Christmas is one of those times of year that makes the absence of someone you love more pronounced than usual. The sharpness of the hole they’ve left in your heart–a recent mark or a cavern that’s grown by inches as each year without them passes–seems craggier, more dangerous this time of year. Tears come fast. Memories surprise you at unexpected moments, dredging up feelings you thought long buried.
Of course, the emotional masochist I am, I bring some of this on myself. I willingly repeat rituals that remind me that my mother is gone. Hanging her ornaments on my tree. Baking the gingersnaps she made each year. Listening to Judy Garland–her namesake–croon mournfully about missing someone at Christmas.
The crazy thing about these rituals is that while they remind me she’s gone, they make me feel closer to her, too. This year, as I hung the ornaments, my son joined in–mirroring the annual tradition my mother and I had of putting up the tree together. He also helped scoop flour and lick the beaters as I mixed the gingersnap dough–another thing she and I shared. I could almost feel her there with us.
That sense of her presence intensified on Christmas morning. My husband gifted me a bottle of perfume–Estee Lauder’s Youth Dew.
Youth Dew is not a young woman’s scent. Even the bottle–cinched in the middle with a dainty gold bow–has a vintage air. Its heady, spicy aroma is not the type of thing you lightly spritz on a spring day. This is a grown woman’s smell. This is the scent she wears when she wants to feel fancy, luxurious, beautiful.
My mother loved Youth Dew. It was pretty expensive for a family on a budget, so when she got a bottle, she savored it. This wasn’t a daily scent–this was something reserved for special occasions. And while I can’t for the life of me remember anything she wore on a daily basis, I remember Youth Dew.
I carefully opened its signature blue box (almost Tiffany, but not quite) and gently removed the glass bottle of brown liquid topped in a gold cap that matched its delicate gold bow. I just held it in my hands for a moment, looking at it, feeling the weight of it, before finally uncapping and spritzing a bit on my wrist.
That first inhale was like one of those life passing before your eyes highlight reels in a movie. My mother at church. My mother on Christmas Day. My mother at my graduation. My mother smiling with a confidence she didn’t often feel. It smelled just like her, a scent I haven’t smelled in nearly 20 years.
But the longer I wore it, the scent began to change. Perfumes tend to do this–alter slightly with the body chemistry of the person wearing it. It still smelled like Youth Dew, but a little different. A little more me than her.
Like the Youth Dew, all these traditions I carry on to keep her alive are just a little different. For a long time, I did them solo, and now my son joins me, building our own traditions on the foundation of my mom’s. And while the same essence of love and ritual remains, the act is changed–a little more me than her.