I just got back from Florida, where I spent a couple of days with Carol, who writes WAFT. There were brush fires burning all around us, from months of drought. It was too smoky to walk outside, or go to the beach, or much of anything. So we hung out indoors, sniffing perfume, for two days.
I spotted a green box in her collection that looked familiar. Pulled it out and turned it over. It was vintage Moon Drops.
I’ve recently returned from Memphis, where I was an extra in the forthcoming film "Woman's Picture", which concerns mothers, daughters and perfume. Moon Drops was my mother’s signature scent during a difficult time, the 80’s, when we lived on opposite sides of the U.S., and didn’t get along for long on my visits home. I thought of myself as hot stuff then, rising fast in a wicked and glamorous career, and I think that she, a lifelong wife and mother, might have been a little jealous. She made a point of being unimpressed.
I didn’t know whether I should try the Moon Drops. I’d always turned my nose up at it. Drugstore stuff. Cheap. Revlon, for God’s sake! I’d been disappointed in her for putting away her Arpege and Moment Supreme and adopting as her signature...this? I was hesitant to smell it, afraid that it might bring back bad memories. But I decided to be brave, and sprayed some on my wrist.
Here was the slightly bitter alcohol and aldehyde blast I remembered. She would apply it generously, just before she’d leave the house, and that smell would linger in her wake. Then, I smelled some sort of white flower, followed by -- surprise! -- the trajectory of a Chypre. Orris. Green. Not sweet. Lily of the valley. Carnation -- probably eugenol, quite a bit of it. And finally, moss. Lots of moss.
The “notes” lists things I don’t smell much of -- ylang-ylang, fruits, honey, cedar. It’s the bitters I smell now. Perhaps the top and midnotes degraded with age, leaving only the structure, the dry bones. Sweetness tends to do that over time.
“The whole fucking world,” says Miriam, of “Woman’s Picture,” to her clueless boss, “is mothers and daughters, Grant.” I’ve been turning that statement in my mind ever since I heard it. Is it true?
My father wore Mennen’s Skin Bracer, the after-shave. I wouldn’t have been afraid to sniff that. The bottle of Moon Drops, though, seemed to hold a malevolent spirit, and I held the box for a moment while I considered it.
I appreciate my mother much more now that she’s gone. Hers was a tough life, always moving, raising her kids in the Sixties, that era of generational war, fought across the kitchen table every night; expectations, disappointments. I’m wondering now about her giving up the first-rate French perfume for this drugstore stuff. What was that about?
Practicality. An attempt to conform to small-town life. A bone-deep fear of being thought pretentious. That’s a generational thing, too, far from my era of single-malt Scotch and McMansions with five bathrooms, a time now coming to its own ignominious end.
Carol loved the Moon Drops. As surprised as I was at its classic quality, she told me that she, too, had turned up her nose. She’d had the box for a while and hadn’t even opened it. Once she smelled it, she couldn’t stop spraying, evaluating, exclaiming.
I didn’t, though. It’s not that I don’t like the fragrance. I do. But when I had a signature scent, it was the lush floral oriental Bal a Versailles -- an attempt, I now know, to carve my own identity into that opposite coast, as far away from home as I could get.
I came back with a decant of the Moon Drops, and another of Charlie, something else she wore back then. I’ll put them in my “Mom Kit,” I joked to Carol, “along with the Arpege and the Woodhue and the Moment Supreme.”
Here’s the thing though: I’ll do just that. In a way, it’s the least I can do.
“Notes” for Moon Drops include aldehydes, gardenia, peach, bergamot, lily of the valley, rose, jasmine, ylang-ylang, carnation, orris, honey, sandalwood, musk, cedar, moss, styrax, amber and benzoin.