a ~ Is it perfume from a dress/ That makes me so digress?


A few weeks ago I bought a coat. It’s a nice coat. It isn’t new, though it’s new to me. I bought it one morning after performing a bevy of stunts (grocery shopping, car wash, banking) in my old coat, which has always been too small, ever since I inherited it a couple of years ago. A too-small coat is a major impediment to a decent mood on a cold day when there’s lots to do.

All of a sudden, in the midst of settling groceries into the car while simultaneously trying to explain evolution to B (“So, was I ever a human baby in a monkey’s belly?”) I decided: Life is too short to remain miserable in a too-small coat.

The thing about buying previously loved clothing – that’s the right term these days, isn’t it? – is that for a little while you smell like someone else. My new coat, especially, seemed to cling to the essence of it’s previous owner (or maybe of the shop) which was floral in nature, and not a scent I associate with myself. I’m more of an earthy, ocean, woodsmoke kind of girl. I didn’t mind the smell; I admit, I indulged in a few fantasies of an exotic nature. Like I was a skinny professional somebody who spent a lot of time checking her iPhone. Or a grandmother who had ample time to read books and sip tea in front of cozy fires. Or a super smart scientist chick who dreamed of learning how to play the violin. See? Exotic.

M asked once, after I returned home from a weekend day at the office, “Did you hug someone?”

He was sniffing my hair. I thought back – no, no hugs from anyone but the people I live with. We decided it might be the coat. The ghost of its previous life inserting itself into my day, not unwelcome but unfamiliar. A reminder that the world is both larger and smaller than I usually imagine.

About andi

Writer, editor, wrangler of small boys and dogs.


  1. My – what are you to me, Ellen? Cousin by marriage? Let’s just say friend… – sent this to me in response to my coat post and I had to share it because it gave me tingles…

    Episcopalian Ladies’ Rummage Sale
    “…there had always been witches.”

    From musty steamer trunks, the Episcopalian Ladies
    decanted pre-Depression netted hats, moulted feather boas
    and dough-boy pantaloons, brittling China silks,
    until the basement air was glazed with Chypres
    and the nampthene of moth balls. There, below the sanctuary,
    (kitty corner from my own house of women)
    I palpated these ancient accumulations—
    half-used unguents, and tinctures of evaporated perfume,
    dusty tins of face powder with yellowed puffs,
    the exhausted elastic of faded ‘ladies garments’
    bristling with hooks, cracked pools of orange rouge,
    as the Episcopalian Ladies, with their high,
    grown-woman smells of Coty and Tabu
    uncrated shrines of capes and potions,
    witchy in the flickery light of swaying bulbs.

    I fingered mold-dotted cottons and tortoise shell combs,
    old books whose red had bled off on someone’s wet hands,
    finally choosing a purple lace dress salted in the gussets
    with blue-white moons of sweat, and a feathery, shedding boa
    in which, past dark, I dizzied and spun myself,
    faded tearing lace whirring our scuffed parquet floor.

    Next morning, still gypsied, I woke to the clang
    of church-tower bells, eye level with my attic room.
    Down below, the rummage-sale basement doors
    seemed to have disappeared, as if the dolomite steps
    beneath the sanctuary led to nothing, as women
    I could not recognize as the shadowy Episcopal Ladies,
    now coiffed and sprayed, spiffed and girdled,
    wearing pillbox hats, with new patent-leather pocketbooks
    matched to new shoes, left Grace Church leaning
    on their husbands’ arms, offering their clean, white-gloved hands
    to the minister they called ‘Father’—as if no dirt-floored hole
    squatted there, under the sanctuary, as if no mysteries
    were spilling from dead women’s clothes.

    Leonora Smith Faculty 1989

  2. Love them both, the post and the poem. A double treat. And a reminder about where I can get a “new” coat to replace the cruddy one I have…

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