Smells Like Giorgio

The Next Family

By: Selina Boquet


I had tried to talk him out of it. As soon as I saw my dad making a present for my mom, my stomach twisted in anxiety, knowing that giving presents was not my dad’s forte. It was hard to burst his bubble, though. He had such a silly grin on his face as he joyfully prepared his special gift. As a teenager it was sad to see my dad try his best to make my mom happy, yet always end up failing. The previous year had been a disaster because the poor guy had forgotten Mother’s Day altogether. The year before that, the book he gave her was hurled through the air, gently grazing the top of my head. My mom’s tendency to throw objects at high speeds had perfected my evading techniques throughout my childhood. However this particular year, my dad was determined to give her something she would never forget.

“Happy Mother’s Day!” My little brother, my dad, and I sang in unison as we carefully laid our cards and gifts in front of her on the bed. Our mood was hopeful as every occasion we tried to be, even though we still braced ourselves for the worst. I imagined our gifts as a ceremonial offering to an easily angered god. Mom loves surprises and she was already astounded that her usually forgetful husband had remembered to give her a present this year. As she carefully opened the cylinder-shaped package I’m sure she had all sorts of high hopes. Maybe it was a new bottle of her favorite perfume called, ‘Smells like Giorgio’! The small, orange perfume came in what looked like a spray can and it didn’t last her long as she bathed in the cheap, imitation fragrance daily. Or perhaps he had gotten her a Victorian figurine! She could always use one more for her collection.

My mom loved all things Victorian and we would often enjoy tea and crumpets on a blanket in the yard amongst the Douglas Fir trees, with our floppy Victorian hats and horribly fake English accents. Time seemed to move slowly as we enjoyed one of the few Oregon days where the sun had managed to momentarily break through the stubborn clouds. My most familiar memory of my mom is of her sitting on the Victorian rose-print flimsy foam couch, in the living room where she had painted the walls bright purple, watching Days of our Lives. Characters from the show like Roman and Marlena are family to me as day after day they watched me grow up, awkward and bewildered. I can still hear the fizzle of the bubbles from her Diet Coke and the crunch of her Sour Cream and Cheddar Lays Chips as she snacked away while paying homage to her daytime soap opera.

My mom has always been a perplexing creature. Just when you think you can predict her reaction, she throws you for a loop. Her own mother had the Southern charm that allowed her tell people off while sounding like she was giving them a compliment. Christian values spoke strictly against gossip of any sort, yet it seemed as if anything could be said as long as a sympathetic, “Bless her heart” followed.

“She’s having such a hard time losing weight, bless her heart. You know that’s why she hasn’t found a husband, bless her heart.” It always fascinated me to listen to my grandma and aunts skillfully insult other unsuspecting family members with deep criticisms, disguised as concerned interest. My mom, on the other hand, has never had the patience for that. She tells you what she thinks exactly when she thinks it.

A friend once described her perfectly. He observed, “Your mom is the nicest and meanest person I have ever met.” It’s true! My whole life my mom was always helping to clothe, feed, and house complete strangers who were down and out on their luck, sharing what little we had. She taught me the importance of smiling at everyone you see on the street and always thought of creative ways to entertain us with little to no money at all. She was the first one to arrive at a party and the last one to leave.

Yet, even during the fun times, one of her infamous temper tantrums was always just around the corner. One quiet afternoon, my brother and I were watching after-school cartoons. Our dad, as usual, was putting around the house, fixing this and that in his familiar bustling way. Suddenly, a horrendous scream broke through the peaceful house.

“This place looks like a nigga shack!” In the dead silence following her eruption, we all looked at each other, shocked. Mom’s screams usually jump started us into a frenzy of cleaning fools, yet this time we all burst out laughing at the ridiculousness of her simile. Here it was, 1997, and she was comparing our house to those of the dirt-floored slaves’ homes of the Old South! Unfortunately, her racist roots would boil up from time to time. Even though some of her best friends were African American, the world in which she was raised had left its footprint on her subconscious.

Now that I’m an adult and I have my own kids to discipline, I realize that there is no perfect mother. We each do the best that we can. Some moments are successful, and some are embarrassing, yet hopefully our children turn into decent human beings. I thank my mother for all of the beautiful things she taught me, and the courage to laugh at the mistakes she made with me.

Waiting on that Mother’s Day so long ago for my mom to open the present my dad had made her was like bracing for the impact of a crash landing. Despite my hope that she would see the heart behind his gift, I knew she would not be pleased. Finally, the brown paper bag wrapping was torn away to reveal….a Victorian pencil holder! My dad smiled wide with pride, waiting for her gasp of pleasure.

“What is THIS?! A toilet paper roll??!!!!” my mom instantly exploded. My dad had taken an empty toilet paper roll and had lovingly stuck Victorian stickers to it. He had then glued the decorated toilet paper roll to a small piece of a wooden board from the shed. In his mind, it had been a fantastic creation she would cherish forever. Instead, we spent another Mother’s Day morning in our pajamas at Walgreens hunting for cheap flowers, cards, chocolates, and of course, perfume that ‘Smells like Giorgio’.

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