closeness, that wanting to always be part of their lives. But through your wonderful heartfelt words I can feel it through you. Thank you.

    • Allegro non tanto May 10, 2014 at 11:00 pm #

      I really treasure the connection I have with my mom. Our relationship isn’t perfect by any means, but we always make a point to express our love for each other.

  2. Elisabeth Kinsey May 10, 2014 at 8:58 pm #

    Wow- what a wonderful tribute! A neat person in your life.

  3. Nanci Alvarado May 10, 2014 at 10:40 pm #

    OH dear, Jessica…that was BEAUTIFUL!!! I secretly kept some of my mom’s clothes after she passed away 10 years ago….every now and then, when I am feeling melancholy, I pull them out of the drawer and bury my face in them….they STILL smell like her…it soothe’s me every time!!!

  4. injaynesworld May 12, 2014 at 9:09 am #

    Lovely, piece, Jessica. Your words touched my heart and brought tears to my eyes. How fortunate you are to still have your mom and still such a beauty. Clearly, it runs in the family.

    • Allegro non tanto May 12, 2014 at 10:01 am #

      Sometimes I forget that I am indeed lucky to still have my mom with me. It’s so easy to take that for granted until it’s too late. xxoo

  5. Becky Green Aaronson May 12, 2014 at 10:46 pm #

    LOVE this, Jessica! Mother-daughter relationships can often be complicated, but you captured the beauty of it on multiple levels. Really beautiful.

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  1. My Mother's Hands » Identity 101: New Creature - May 16, 2014

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