By (Gypsie) Ami Offenbacher-Ferris
It was in one of those malls, the kind we used to go to in the not so distant past to do our shopping, especially for birthday and Christmas gifts. I was shopping alone with my son, then six years old, so he could buy gifts on the sly for his sister and father.
Those were also the days when my adorable little boy actually wanted to hold my hand. It was a beautiful Christmas season and also one of the saddest. It would be the first Christmas in my life that my mother wasn’t in it. Mother passed away eleven months before, a year in the upcoming month of January. She was determined to hold out until Christmas because she loved it so much, that’s what everyone said. I believed she loved Christmas so much, she tried her very best not to discolor the season for everyone. Not only that Christmas, but future Christmases too; and she did it!
My son wanted to buy pierced earrings for his older sister, “real gold ones,” he said. That is why we ended up where it happened. We headed to the jewelry department, just strolling along hand in hand, enjoying the bright, sparkling Christmas decorations.
Taking a short cut through the locked cases of the fragrance department, my son abruptly stopped dead in his tracks nearly pulling my arm off, figuratively of course.
The look on his face was not only incredulous but beatific. His eyes, misty at first grew bright, clear and a good bit bigger. He pulled on my hand, until I squatted down in front. I asked him what was wrong and his answer made my heart swell to great uncomfortable proportions and tears to stream down my face.
“It’s MiMi, I smell MiMi!” he said excitedly. I told him smoking was not allowed in this part of the store and he said, “No, the real MiMi!”
I assumed he smelled cigarette smoke as mother was a heavy smoker her entire life, literally since the age of nine if not before.
He held back and asked me if I smelled her. I started to tell him no and shake my head when a bottle full of amber liquid sparkled in the cabinet right beside him and caught my attention. I was mesmerized.
My little boy did smell his Grandma. In the locked, glass case right beside him, was a large, very expensive bottle of Shalimar perfume. At that time it was one of the most expensive perfumes this major chain carried, which is why it was locked in the center cabinet level with my sons nose.
My parents were far from wealthy, probably considered lower-middle class and Shalimar Perfume was nothing but a dream for my mother. Yet, one year for her birthday, my father found a way to buy one ounce from the department store. He continued to buy her Shalimar perfume about every ten years or so. As those years went by and they grew into middle-age, my father could afford to buy her a little more and the fancy Shalimar bottle, not just a little vial. She did not dab-a-do-ya every day, but in fact, only put the barest amount on for special occasions.
This is part of the reason I was so very shocked that my son recognized the smell above the smell of those other high end perfumes and spoke about it. I lifted him into my arms and held him tightly. After a moment he asked me if I was sad, I was crying. I told him no, they were tears of joy that I had such a special baby boy.
The sales associate must have seen or heard part of this and asked us if we were ok. I relayed the story and a moment later she opened the locked case, bent down and retrieved the bottle of Shalimar. She allowed both of us a little sniff before replacing the bottle and walking away quietly.
A liquid ray of memory enveloped me. We were once again standing in the kitchen with Mimi while she cooked Christmas dinner.
I kindly thanked the sales associate and continued to shop for my son’s big sister and father; a warm glow in our hearts and wistful smiles on both our faces.
EPILOGUE: This memory is more the sweeter because now my son is thirty years old and we are estranged. It’s been nearly two years since I’ve heard from him or seen him and I have no idea why. I’ve heard rumors from others about misconceptions and misperceptions after his father passed away, but since he won’t answer my calls or e-Mails and he’s moved several hours away without sharing his new location, I can only wait and … hope. 🙏