Estee Lauder by
(21 Stories)

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People are always talking about how smells can take you right back in time to a powerful memory. It’s never worked for me. Maybe years of allergies or smog have broken my smeller, but I’m not a person who swoons at the memories smells evoke. With the possible exception of mildew, which I think smells like Maine, the only smell that has ever evoked a powerful response in me is Estee Lauder Youth Dew Eau de Parfum, the scent my grandmother wore.

Grammy Brown taught me how to file my fingernails with an emery board. She made peach pie. She always smelled just a tiny bit sweet, just a tiny bit cinnamony, just a tiny bit powdery. If soft had a smell, it was Estee Lauder.

estee lauder

This photo (found on Pinterest) resembles most closely the little brown bottle I used to have knocking around in my bathroom drawer with the toothpaste, dental floss, ear plugs and empty pill bottles. (If I find it again, I’ll take a photo for documentation!) The little bottle belonged to my Grammy Brown, my father’s mom, wearing the pink dress on the left above. I no longer remember when I acquired it, and I’m rather distressed to think it’s misplaced.

Grammy took care of me when I was a newborn. My mother had to return to the hospital and Grammy flew from Indiana to Southern California to take care of me and my dad for a few weeks. When I was seven, she came again, another time my mother was hospitalized. Maybe it was the smell of safety I associated with her, of rescue.

Grammy Brown taught me how to file my fingernails with an emery board. She made peach pie. She was very soft and warm and hugged you in a way that made it hard to breathe. She had a curious false breast, as big as a loaf of bread, that she wore inside her white satiny brassiere (itself inside a white silky slip) inside all her dresses. Grammy lived with Grampy Brown, who was large and firm and alarming in many ways, and talked about something called “The Gold Standard” at breakfast while innocent children were trying to eat their Cheerios. Grammy liked to play cards and she had a collection of tiny tea cups that didn’t match next to a green velvet chair in later years in Cleveland. She always smelled just a tiny bit sweet, just a tiny bit cinnamony, just a tiny bit powdery. If soft had a smell, it was Estee Lauder.

It’s hard to remember the chronology of all the memories I have of Grammy Brown. At some point I learned the name of the perfume she wore. At some point I understood that she’d had a mastectomy before she married by grandfather. Eventually I learned she was my father’s step-mother, and that my own mother had been hospitalized for manic-depression the two times Grammy came to California and took over. Grammy died when I was 18 and living out of the country; I will always remember how shocked and far away I felt when I learned the news in a letter from home.

I kept that little bottle close at hand for many many years. The smell was still powerful, and even now, all I have to do is think of it to remember so many details about her. If the bottle is gone at last what will I do? I wonder if a new bottle of the perfume would smell the same.




Profile photo of Jennifer Swanton Brown Jennifer Swanton Brown
Poet. Nurse. Teacher. Mom. Daughter. Sister. Knitter. Swimmer. Contemplative in training. Follow "A Twirly Life" (

Tags: Grammy Brown, Estee Lauder, peach pie, manic depression
Characterizations: been there, funny, moving, sad, well written


  1. Reginald says:

    I love this story, especially the little details — Grammy’s peach pie, her her prosthesis, her teacups, the Gold Standard, the Cheerios. I love the way the story evokes the smells that recall your grandmother to you. Thanks for telling it.

  2. David Rock says:

    Poignant, close to the heart story written well, and filled with deeply experienced detail.

  3. It’s been years since I thought of Estee Lauder Youth Dew! I wore it myself for years . Great image of the curious false breast, and poignant memories of your grandmother over time..

  4. Marian says:

    I remember Youth Dew as well. This story was a feast for all senses. Isn’t it amazing how we girls remember the undergarments of our grandmothers?

  5. Betsy Pfau says:

    Poignant and evocative, Jennifer. The sense smell of that perfume takes you back and brings you the comfort, warmth and security of that loving figure. I, too, learned of a loving grandparent’s death via post while far away, It is jarring and unpleasant. You share your details perfectly. Thank you.

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