The Honeysuckle Hour

Lauren, whom you’ve met when she talked about the role of a fragrance evaluator, returns today with a testament to the strength of scent memories. The Honeysuckle Hour is also a tribute to her father.

I am walking, gliding along a paved path atop a river bank, staring coolly into the steamy, tangled vegetation, noting the various plants my parents have taught me to identify: tulip poplar, poison ivy, maple, dwarf maple, river birch… and honeysuckle.  I smell it from thirty feet away, the sweetness that is sophisticated but light; indulgent but sparkling; nostalgic but still fresh.  As I pause in my walk to breathe in the honeysuckle’s perfume, standing like a conductor before an orchestra, I realize: this scent will hurt me the most, if I am here and my father is gone.


One breath of honeysuckle amid these densely-packed leaves, and in a cloud of fragrance I land directly in my past: standing on a dock at the lake, my father meeting with a stranger, shaking hands over uncomfortably long, reedy boats gently bobbing on the waves.  They’re called shells.  I’m supposed to climb in one and try rowing – although each moving part is three times my height, and I’ve never commanded anything with a sliding seat.   I’m nervous and scared, feeling every inch the awkward new teenager that I am; but mostly, I’m afraid to fail my dad.

Suddenly, I’m in the shell, alone on the water that gently laps my fiberglass boat as if to comfort me.  Intuitively, I feel how to balance and move my body.   A shapeless ribbon of honeysuckle perfume caresses my cheek, encouraging me.  I’m smooth and the shell is silent across the water.  I see my father, smiling from the dock, because I’m doing pretty well.  He might be proud.  And it feels delicious, the gliding of my muscles and all the parts of my body working in opposite directions, yet harmoniously in sync.

Years later, when I’m rowing on a murky, stagnant river, gliding past bursting leaves and hanging vines that make me feel I’ve entered a jungle, I feel the boundaries between me, the earth, and the graceful birds I approach without disruption, all fade.  I feel my father in his own shell behind me.  I sense that he is pacing himself to be with me and make me comfortable, going slowly though he is capable of much higher speeds.  From somewhere unseen, the honeysuckle whispers in my ear that I am a part of the earth, the leaves, birds, water; and also, my father.

It’s a Saturday, so we go home to be with Mom and my little brother.  The afternoon is lost in a blur of sunshine, green grass, yard work and our dog.  Dinner is a special treat – grilled steak filets – and again I am surrounded by the smells of my father on the weekend.  Freshly-minced garlic, nubs of newly-ground black pepper and the dark, vinegar tang of Worcestershire sauce rubbed into fresh meat.  On weekdays, my father dabs Calvin Klein Obsession onto his neck.  But on Saturdays, his cologne is a mix of Worcestershire sauce and smoky, grilled steak with an early-morning undercurrent of honeysuckle.  What would you call that fragrance?

Tonight on my walk, the air smells of bitter green leaves, a murky river, and honeysuckle.  It smells of my past, my family, my hometown. It makes me homesick with a pain I haven’t felt since childhood, even though I am fine right here, in this Honeysuckle Hour.  And it takes me to the future, wherever I might be, because I know exactly how I will feel when I smell this perfume down the road.  Those spidery, white and gold blossoms are deceivingly delicate – they hold the power to swiftly carve a hole of homesick longing into my chest, because they are the perfume of time spent with my father.

Photography by Bois de Jasmin

What scents remind you of your father?



  • Lucas: Thank you Lauren for sharing your beautiful memories of your father – especially that we’re only a bit more than a week away from Father’s Day (in Poland its celebrated few days later)
    And than you for bringing the honeysuckle scent with you today. I like this perfume material, favourite being probably Le Chevrefeuille by Annick Goutal. I wish it lasted longer on my skin.

    Scent that reminds me of my dad. Old Spice aftershave, he’s using it for a few decades. June 10, 2013 at 7:19am Reply

    • Lauren: Lucas, I like Old Spice aftershave, too, because it reminds me of my childhood and the first time I held hands with a boy in 7th grade! It would be interesting to name a popular product and map out all the specific memories that different people associate with it. 🙂

      I haven’t tried the Annick Goutal fragrance. Do you smell any woods or musk in there as well, or is it true to the floralcy only? June 10, 2013 at 8:40am Reply

      • Lucas: My dad has been using this aftershave forever (or at least since I remember which is since always)

        Speaking of Le Chevrefeuille. I only get a crispy and green honeysucle and sweet lemon notes. Nothing more. June 10, 2013 at 11:35am Reply

  • Ann: Alas, my Dad rarely wore any scent. He smelled of fresh, sun-kissed air with an occasional waft of good pipe tobacco. On the rare occasion that he wore a fragrance, he merely smelled clean. For us, he made you catch your breath with his warm smile and amazing mind.

    Nothing better! June 10, 2013 at 8:26am Reply

    • Lauren: There is nothing like good pipe tobacco! My grandfather would smoke a pipe and I still love the smell. 🙂 June 10, 2013 at 8:42am Reply

  • Tara C: My dad is not a cologne person, he always just smells of clean warm skin, but he has a beautiful smile and blue eyes. Thanks for sharing this great story! June 10, 2013 at 9:13am Reply

    • Lauren: Tara, I wonder what soap and/or aftershave he used for that clean skin? 😉 June 10, 2013 at 9:40am Reply

  • Jani: You write beautifully, Lauren. I feel homesick for your dad, too, as your words magnetically drew me into the place and time. Such cherished memories and a wonderful way to honor him! My dad also holds a special place in my heart. He worked in a factory where beets are processed into sugar, so on workdays he smelled like he’d been dipped in molasses. It was a comforting smell to me because he played with me after supper while talking about my day at school. On Sundays he broke out the British Sterling Bitter Lemon, though, which always elicited kisses from my mother while I cheered them on. June 10, 2013 at 9:35am Reply

    • Lauren: Thank you, Jani. The odor of molasses is certainly strong and unmistakable! You can be confident that your memories will not be easily forgotten. June 10, 2013 at 11:37am Reply

  • CC …: What a beautiful tribute to your father. I miss my dad terribly but whenever I get a waft of Guerlain Imperiale Eau de Cologne (the only scent he ever wore) I smile and blow him a kiss. June 10, 2013 at 10:08am Reply

    • Lauren: CC, I like this imagery…as if the sudden fragrance is the sign of an angel nearby. You never know. I have read in multiple religious / historical texts that when Jesus was nearby, people reported the scent of lilacs even though there were no lilacs to be seen. June 10, 2013 at 11:43am Reply

  • Liz K: Thank you for sharing that beautiful memory with us. Today happens to be the anniversary of the accident that took my father so it was nicely timed to remind me I am not the only one to miss a parent.
    My father was a farmer and never wore fragrance and as far as I know owned none. He did always smell like some combination of sunscreen, diesel fuel, tractor shed, sawdust, A&D ointment, coffee, and cordite. Sounds awful but he never smelled bad in spite of his daily hard work. June 10, 2013 at 10:46am Reply

    • Lauren: Liz, I am so sorry to hear of your father; how strange about the timing. Sunscreen and coffee are other scents that reminds me of my father, too. I don’t think the others you mentioned sound awful; rather, they’re a testament to the subjectivity of scents, how they are all so personal and can be interpreted by everyone differently! June 10, 2013 at 11:51am Reply

  • Lauren: Liz, I am so sorry to hear of your father; how strange about the timing. Sunscreen and coffee are other scents that reminds me of my father, too. I don’t think the others you mentioned sound awful; rather, they’re a testament to the subjectivity of scents, how they are all so personal and can be interpreted by everyone differently! June 10, 2013 at 11:51am Reply

  • Tiara: My father was a simple man with a simple scent. Aqua Velva aftershave!

    Beautifully written piece, by the way. June 10, 2013 at 12:02pm Reply

    • Lauren: 🙂 Thank you!

      Do they still make Aqua Velva? I haven’t smelled this before… June 10, 2013 at 12:14pm Reply

      • Tiara: It’s still available, although not sure if it smells the same! June 10, 2013 at 12:34pm Reply

  • leathermountain: FA shower gel. Dusty cashmere with a trace of mothball. The lab. Wood cabin plus sea air. Pickled herring. I miss my dad. June 10, 2013 at 12:37pm Reply

  • Lauren: 🙂 I love being let in to all these different scent memories…each one paints a picture. June 10, 2013 at 12:42pm Reply

  • Leah: This was a lovely tribute. My father was never much for fragrance, but my grandfather was faithful to Royal Bain de Champagne (Caron) until his dying day. Oh how I wish it had not been reformulated – it is enough missing him all these years June 10, 2013 at 12:44pm Reply

    • Lauren: Thank you, Leah – I can relate. If CK Obsession for Men is ever reformulated, then I will be sorely disappointed. Hopefully, honeysuckle and Worcestershire will stay consistent throughout my lifetime. Another product that reminds me of my dad – real cane sugar syrup – I know has been changed in the last few years. It’s hard to accept something reformulated when the original version has played a large role in your family life! June 10, 2013 at 1:10pm Reply

  • Lori Olthoff: The scents that most remind me of my father are a crisp cotton shirt, scotch whiskey and cigarettes.
    When I was a little girl my father (who always wore crisp cotton shirts) use to tuck me in after relaxing with a glass of Scotch and a cigarette. That combination will forever remind me of my wonderful father. June 10, 2013 at 12:50pm Reply

    • Lauren: Lori, the funny thing is, your description of your father would probably fit many men’s fragrances that are on the market today: a crisp, clean top of aldehydes or citrus to mimic the cotton shirt; and a rich, luxurious base with a hint of ambery whiskey, Scotch, or smoke. A lot of people would pay for that out of a bottle! June 10, 2013 at 2:21pm Reply

  • Daisy: Wonderful, wonderful, wonderful post. Thank you so much, Lauren, for sharing your memories. Your descriptions were so evocative that I felt like I could see the greenery, the water, feel the heat and humidity, and smell everything. Thank you again!

    As for my dad, he works in a hospital so he always smells like antibacterial soap and donuts from the waiting room. It actually is much nicer than it sounds! June 10, 2013 at 1:25pm Reply

    • Lauren: Daisy, I think I can imagine your dad’s ‘scentprint’ very well. Antibacterial soap becomes comfortable once you are familiar with it…and who wouldn’t want to cozy up to donuts? 🙂

      I really like reading about the smells people associate with their fathers; it’s like seeing a virtual ‘fingerprint’ of the person. June 10, 2013 at 2:17pm Reply

      • Daisy: Explains my love of fried foods today 🙂 June 10, 2013 at 2:57pm Reply

  • Jennifer: My dad has worn Brut since the ’70s and still does to this day. It may well be the only scent he ever wears. So I have a soft spot for Brut. 🙂 June 10, 2013 at 2:26pm Reply

    • Lauren: I have a soft spot for Brut as well – my dad had a bottle that he passed down to my little brother. The bottle is still sitting on the shelf in his bathroom, so it always reminds me of him. 🙂 June 10, 2013 at 7:22pm Reply

  • minette: what a beautiful window onto your world and your love for your father. that timeless love you felt is real.

    my father never wore cologne, although he always seemed to have a bottle of old spice or jade east on the window shelf in their bathroom. i would sniff the bottles, and try on the colognes (of course), but i have no memory of them on his skin.

    he gave up smoking decades ago, and transitioned to non-smoking status by smoking a pipe for a while. as a little girl, i loved the smell of that raw pipe tobacco, and i still do. the scent of tobacco in an unlighted cigarette is also attractive to me. and i actually like the very first inhale of a lit cigarette – but after that it tastes like ash to me. so… maybe i associate tobacco with my dad – but only if i think about it for a while. the only other scent i might associate with him is beer – from his nightly two beers he drank for many years. not quite as evocative as your honeysuckle hour!

    cheers! June 10, 2013 at 3:09pm Reply

    • Lauren: Minette, how daring of you to try his colognes as a child! 🙂 I don’t think it occurred to me to try men’s colognes until recently. (I’ve been complimented on both D&G The One Gentleman and Viktor & Rolf Spicebomb!)

      I have my own positive associations with beer, too – while it may not be classy, it’s real, and you can’t change that! June 10, 2013 at 7:27pm Reply

  • Amer: Lauren I admire you for your beautiful writing style. This was so touching… and by a weird coincidence I can relate to it to the point of identification! Honeysuckle is the scent that speaks to me of my childhood more than any. I have even written a poem about it. Our summer house was overgrown with it and its scent was a companion to all my games with friends, our “conspiring” against the adults, our falling-outs and making-ups, and yes, it also speaks to me of the time spent in that garden with my father as well. I vividly recall him showing me how to suck the nectar of the flower and how at first I thought he was joking, trying to make me do something foolish.

    I am getting emotional just thinking of it. It is the fragrance that speaks of a youth now spent and of people gone. Situations and opportunities that will never come again have been absorbed by it. I don’t cope with nostalgia very well, it is a strange kind of pain that cuts me off from my present. This flower can hurt me also.

    Almost forgot about your question. Shaving foam, tomato leaves and fresh onions (the last two from working at our vegetable patch. June 10, 2013 at 5:17pm Reply

  • Saskia: Lauren, What a beautiful story and memory. I am sad to say that in my case I have absolutely no association of smell with my father. I do for the others in my family, including my Grandfather. He was Swiss and faithfully wore the classic ‘Pitralon’. I used to love watching him lather up his shaving foam with the badger hair brush and end his shaving ritual with the splash of aftershave. Pitralon did not have a typical aftershave scent; it had a bit of a medicinal smell as it contained camphor and cedar oil. That was his smell, mixed with burgundy wine and the sweetish aroma of single Pedroni cigar of the day that he smoked with leasure in the afternoon. Miss him. Thanks for the trip down memory lane. June 10, 2013 at 7:16pm Reply

    • Lauren: Saskia, you’re welcome, and thank you for sharing your memories, as well. It’s like we are right there with your grandfather! June 11, 2013 at 8:22am Reply

  • Lauren: Amer, thank you! Funny that I also remember the first time I tasted honeysuckle nectar (the elementary school playground), and I was hesitant as well. It’s a delicious well-kept secret. Your reply has touched me, too. 🙂 I hope you have some good memories in there that can lessen the pain. June 10, 2013 at 7:32pm Reply

  • erry: Coffee (sweet and strong) and unfiltered kretek (a mix of tobacco and clove) cigarettes. He was a heavy coffee drinker and he smoked like a train (that’s our way to say someone is a chain smoker). ….

    I just realized that my father is a perfumista, calvin klein obsession, l’eau par kenzo, trussardi, dolce & gabbana pour homme, guerlain samsara and many more. but his most memorable perfume is must de cartier, he wore it for special occassion. It left a long trail of scent …. June 10, 2013 at 10:56pm Reply

    • Lauren: The kretek sounds warm and comforting! What is it about Calvin Klein Obsession? I grew up thinking my dad alone owned it, but I see it’s more wide-spread than I realized. June 11, 2013 at 8:24am Reply

  • Andrea: That was a lovely piece! This sounds awful, but the scent of wine (particularly red, but any wine works) reminds me of my father. As a doctor, he was gone a lot. When he came home after a long day of surgery and seeing patients, he always drank a few glasses of wine before and during dinner. When I hugged him before bed, he always smelled of it. I don’t drink alcohol, but when I cook with it, I think of him… June 10, 2013 at 11:02pm Reply

    • Lauren: Andrea, thank you for the comments! I must admit I’m amused that several people seem to feel bad that they associate alcohol scents with their fathers…and while I do understand, really, what is there to feel bad about? Alcohol is a part of life and sometimes even the glue that holds families together. Scent memories have no prejudices; they just happen. 🙂 The smell of stale beer, off-putting as it is, reminds me of college, being happy and surrounded by friends… June 11, 2013 at 8:27am Reply

    • Jennifer: Don’t feel bad.. I’ve always liked the smell of bourbon because I associate it with my grandpa. I remember being at my grandparents’ house when I was a kid, and Grandma would make Grandpa a bourbon & Coke when he came home in the afternoon. After he passed away in 2006, I remember having cravings for bourbon & Coke. 🙂 June 11, 2013 at 5:00pm Reply

  • Courant: My Dad was a Londoner who emigrated to New Zealand. His family suffered great loss in the Blitz. His teenage years were ruined. Forward twenty or so years. We were holidaying at a fibrolite cottage on top of a hill that overlooked the Firth of Thames (the NZ one) when Winston Churchill died. The radio report asked for a minutes silence. The sun was setting, the water glistened; the air was drenched in isoamyl acetate from oleander, pittosporum and Port St John creeper. My Father wore Old Spice. A minute is a long time to a child but I will never forget the pathos combined with the heady scents of Ngarimu Bay. (Nah-re-moo) June 11, 2013 at 3:44am Reply

    • Lauren: Courant – amazing how that combination of scents can carve out such a specific, frozen moment in time. Thank you for sharing. June 11, 2013 at 8:29am Reply

  • Annikky: A beautiful post and I absolutely love the title – there should be a novel of that name.

    My father is a PE teacher and baskeball coach, so in my mind he is connected to the rubber smell of cheap basketballs and the worn leather of the more expensive ones. June 11, 2013 at 4:51am Reply

    • Lauren: Annikky, thank you! Your rubber references remind me of my father, too – we would play tennis and if a new can of tennis balls was opened, we’d always inhale and talk about the strange smell.

      Also, I love leather scents. It’s interesting to me that so many ‘notes’ people associate with their fathers actually show up in men’s fine fragrances. As if the perfumers knew what they were doing. 😉 June 11, 2013 at 8:33am Reply

  • Andy: Thanks for sharing these gorgeous memories. Your story is especially powerful for me because my memories of late spring are always honeysuckle-tinted. Where I live, honeysuckle grows in abundance, and one of my most joyous memories is driving down a rural road in the afternoon, with the windows open, the scent of hot asphalt and honeysuckle mingling and following me all the way. Thank you! June 11, 2013 at 8:41am Reply

    • Lauren: Andy, this sounds exactly like my commute home! Especially if you add a hint of wisteria for the short time it blooms. I love driving with the windows down for the scent surprises. 🙂 June 11, 2013 at 12:02pm Reply

  • TwistyTree: Aramis. My dear departed Dad used it unfailingly for about three decades until I gave him Davidoff’s Cool Water in the late 1990s. When he was courting my Mum in the early 60s, he was using Guerlain’s Mitsouko and today when my widowed mother thinks of him and feels that his spirit is around, she smells Mitsouko. The last perfume he used before he passed away two years ago was Creed’s Jasmal. The bottle is still full as he only got to enjoy it for two months before he left us. June 11, 2013 at 8:41am Reply

    • Lauren: It sounds like your father was quite the fragrance connoisseur and that he had a nose for good quality. Do you ever consider wearing some of the Creed? Perhaps it would be comforting. June 11, 2013 at 12:05pm Reply

  • Maren: What a lovely post, in anticipation of Father’s Day. My Dad passed five years ago on Father’s Day, and I moved my Mom from my childhood home 1 year later. Oh! how I wish I had thought to keep his shaving brush and mug of shaving soap. I don’t even know what brand the soap was, but my what a scent memory that defines my childhood memories of my Dad! Fortunately the bottle of Guerlain Imperiale Eau de Cologne that he sometimes wore was kept and is now a part of my daughter’s collection. It’s funny how those little things are what we wish we kept…my husband wishes he had kept his mother’s rose clippers, as he has fond memories of his mother walking through her rose garden, ready to snip and sniff a prize bloom. June 11, 2013 at 9:11pm Reply

    • Lauren: Maren, sometimes it’s amazing which objects will actually hold significance down the road. With my own belongings, I’m shocked by what I’m willing to give away versus what I’m unwilling to part with – it’s all connected to memories and our own perceived value of that object because of the emotions we associate with it – just the way scents have different sentimental value for different people. Thank you for raising this point for us…it might help us all loosen our grip on our material possessions and think more about what actually stirs the heartstrings, less about what dents or bulges the wallet! June 14, 2013 at 12:33pm Reply

  • Annunziata: Such a beautiful post and very moving thread. I’ve also known that sense of separateness dissolving; one evening, I was walking in the field, and realized I had ‘forgotten’ that the deer and I were different beings. It was strange, and yet felt very true.

    My father died an incredible 50 years ago this coming July 1st. I was a very little girl. The only scent I can associate with him would be pipe tobacco, a pleasant, faint waft of it, along with the distant and dreamlike memories. June 14, 2013 at 7:47pm Reply

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