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  • Writer's pictureFern

Fragrant Flashbacks

Scents go straight to the brain's smell center, known as the olfactory bulb. The olfactory bulb is connected to the amygdala and hippocampus, which may explain why the smell of something can immediately trigger a detailed memory or intense emotion.

You know how a whiff of a scent can bring a long forgotten memory flooding back? A good memory? It passes quickly, but it’s often enough to trigger a brief mental stroll backwards.

This afternoon, as I sat at my desk, a scent came to me, faint but unmistakably familiar. It must have been from a new lotion that I had put on my winter flaking legs in the morning after showering. It sent me time traveling back to Stern’s Department store in the Willowbrook Mall in Wayne NJ.

I have blogged before (Fern Chat, circa 1990, July 14, 2019) about my memorable part time job in the fragrance department at Stern’s World. Along with a lasting friendship that was forged with Helen who I met there; we had many comical moments while pretending we loved our glorified Barbie jobs. Sterns’ World was sometimes arduous, sometimes hilarious, and frequently boring. I worked a basic PT schedule: 6-9:30 pm, Monday, Wednesday and Friday; Saturday, 10-6. With two teenagers, two mortgages on my log cabin (aka money pit), and a car payment, I needed the extra income above my full time job as a studio manager for a commercial photographer.

The scent that sent me time traveling back today was Claiborne. I tried it during the Christmas season. Today you may purchase it in Wal Mart for $17.99. Yet in 1990, it retailed for $25.00. Claiborne for women is feminine and invigorating. Its timeless appeal comes from the blend of crisp mandarin notes and sensual hints of lily, freesia and carnation. Perfect for daytime wear, it is subdued and pleasantly perceptible without becoming overwhelming.

Claiborne was a fresh concoction of fruity and floral scents, and I loved it...for a while. I guess that made me pleasantly perceptible and not overwhelming...for a while

We were fancy gals in an artificial world, bright and glitzy. We spritzed our counters often and thoroughly. We wore fancy, pointy toed, painful high heels. We coiffed our hair, we made sure our varnished nails were unchipped. We dressed the part. We smiled, we smiled, we smiled.

And we uncovered a retail secret: where the security guys – young guys who roamed the store pretending they were shopping or waiting for someone - went in between their walking loops. They had hidden spots throughout the store, high up in the walls, where they perched and watched. Once we found out, we could no longer yank up our slipping panty hose or adjust anything when we were alone behind the counter, with no customers around.

On down times, after a holiday or due to an approaching storm, when customers were as scarce as trash in the very clean aisles, and after cleaning our area, we we sang, we clowned, we wandered from counter to counter, chatting with co-workers, and trying out the make-up and beauty products; lotion on our hands, new shades of eye shadow, here a spritz, there a spritz: Estee Lauder, Elizabeth Arden, Chanel, Shiseido, Revlon, Loreal, Clinique…etc.

What fragrant days those were.

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