A mere whiff and I was transported.
I was walking to the dog park in Portland’s Pearl district today with the Whippets. I intersected paths with two skinny teenage fellows dressed in tattered jeans and hooded jackets as I turned north at 13th and Northrup. They had a few step lead on the three of us. That’s when it happened.
The taller one was smoking. I usually give these types space but before I could rein in Leo and Bliss, a wisp of clove cigarette smoke met my nose.
I was instantly transported to a flurry of images. I was nine years old and hanging out in the alley behind our house in Sungei Gerong with the live-in staff. The air was dripping with humidity. The sun had set beyond the Musi River precisely at six o’clock. The clove cigarettes were hand rolled by Konta and not very tightly rolled. One puff and a mouthful of loose tobacco filled my mouth.
I was in my early twenties, disembarking from a Qantas flight in Jakarta, returning to Indonesia for the first time in over ten years. I was on an audit assignment for MAPCO.
It was 2000 and I was in Bali with our son Clay, overwhelmed less by the scale of the resort than by many familiar scents, visual, sounds that hadn’t been part of my life for over 20 years but were almost painfully familiar and carved.
Close your eyes and inhale. And don’t just do it as you read this but inhale at different venues throughout your day. What comes to mind? What emotions surface?
Ask me about my mother and I will tell you, as I once told Tulsa World Reporter Laurie Winslow, childhood memories of my mother are of a woman hosting cocktail parties overseas for Exxon ex-pats. Dressed in black after-five ensembles, she often took time to tuck me into bed. I took comfort in the party sounds beyond my bedroom door, much as I did hearing a TV tuned to Perry Mason other nights. The scent that rounded out the party nights was a delicate combination of Shalimar, bourbon and cigarettes.
Two years ago I was very fortunate to be in New York during the opening week of August: Osage Country. The play, by Oklahoma playwright Tracy Letts, went on to win the Tony for Best Play and the Pulitzer Prize.
Sitting with nine friends (as well as Tom Hanks and his family at the end of our row) I was dressed in a black evening dress and wearing, for the first time, Shalimar. I had purchased a bottle earlier during the day at Saks Fifth Avenue from an elegant sales clerk who had herself worn the scent a time or two.
It was a memorable evening.