A THOUSAND WORDS - Alex Waterhouse-Hayward's blog on pictures, plants, politics and whatever else is on his mind.


Scent, Memory & That Most Feminine Hilary Stewart
Tuesday, February 10, 2009

All my life I have been surrounded by women even though I never had a sister. I almost had a little red headed sister but she was born dead. When I was 10, my father left home and left me to the mercy of my mother and grandmother. When I saw my father again in 1965 his first question to me after looking at me with an affection I had missed for so many years was, "How is the old battle ax?" He meant my grandmother, of course. He asked with a smile as he had always liked my grandmother. I think my father loved women, just like me.

Only a couple of days ago at our wedding anniversary dinner at a restaurant I beckoned at Lauren (6) to sit on my lap. Her hair smelled of fresh Granny Smith apple. I made a point to not only enjoy it but to mention it. Her father, Bruce Stewart, said, "I washed her hair this morning." Rebecca (11) asked me, "Papi why do you smell the hair of little girls?" I told her that not only did I smell the hair of women when I could but, like my mother, I also like to smell behind the ears.

My mother used to do that all the time. With perhaps a complete ignorance of Inuit customs she would explain to me when I would ask her (just like Rebecca asked on Sunday night), "Alex Eskimos don't know how to kiss. They like to rub noses and get pleasure from smelling each other." My mother, after smelling me behind my ears often told me I had the exquisite scent of an English gentleman. To this day one of my fondest pleasures is to breathe deeply behind Rosemary's ear (and the other one, too If I have a chance). I don't think that Rebecca quite understands this pleasure yet.

There seems to be much less emphasis these days to the pleasures of scent. There are arts that cater to the eyes and the ears. Even some sculptures beg us to use our sense of touch. But I don't know of any that directly cater to our noses except as an ancillary approach to the art of cuisine (with the further ancillary art of wine sniffing). Rebecca should know better considering that she can identify at least 10 roses in my garden (with her eyes closed) by scent alone.

The only scent of a man that I have any memory of is that of my father who used to smell of clean soap laced with an attractive aroma (at least it was then and in my head now) his cigarettes which came in metal tins that read Player's Navy Cut Tobacco.

I like girls and I like girls that smell nice.

My mother used to use Chanel No.5. Few use it now but when I get a whiff of it here and there I always think of my mother. For many years I used to buy Hermes Caleche for Rosemary every time I flew on Japan Airlines to Mexico. They had that delightful perfume in their in-flight catalogue store. But it has been at least 20 years now that both Rosemary and I don't use perfume or any lotions. She insists on unscented deodorant.

To me a woman who wears a good perfume (I wonder why I didn't remember to tell Rebecca that any woman knows you dab perfume behind your ears!) is doubly a woman. One of the most elegantly feminine women I know is my younger daughter Hilary Stewart. There is a special reason why Hilary is so feminine and elegant. This is because anytime I see her and watch her crooked smile (my crooked smile) I know it came through me from my mother. That smile of Hilary's is the smile of my mother. She inherited, not only that smile but an elegance and grace that my mother had in spades. Taking Hilary to a concert (especially when she dresses up and puts on perfume) is exhilerating. Hilary, quite here and now, as she sits by me with that smile on her face as we listen to the music, is also a ghost. She is my mother's ghost- a most beautiful and elegant ghost inside the living flesh of my daughter Hilary.


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