Last year’s Christmas post was triggered by smelling some vintage Guerlain Mitsouko. Writing that was like a fever dream which spilled out of me. In the days after I posted that my memory was jogged again about a Christmas Eve shopping trip with my father to buy my mother a present. It seemed like the appropriate follow-up to last year’s story.
The reason there is a cliché about men shopping on Christmas Eve is because there is some truth there. My father and I would get up every Christmas Eve to go shopping for gifts for my mother. I never thought there was any other way to do it. I don’t know this, but I suspect my mother enjoyed a bit of the lull before the storm by having us out of the house.
Downtown Miami Jordan-Marsh 1960-ish
I loved the shopping expedition because we went to the most elegant department store in Miami; Jordan-Marsh. This was when stores like this were wonderlands filled with the latest technology. I was fascinated with the glass room which contained the record players and sound systems. You would step into the soundproofed booth to be surrounded by stereo sound…stereo! I remember walking from one speaker to the other realizing I was hearing different things from each one. It was a modern marvel.
The housewares department was even more fantastic with the latest and the greatest. There was someone demonstrating non-stick frying pans. Look! Melted cheese slides right out! There was an ice cream parlor where we would have lunch. There were people buying wine in the Wine Cellar. It wasn’t sensory overload it was just enough to satiate my need for novel experiences.
We would look all around the store considering this new-fangled thing or that. I remember advocating for the non-stick frying pan one year. We ended up at the same place every year standing at the Women’s Fragrance counter.
My mother wore only two perfumes Guerlain Mitsouko and Guerlain Shalimar. When we got to the counter a nicely dressed woman would patiently greet the latest clueless males venturing into unknown territory. We would mention that those were the perfumes my mother wore. We would be offered paper strips with the latest perfume. “Straight from Paris” she would say. My father and the saleswoman would begin to talk. I tuned them out as I smelled the strip. I tried to imagine my mother smelling like what was on the paper. I couldn’t. To me my mother simply smelled like Mitsouko or Shalimar. There was no alternative.
When my father asked me about the new perfume, I would reply I didn’t think Mom would like it. I think my Dad thought so too but he let me be the bearer of disappointing news to the saleswoman. He would ask for one of the two Guerlains and we had finished. We would go upstairs to gift wrapping and get an extravagantly intricate design.
On Christmas morning when I would hand my mother the gift from Dad and me; she undoubtedly knew what was inside. She would carefully undo the wrapping paper. Pulling out the box she would smile at Dad and I with the words, “My favorite!”
It wasn’t the perfect gift; whatever that might have been. It was a gift which told my mother we loved the way she smelled.