It’s known that the nose is our truest sense organ, with scent molecules going straight up and back into the limbic center of our brains. Where we generate emotions and access our core instincts.
I once had a lipstick, purchased in early summer in Madrid, on the swanky Calle Serrano (where, as a college student, I had no business shopping but I did anyway). It was bright pink, like a matador’s socks, and had a floral, make-up-y smell. Probably something like the Indonesian flower ylang-ylang and toxic factory dye.
That lipstick smelled like that last summer in Madrid to me, when I was 21 years old and operating on pure instinct. Me, in short skirts and little heeled shoes, riding the metro, dancing in clubs and (fatefully) learning how to smoke. I see myself in a black sweater, sitting on a barstool, cigarette in my mouth, bobbed blond hair reflected in the crowded bar’s mirrored wall. My bare legs emerging from a white and green polka-dotted skirt. Yeah, that’s an image that recalls my youth.
I kept that lipstick in the glove box of my car for years, ever so often taking a whiff, and remembering.
Fast forward to my 40’s and I’m in my Grandma’s tiny home, at the Country Inn. Her simple apartment almost bare, the patio so tiny, just a stub of concrete with a few sickly-looking potted plants. This for the woman who loved growing things, tending violets, pansies and succulents her whole life. Almost at the end of the road.
I remember giving her a silk dress, a baby blue and pink Indian shift, and trying with great difficulty to help her into it. Arms don’t move into sleeves like they used to. This was my first inclination of what advancing age could be, when someone is unable to dress themselves and prefers instead to dispense with the whole charade. Which Gram did, eventually, spending her days beneath her covers in bed, blissfully naked.
That day, though, I’d been charged with bringing her to her 90th birthday party.
“It’s your birthday Gramma, and we’re going to Mom’s house.”
“My birthday?! How old am I?”
“The big 9-0 Gramma!” And she shook her head in disbelief.
“How’d I get to be that old?” She asked, genuinely shocked.
I helped her get into her loose-fitting floral blouse and black slacks, hung her glasses around her neck on a pearl chain, and found her sweater. But the most important part was yet to come.
She stood in her small bathroom in front of the mirror, took a cherry-red lipstick off the shelf, and began applying it carefully to her lips. The skin of her face was smooth and soft (she’d been religious about using night cream for decades) her eyes forget-me-not blue, her short hair snow white.
After proficiently completing this step, she turned to me and, with a hint of a smile, asked, “How do I look?”
“You look just beautiful Gramma. Now let’s go eat cake!”