Youth Dew bath powder. That was her scent. It was her trademark.
Before she died we used to tease her about her fragrance powder because all little old ladies wear Youth Dew. She was one such little old lady.
You always knew when her shower had finished because the entire downstairs would smell like that unforgettable Estée Lauder classic. Eau du Granny.
And now that smell is gone forever.
When she died, she took the whole era with her. That’s how it works. When an elderly person passes, we lose a period in history.
We didn’t just lose an old woman. We lost all the American women who dusted themselves with smell-good powder. We lost women old enough to actually remember wearing white gloves to go to the IGA.
We lost all those motherly reminders to sit up straight, not to hunch, and to chew your food exactly thirty-two times before swallowing.
We lost a generation of homemakers who brought deviled eggs to Little League practice, made pretzel salad for Boy Scout meetings, watched Perry Mason on Saturday nights, and kept an ashtrays on the nightstands beside their Bibles.
She was the best of her kind. She was a period in culture. And her bath powder shall be smelled no more.
After all, young women aren’t going to start wearing bath powder. No way. Most young people have never even heard of such antique finery. Not to mention, big perfume companies rarely include fragrance powder products in their lineups anymore. It’s just not hip.
Neither are pearls. She always wore pearls. Women like her wore strings of cultured pearls for attending PTA meetings, or for mopping the kitchen floors. It’s just what they did. So goodbye pearls.
And goodbye, Nat Cole records. Goodbye, era of songs with lyrics written by lyricists who had a basic grasp of the English language. Goodbye, music that wasn’t expressly about sex.
Goodbye, Frank and Dino, singing with eighty-piece back-up bands comprised of legit musicians. Goodbye, tunes you could actually dance to, as opposed to today’s dance music where you’re supposed to dance by yourself as though you’re having a brain seizure.
Goodbye, foxtrot, bossa nova, and waltz. Goodbye, “Fly Me to the Moon” “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes,” “Girl From Ipanema,” and “Moonlight Serenade.”
Farewell, Perry Como, Julie London, Eddie Fisher, Nancy Wilson, Peggy Lee, and singers of yesteryear who didn’t need auto-tuner software to stay on pitch, or thong underwear to get your attention.
So long, neckties and ladies wearing hats to church. And goodbye to sharing hymnals with your siblings on Sunday mornings. Goodbye to Sunday dinner (which was always eaten at lunchtime, but never called lunch).
Hasta la vista to daughters learning to darn socks. Goodbye dresses.
Oh, dresses. We are going to miss you most of all. Once upon a time, ladies wore dresses. And not just for funerals and prom. No. Dresses were everyday items.
Your mom awoke in the mornings, took a shower, bath-powered herself, lit a Camel, and slid on a house dress. This is how it was done.
The American woman of yore had dresses for all occasions. There were day dresses, church dresses, picnic dresses, formal dresses, funeral dresses, yard-work dresses, dresses for wedding receptions, beach dresses, and dresses for changing light bulbs.
There were A-line dresses, shifts, halter dresses, apron dresses, jumper dresses, slips, poufs, wraps, tents, maxis, gowns, shirt dresses, and sundresses.
But wait, I’m not finished.
Strapless dresses, drop waists, trapezes, layered dresses, pencils, bodycons, princess dresses, empires, column dresses, high-lows, jacket dresses, bouffants, polos, peplums, one-shoulders, blousans, tunics, and tea-lengths.
Goodbye, iced tea with little mint sprigs. And we will miss you pimento cheese made in a mixing bowl. We will never forget you chicken divan. Rest in peace, pear salad.
Goodbye to reading the newspaper instead of checking your smartphone. Adios, thank-you notes.
Au revoir, “Guideposts” magazines dating back to the 1950s, covered in dust, kept in Mama’s bathroom reading basket.
Sayonara to kids saying “yes ma’am,” and “no sir,” and “please.” Goodbye, homemade biscuits—now replaced with store-bought tube biscuits that are unfit for feeding to Labradors.
Bye-bye, Emily Post volume on the mantle. So long, sterling saltshakers only used for company. No more finger sandwiches.
Gone is the era when young men opened car doors for women. Farewell to the days when Mama didn’t refrigerate butter, mayo, ketchup, or eggs.
Each time an elderly person dies we lose more than just a person. We lose folkways. We lose another slice of American Regionalism. We lose their melodies, their wardrobes, their accents, and their unique styles of humor.
We lose everything they loved, everything they learned, their accumulated wisdom, and their quiet voices telling us everything is going to be all right.
Truthfully, now that she’s passed away, sometimes I’m afraid we’re losing these wonderful things forever. I’m afraid it’s all gone. But this morning, in the supermarket, I caught the distant scent of bath powder. A smile grew on my face.
And it all came back to me.