A SCENT MEMORY: The Blue Sweater
I stood before the mirror and studied my reflection. God I hated having to find something to wear to these last-minute, impromptu dinners-with-friends. The black dress was wearable, thank goodness, but it needed something to liven it up. A nice chain, perhaps. Or a scarf to add a little color. Remembering a fine silk turquoise scarf that I had packed up in a box some years ago, I fetched the ladder to get it down from the top of the cupboard.
I placed the box on the bed and pulled back the flaps. Immediately, a warm, earthy aroma floated up from its depths. I gasped with surprise, so evocative was the odor, so powerful was its ability to grab me through a misty vortex veiled with indelible images that had somehow been forgotten. Tendrils of memories curled and undulated and tickled my nostrils, and I closed my eyes and threw back my head, letting the scent envelop me completely, inhaling it like it was life itself: wool and perfume and baby powder and a million other nuances that I couldn’t define.
The scarf was forgotten. My hands desperately dug deep into the box, pushing aside carefully folded shirts and out-of-style dresses, until they came to the coarse wooly texture of the blue tweed sweater I knew was at the bottom. Then, wrapping themselves around it, they lifted it out of its cardboard tomb.
I gathered it to me, and embraced it, and buried my face deep in its cushiony comfort.
My mother’s sweater, one of the few articles of clothing I had refused to part with after she had died. Thick and heavy, she had knit it many years before: two strands of blue yarn—one azure, one midnight, and trimmed with a wide shawl collar and cuffs in just the midnight blue. The sweater was long, and she had worn it often. Hugging it to me, my cheek resting against the thick, dark-blue collar, I remembered her now with a jolt, shocked with a sharp, clear vision that I thought had been lost in the murkiness of time. I could see her now, wearing that sweater as she sat kitty-corner to me at the dining-room table as we played rummy, drinking coffee and munching on her peanut butter cookies; or standing at the counter making “gas-top toast” (for some reason, she loved the taste of charred white bread) to dip into her coffee. Or sitting on the sofa, cuddling her grandchildren. Or sitting before the piano, her skillful hands dancing over the keys. So many images. On really cold days, she would wear a matching hat in the house. I had discarded that hat. I felt sad about that now.
Again I breathed in deeply, trying to isolate what made it so unique: How does one describe the unique fusion of molecules that defines the aura of one’s mother? Smell is such a primal sense, used by primates since their evolution to identify from whose breast to suckle even when still blind and deaf. What defined my mother? Earthy? Musty? Slightly stale, perhaps. With a touch of her favorite Evening in Paris and Felce Azure talc, spiced up by the smell of frying lakes, tinged with the sharp tang of Lipton’s tea. It was not a clean smell—no fresh air and lemons—yet it was far from being repulsive. On the contrary, it was embracing and comforting.
I closed my eyes and with each breath I could feel her arms around me.
A knock at the door: “Are you ready?”