Moms can be hard to shop for. Let’s face it; there comes a time when the kindergarten hand pressed into a clay circle just doesn’t cut it anymore, at least not if said child finally has her first “real” job. (Eighty five cents an hour clerking eight hours a week at Blackey’s Bakery supplemented the fifty cents an hour I earned babysitting.)
I had high hopes the Christmas of my senior year of high school. The boyfriend? Easy. A bar of Old Spice Soap on a Rope. My baseball loving brother? Also easy. A book about baseball. Even my father wasn’t too hard to gift. Poor guy got the ubiquitous tie. But heck; he was a dad and I was his daughter. Pretty much anything I did was fine by him.
But Mom…that one was a challenge. It never seemed enough to me to please her; I wanted to impress her!
Shopping malls didn’t exist in 1962, and if the internet was in anyone’s vision of the future, we didn’t know it. Of course there was always Woolworth’s Five and Dime within walking distance, but I considered myself far too sophisticated to shop there.
So it was off to Dayton’s Department Store in downtown Minneapolis via bus. The smell of bus exhaust, wet wool, and Emerald Perfume overwhelmed my sinuses but the bus ride was a short one.
I wandered the first floor aisles of Dayton’s and stared lustfully at leather gloves from Italy, hand-hemmed linen handkerchiefs from Ireland, hand-woven merino scarves from the British Isles. But the gloves were well above my pay grade and the handkerchiefs and scarves were too impersonal; more appropriate for a teacher than a mother.
I wandered to the fourth floor through Junior Sportswear (tempting, but I was on a mission), to the lingerie department.
And there it was. The perfect (and affordable!) gift: a lovely box of hand-milled powder. The scent was subtle but elegant, evoking images of Italy, Ireland, and England. (Not that I’d ever been any further than Wisconsin, but I read a lot.)
Christmas Eve arrived, my family’s traditional time for opening the gifts that weren’t from Santa. That little box of powder produced the reaction I’d hoped for: a look of surprise and delight on a 17-year-old bakery clerk’s salary.
Mom died 13 years ago. One of the chores that fell to my brother and me was to go through years of accumulations and decide who got what and what got tossed. The box of Christmas decorations was one of the last things I went through.
I came across the little powder box, long since empty but still holding the haunting fragrance of the powder and, by association, the fragrance on my mother’s skin.
Scientists and psychologists tell us that there is nothing stronger than our
sense of smell to awaken old memories. And sure enough, every Christmas when I decorate the tree, I open the box and inhale deeply. I’m 17 and I’ve finally surprised Mom with a gift she loved almost as much as she loved that handprint in clay.