By Donna Volkenannt
Sometimes, when I peel an orange or taste peppermint, my mind flashes back to Christmas stockings filled with tangerines and shepherd’s hook candy canes. The scent of cinnamon and vanilla transports me back to my mom’s kitchen on winter mornings, where my brothers and sisters and I ate Mom’s raisin and rice pudding, hot out of the oven. While most special scents evoke memories of happy times, one unique fragrance has helped me cope with the heartbreak of losing my daughter, Julie.
Julie and her husband Mike died in an accident in 2005, making orphans of their children, ten-year-old Cari and six-year-old Michael. Grief-stricken, but determined to surround our grandchildren with love, my husband Walt and I became their legal guardians and welcomed them, along with their clothing, toys, furniture and dog, into our home. Emptying out my daughter’s house brought on a new wave of sadness. I fought back tears as I tried to decide what to keep, what to toss and what to donate to charity.
My mood lifted when I found a bottle of designer cologne on top of Julie’s bedroom dresser. Holding the cut-glass decanter triggered an image of her excitement when she opened the gift Christmas morning. I removed the bottle’s silver top, pressed the sprayer, closed my eyes and slowly inhaled. Just like Julie, the floral perfume was sweet but not overwhelming. Fortified with a memory of my daughter in joyful times, I carefully packed up the perfume and added it to my take-home pile.
One morning, hoping to chase a bout of melancholy, I sprayed on Julie’s special fragrance. Wearing the cologne was like wrapping myself in an invisible quilt with my beloved daughter. Another morning, I splashed some on before driving Cari and Michael to school. When I dropped them off, I blinked back tears as they gave me extra tight hugs and told me how good I smelled.
When I mentioned the incident to a grief counselor, she encouraged me to wear the cologne to keep Julie’s memory alive for my grandchildren – and me. Without fail, whenever I wore Julie’s cologne, one or both of her children, told me, “You smell good.”
Years later, with the original decanter puffing air, I was on a mission to find a replacement. At every department store, I heard the same story, “Sorry. That fragrance has been discontinued.”
I was about to give up hope when I found two bottles at a perfume outlet. Not wanting to run out again, I purchased two of their largest bottles.
After that, I wore the cologne on special occasions – Mother’s Day, Julie’s birthday, Christmas holidays – or when Cari or Michael had important school, church or sporting events.
I was determined that, although their mom couldn’t be with them in the flesh, she would remain in spirit. Not wanting to change happy moments into sad ones, I avoided telling them the fragrance they liked so much on me was actually their mom’s.
That changed one afternoon in December. With Christmas just weeks away, I spritzed on some cologne shortly before Cari and I bundled up to go shopping. Knowing the roads would be crowded, I hoped that Cari, who’d turned sixteen a few months earlier, wouldn’t ask to drive.
No such luck. Before we walked out the door, she said, “Can I drive? Please.”
Putting on a brave face, I handed her my keys. “Sure, sweetie.”
She buckled her seat belt and said, “You smell good. What’re you wearing?”
I told her the name of the perfume and then confessed, “It was your mom’s favorite. What’s really nice is that every time I wear it, either you or Michael compliment me on how good I smell.”
Expecting a tearful response, I was relieved when she smiled and answered, “That’s cool.”
“It is.” I nodded.
Focusing on the road ahead, a sense of peace settled over me knowing my daughter’s sweet memory will always be alive in our hearts.
About this writer
- Donna Volkenannt lives in the Midwest with her husband, their grandchildren, and one rowdy but lovable black Lab. Her work has been published in magazines, newspapers and anthologies and has been recognized with many awards, including first place in the Erma Bombeck Humor Writing competition.
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