My mother rarely wore perfume,
opting mostly for soap and water clean. 
Now and then she would get a small bottle
of some flowery scent from Avon—
honeysuckle, hyacinth, lilac, or rose.
She used them sparingly,
and even today today I love those fragrances.
In spring, when my local grocery store florist
has potted hyacinths for sale, 
I'll often stop and just inhale the scent
for a few moments before moving on with my shopping. 

In the 1960s my sister was a teenager, 
feeling her way into oncoming adulthood.
Springing from a mother who never 
wore makeup or perfume, 
she tested the boundaries with both.
Even simple eye shadow, mascara, and lipstick
was more than our mother ever wore.
As the younger sister, I thought it was cool
and longed for the day when I could wear it too.

Her choice in perfume was a whole other matter.
Somehow, she latched on to Tabu, 
a popular adult choice at the time.
To me, it was thick and cloying.
I thought the only thing it was good for 
was covering up even worse smells.
But my sister seemed to love it.
Whether she really loved the smell or
was just adamant about her choices being her own,
I don't know, but I hated it.

A few years down the road,
I had a sweet 16 party.
One of the boys gave me a bottle of Tabu;
I smiled and thanked him as if it was the best gift ever.
I don't know if he chose it himself 
or his mother thought it was a “grown up” sort of gift
to give a budding 16 year old.
When the party was over, 
I opened the box and shot a little spray into the air
to see if my feelings had changed.
They hadn't.
The bottle stayed in its box,
pushed to the back of my dresser
to collect dust. 
Tabu was still taboo in my book.

Years later, I worked with an older woman
whose perfume always sent me back to first grade.
It was like my teacher, Mrs. Eggers, was standing beside me.
One day I asked her what perfume she was wearing.
I nearly fell off my chair when she said, “Tabu.”
It smelled nothing like the Tabu straight from the bottle,
or the way it smelled on my sister. 

I know that body chemistry effects how perfume smells.
That was proof, for sure.
But then I wondered 
if the woman's body chemistry was different
just because she was old,
and if Tabu smelled just as bad on her 
when she was young as it did on my sister.
That maybe you had to grow into it?
I wasn't going to test the theory, but it's a thought.

~Elise Skidmore ©2023

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  1. Your stories always remind me of events that had happened to me. My older sister could wear any perfume and it always smelled great on her. I tried all the ones she would wear, and they did not smell the same on me. Tabu, was the worst, I put it on and had to immediately wash it off, it was making me sick, but on her it smelled strong but nice. Like you said it must be body chemistry.

    1. Thank you, Lucille! That’s one of the things I love best about poetry–that each reader brings their own experience to it, and that sometimes that brings a whole new meaning I never thought of when writing it. I’m happy to know it wasn’t just me who reacted to Tabu that way. It was a very strong perfume. I’ve always preferred lighter scents, like White Linen or Beautiful by Estee Lauder.