Wednesday, October 15, 2008
Bring Out Your Dead: Yardley Lotus
Anybody who knows me from Perfume of Life knows that cheap, obscure Yardley Lotus is one of my all-time favorites. If you've never had the pleasure of meeting it, you have missed out on one of the best mass-produced drugstore scents of all time. It's long dead now, sad to say, though bottles do show up on eBay from time to time. Imagine a softer, drier version of Ava Luxe Lotus, and you'll have an idea of what it's like. I've got a stash that should be sufficient to last my lifetime, and I'm sure I'll wear it until I'm ready to exit the planet. In fact, I'm considering leaving instructions that my carcass be lightly spritzed with it at my funeral. It's the perfect funeral perfume, as I discovered when my father died a few years ago.
My father had been sick for years and showed every sign of enjoying a long, lingering decline, but in his usual contrary way, he surprised us. He fell ill one evening, and died alone in a hospital bed two days later. (We had a funny/sad/excruciating final encounter, which you can read about here.) Things were a little confused and hectic after his death--I supposed that's always true--and I never gave a thought to what to wear to his funeral until it was time to get dressed for it.
My father had an infuriating habit of passing harsh judgment on women's looks. No female, including me, was exempt from his snide comments. Standing in front of my closet, pondering my options, I briefly considered wearing something shapeless and comfortable, just because he would have disapproved. My inner adolescent felt the need to have the last word. Then I thought better of it. Humoring the dead is a much better strategy, since you can feel magnanimous without actually providing any satisfaction to your opponent.
I chose a black silk skirt, a dark blue velvet blouse and black suede pumps. I added an antique silver necklace and a pair of faux jet earrings, Victorian drop style. I looked nice. Dad would have thought so, too.
I surveyed the perfume shelves. This was a much tougher choice than the clothes. Not because of Dad--he had no particular opinion on perfume, or at least none he ever expressed around me. The problem was that I really wanted something familiar and comforting to get me through the next few hours, but I knew that whatever I wore would be permanently joined to my memories of this day. I'd be altering my relationship to the scent forever.
My eye fell on the bottle of Yardley Lotus. I knew the fragrance would be perfect: feminine, calming, subdued. It would make me feel better, and likely have the same effect on the people around me. I picked it up, then put it back. Only a fellow perfume nut could understand why fear made me dither. I imagined years ahead when I would never be able to smell that sweet, mild scent without flashing on my father's corpse in the coffin, the sound of my mother crying, the tense tedium of Catholic death ritual. I would be surrendering my uncomplicated pleasure in the scent to all that sadness.
The little sacrifice seemed necessary and inevitable, so I reached for the bottle. It was, in a way, a gesture of reconciliation to my father. Even though it would have meant nothing to him, I felt I was offering him something I valued, a farewell gift.
The funeral passed in a blur. I sat next to my mother, who didn't speak at all, except to say, "He was so tormented." There was a large spray of yellow roses on his coffin, which I had arranged because he liked yellow roses, but they looked ugly to me against the gray casket and I wished I had chosen something else. The priest came over to us and said something I can't recall. The burial was in the tiny cemetery next to the church, and seemed to take forever. We had to brace ourselves against the wind, which was blowing violently out of the south.
The perfume was there through it all, wafting up to me like a consoling friend. I had never thought of it as a spiritual scent, but it was spiritual in the midst of all that ceremony. There was a subdued, warm light in the church, and the perfume became golden to me--a quality it retains to this day.
I was right about the fragrance being permanently marked by the sadness of death. It's scarred now, imperfect, but no less beautiful. It has a richness for me it never had before. There was a time when I might have outgrown it, moved beyond it, but that won't happen now. It's inscribed with a piece of my life.
Illustration from Flora de Filipinas, Francisco Manuel Blanco, circa 1880. Image from Wikimedia Commons,