Bath Powder Fragrance

The living room. My 81-year-old mother-in-law, Mother Mary, and I are watching TV while my wife is preparing lunch. Mother Mary sits in her wheelchair, drinking a glass of Coca-Cola. A racy perfume commercial plays on television.

Mother Mary nods to the TV and says, “Those people are sexy.”

I say nothing.

She points. “Especially him. Look at him. I’d sop him with a biscuit.”

I clear my throat and study my shoes.

She takes a sip and says, “You know, this commercial reminds me, I’m out of bath powder, I need some.”


“I need bath powder fragrance. Make sure you write it on my shopping list.”

I’m not certain when I was elected the new shopping-list supervisor, but I retrieve her notepad and say, “Okay, what do I write down? Just… Bath powder?”

“No, you write ‘Estée Lauder Youth Dew dusting powder fragrance.’”


She chews an ice cube. “And I want the big one.”

“The big one?”

“Yes. Youth Dew bath powder comes in different sizes. I want the extra-large. I use it every day. It’s the signature perfume for all old ladies.”

“It is?”

“Oh, yes. When a woman starts wearing Youth Dew she is officially an old lady. Everyone knows that.”

So I add the item to the shopping list. Although I do require a little help spelling Estée Lauder correctly.

Silence follows our little spurt of conversation. And the television is now playing a commercial for Victoria’s Secret.

Mother Mary turns to me. “And write on there that I need a new bra, too.”


She cackles. “Oh, don’t be such a Baptist. I didn’t say thong underwear. It’s not like I’m telling you my cup size or anything, jeez. Keep your Levis on. I need a new bra. Mine’s old.”

God help me.

I wish my wife would enter the den and rescue me. I’m also praying fervently that the television doesn’t start running ads for Preparation H.

Soon, Mother Mary begins scrolling channels. We are eventually involved in a made-for-TV movie. The sappy plot is difficult to follow because Mary keeps the volume muted. Her eyes dart back and forth across the silent screen like a Labrador at a tennis match.

I finally say, “I have no idea what’s happening on TV without volume. Shouldn’t we turn it up, Mother Mary?”

She points to the screen. “No, I already know what’s happening. The blonde is in love with the guy in the suit. But the guy in the suit is just using her, toying with her emotions, he will never love her, he is not her soul mate.”


She sips. “The blonde is actually in love with the guy wearing the flannel shirt. On this channel the girl always falls in love with the guy in flannel.”

“And what channel is this?”

“The Hallmark Channel.”

The dramatized romance plays out in silence. And even with the volume muted I can tell these actors aren’t exactly going to be taking home any Oscars.

Suddenly, Mary speaks. “Oh, and write down on the shopping list that I’m out of peanuts, too.”

“Peanuts? Wait a second, you can’t eat nuts anymore, you have intestinal issues, remember? No nuts.”

She smiles, but it’s a fake smile.

“Well, well,” she says. “Isn’t this a surprise? I didn’t know you had a medical degree. You know, I’ve always wanted to have a doctor in the family. Tell me, Doctor, was it hard going through medical school and learning how to push helpless little old ladies around?”

“I just meant that—”

“I want my peanuts. Write it down.”


“And write down pralines, too.”

“But pralines have pecans and—”

Her eyes lower onto me. The pupils are dark, they neither receive nor reflect light. Like shark eyes.

I write pralines onto the list. Right under bras and peanuts.

Mother Mary begins channel surfing again. She flips past the entire lineup, pausing upon each channel for 0.003 nanoseconds. She finally lifts her glass and rattles the ice. “I’m outta Coke.”

This is my cue. As a deeply committed member of the family, I confiscate her glass and enter the kitchen to get more Coke.

And I’m thinking about how life moves so fast. Too fast. All the people I love are either getting older or passing over, and it makes my own life feel so temporary. Sometimes I wish life would slow down. I remember my uncle used to always say there is no cure for true love or old age. He had a point.

In a few moments, my young wife exits her mother’s bathroom and sidles up next to me in the kitchen. She asks how things are going with her mother. I start to tell her, but before I can answer I am hit with an overpowering floral scent emanating from my wife.

I sniff her, and I can see a film of fresh white powder on her face.

“Well?” she says. “So sue me. I thought I’d try some.”


  1. Laura Wilson - June 27, 2021 9:17 am

    Estée Lauder Youth Dew, sold a lot of that when I worked at the drugstore in my hometown back in the late 1970s, thanks for the memory, I can smell it now…

  2. Sandi. - June 27, 2021 9:38 am

    Mother Mary is quite an amusing character! Friendly suggestion: Interview her and record it, with her consent of course. Some future day you and Jamie will both relish hearing her voice again. Interview your own mother, too.

  3. Nell Thomas - June 27, 2021 10:24 am

    Treasure every moment of that. Just be thankful the volume wasn’t vibrating the whole house.

  4. Melanie Waite - June 27, 2021 10:43 am

    Smelling Estee Lauder Youth Dew transports me back to Louisiana State University and Nicholls State University in the 1960’s. It was the universal perfume. The reason old ladies wear it now is we’ve been wearing it since we were teenagers. It was even the pervasive scent at athletic events. I guess we wore more when we were outdoors.

  5. Deb Warner - June 27, 2021 11:12 am

    The last gift I ever bought my grandma was Estée Lauder for her 95th birthday. Thanks for the memory.

  6. Joey - June 27, 2021 11:32 am

    “I’d sop him with a biscuit.” 🥰

  7. Rita Walling - June 27, 2021 11:35 am

    Whatever has happened in your life,God had a plan for you to be a writer. We all so love your column& I can’t wait to see what is coming next. You are all good people. Love your Mother in law!

  8. Debbie g - June 27, 2021 11:48 am

    Sean you made me go from laughter to the tear. You are amazing. !! Love to you and Jamie. (You might as well buy a can of old spice. ) If it’s not already in your cabinet 🙂🙂🙂🙂

  9. Paul McCutchen - June 27, 2021 11:49 am

    yep I remember the days with my Grand parents. Miss them

  10. Alison Crosby - June 27, 2021 12:07 pm

    I’ve never met Mother Mary, but I love her and adore when you write columns about her!

  11. Jan Hilton - June 27, 2021 12:13 pm

    Estée Lauder Youth Dew: The worst fragrance on planet Earth. When I and a couple of my female cousins were 12/13 years old, our grandmother gave each of us a set of Youth Dew for Christmas. Maybe it’s a Southern Baptist tradition. I just remember my mother discretely taking all our sets and a few days later returning them to Gayfers for a refund. Young teenage girls would have rather had the money anyway.

  12. Joy Dollar - June 27, 2021 2:03 pm

    You have made my day!!! I’m always behind reading these and have to catch up, but this one!! I can’t stop laughing and I have to leave to go teach Sunday School! I don’t know if I can keep a straight face! Thanks for making me laugh!🤣

  13. Christina - June 27, 2021 3:11 pm

    Mother Mary keeps us all young

  14. CHARALEEN WRIGHT - June 27, 2021 3:15 pm

  15. beachdreamer1 - June 27, 2021 3:23 pm

    Love it! Mother Mary seems to be a good match for you, as far as ‘word power!’ Thank you for the new phrase, “sop him with a biscuit!’ I may have to steal that one. You have such a gift for making a great story out of a simple conversation. I never wore Youth Dew, but since I’m now an ‘old lady’ better add that to my list. God bless you, Jamie , Mother Mary and of course, your beloved furry friends❤️‼️

  16. Lisa Bowman - June 27, 2021 3:46 pm

    I love this! My grandmother wore Youth Dew. She was taken too soon at 58. Today I ask, “Now why in the world would a young, 58 year old lady begin wearing Youth Dew?” However the small child that I was – who would peruse her makeup, perfumes, and powders – thought Grandmother was ancient in her 40s and 50s.

    I remember spilling out a small sampler vial of that dark Youth Dew liquid parfum all over my clothes and skin at about age 5. I could not outrun that fragrance or deny it. I. Was. BUSTED! To this day, that fragrance is etched into my mind. It kind of makes my nose burn just thinking about it. As for the powder, I never though about putting it on my face. I would just (innocently) press that big, soft puff into the powder and dust up a cloud – patting that dryness all under my arms – YES! – my stinky, little, 5 year old arm pits. We played outside until we had to come in to use the restroom – so, you get the picture… My grandmother would have probably wrung my neck if she had known that.

    Thanks for the memories and the giggles. I get a big kick out of “the mature” aka elderly. 50% of my favorite people growing up were the ones who have earned the right be to 100% honest and entitled to their opinions – I dig those folks! They make me laugh under my breath at life and appreciate how short and simple it can be.

  17. Debbie R. - June 27, 2021 4:14 pm

    Thanks for the laughs, I needed them today ‼️ Love your stories Sean❤️ Keep up the good work😘

  18. Rhonda Williams - June 27, 2021 4:46 pm

    HILARIOUS!!! I LOVE it!!! Thanks for the laughs!!

  19. MAM - June 27, 2021 5:35 pm

    And all those floral and other scents make me sneeze! Although I do admit to wearing White Shoulders for a while in my youth.Yes, it made me sneeze then, too, but I thought I was supposed to wear perfume. Everything I buy nowadays is unscented. But I totally enjoyed the laughs. I think Mother Mary does that to you on purpose! She probably likes to see you blush!

  20. Christopher Spencer - June 27, 2021 5:37 pm

    I love hearing about Mother Mary!! You could write about her everyday and it would be a good column and funny, and that would be okay with me. Give her a hug for me. Tell her it is from a 66, soon to be 67 year old youngster.

  21. Linda Moon - June 27, 2021 5:57 pm

    I’m so glad 81-year-old Mother Mary likes sexy guys. If she had been talking to me about those people on TV, I wouldn’t have been studying my shoes. My mother LOVED Estee Lauder Youth Dew. They would’ve loved each other, Mother and Mother Mary. In our family we have a saying: “Grow Old or Die Young”. We often use it sarcastically, but it’s so true. Like you said, Sean, the journey from young to old just happens so fast. Shower the people you love with love, Sean, especially those two unabashedly spunky women of yours! I once had a cat named Spunky who lived to be 19 in cat years….that’s 92 in human years! Spunkiness is a good thing at any age.

  22. Suellen - June 27, 2021 6:25 pm

    You must have driven half the internet (like me) to go look that up. I typed in Estee….and the youth dew came up.

  23. Peggy ALEXANDER - June 28, 2021 12:46 am

    My mom wore it and I didn’t like it. She and my Aunts also wore Coty and Avon. Thanks for all the memories you bring to my mind

  24. Allison Gilmore - June 28, 2021 1:05 am

    Sean, please tell Mother Mary that we are four retired ladies in Georgia who read your column daily and have decided to form a Mother Mary Fan Club. We are also a very exclusive book club that we call the “It’s Not About the Book Book Club” (INATBBC). We enjoy all of your daily columns, but we especially love anything you write about Mother Mary. We aspire to be more like her because we admire the way she says what needs to be said, does what needs to be done, and doesn’t waste time worrying about things that just don’t matter. We’re thinking of getting some bracelets that say WWMMD? [“What would Mother Mary do?”] Will that be okay with Mother Mary?

  25. Linda Holmes - June 28, 2021 8:48 pm

    My mother wore Youth Dew bath powder also and wore it until she passed in 2015 just nine days short of her 93rd birthday. Thank you for bringing the sweet smell of memories.

  26. Sheri K - June 29, 2021 2:43 pm

    Funny! As a young teen in the ’60s, my scent of choice was Ambush. But, when I went off to college, I graduated up to Estee Lauder Youth Dew for special occasions only. When I realized my mother-in-law also wore it, I decided it was time for a change!

  27. Rose Mary Cousins - June 29, 2021 7:42 pm

    Hilarious ! Youth Dew was just about my first grown up perfume. I’ve used it well over 55 years!!

  28. Bill Harris - June 30, 2021 1:18 am

    Thank you Sean

  29. Jeanette - July 1, 2021 4:32 pm

    I think your discomfort is her main entertainment. She’s a national treasure!

  30. Sandy Smith - October 28, 2021 11:07 pm

    My Mom’s Youth Dew sits on my Vanity.
    I’m 67 now ( I was 17 when she passed)
    It hasn’t lost its scent….maybe I should start using it. 😂❤️


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