heaven scent








Writer and editor Terri White missed her nan so much it hurt. She describes how she found love and comfort in bars of soap, cans of hairspray and a perfume bottle


I was on the floor crouching like a sprinter in the blocks, crying big ugly tears when I smelt it. The smell I still struggle to adequately capture in words but has always comforted me like nothing and nobody else. The smell of my nana.


This melodramatic meltdown (over the man I thought was the love of my life deciding someone else was the love of his) was not the first time she’d been there to soothe me through my senses. There’d been other moments. Moments of happiness, of sadness, of worry, of elation, of feeling like I was completely losing my bloody mind. She’d been right there when I’d cried on my first day of school and again when I received my acceptance letter to university. The difference on this Tuesday teatime being that she’d been dead for seven years.


Don’t misunderstand: I’m not a believer in visitors from the other side wafting in for a cuddle when the chips are down. And while I can’t logically explain it, her wonderfully distinctive aroma was unmistakable and all around me as I chafed my right knee on the kitchen floor. It’s a scent I’ve sought out and tried to recreate over and over since she died. I’ve stockpiled her favourite products like a doomsday hoarder who simply wants to smell dead nice as the world burns. The Silvikrin hairspray, Max Factor pressed powder, pink lipstick and nail polish, White Musk body cream, floral talcum powder, Imperial Leather soap and Red Door perfume.


The sniff of any of these quickly unfurls a thread that takes me back, back to her. She’s dancing, arms raised and partner-less in the living room to Joe Longthorne, combing my wet hair in front of the gas fire, helping me pluck apples from the low-hanging trees in her garden, making hot milky coffee just the way I like it as day turns to night. I don’t just see her, I feel her. And it’s like she never left.


I didn’t realise what powerful memories and emotions her scent evoked until she was gone. Until the day before her funeral when I found myself slipping into her bedroom in a daze, surreptitiously popping her half-empty bottle of Red Door into my handbag. I slept with it under my pillow for a month, greedily drinking in the reminder of her.


In those early days I was filled with terror at the prospect of losing my connection with her forever. My nana wasn’t just the most magnificent woman I’d ever met, she was my closest confidante and support system. Strong, proud, stubborn, moral, passionate, judgmental, generous – she was the person I wanted to be like most in the world. At 33, I still do.


Missing her, I found myself copying her beauty routines, seeing her face in my own as I lacquered up my hair and filled in my lips. These small rituals keep us tied together. And when I worry that I’m forgetting her – her voice, the contours of her face, her arched-eyebrowed stare – I visit my beauty stockpile, breathe her in and feel that unbreakable bond made out of powder, perfume and love. And I thank God for Silverkin hairspray, Max Factor Creme Puff pressed powder, pink lipstick and nail polish, White Musk body cream, floral talcum powder, Imperial Leather soap and of course, Elizabeth Arden’s Red Door perfume.

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