Friday, January 25, 2013

The sweet smell of childhood

by Graziella Buonanno

This week's Celebrate the Small Things Blogfest contribution: On Wednesday, February 6, I'll undergo surgery on my right eye to correct cellophane maculopathy and cataracts  Wish me luck. I can't wait to resume normal activities like driving my car at night, etc. I try not to dwell on the negative, but to keep a positive outlook.

And now for Graziella's post:

Someone who was leading/teaching a memoir class, said that of all the senses, the sense of smell is the strongest when it comes to triggering vivid memories from our past. I tend to agree.

Not too long ago, I was in Salisbury, CT , browsing in a pharmacy, just waiting for my daughter to make up her mind about some toys for the girls to play with, when I caught sight of a large, dark green container of talcum powder made by H. Roberts & Co.  It  showed a picture of a smiling nurse holding and sprinkling baby powder on a happy baby. Above the picture, in large, red letters, was the word BOROTALCO and below the picture, ROBERTS. It also said, “Se non e` Roberts non e` Borotalco." Translation: If it doesn't say Roberts, it's not talcum powder.

My heart jumped. OH MY LORD! Could it be?

Trembling, I took the container and turned the cap clockwise, to get a whiff of its perfume. I closed my eyes and froze, almost overcome with emotion.

I ran to my daughter and showed her my precious discovery. “ Annalise! Look what I found…” I could hardly speak…

Suddenly I was back in my childhood home, in Italy, right after the big war. It was Saturday,  it was afternoon, in front of the fireplace in our kitchen. I had just stepped out of the metal bathtub. Mama was drying me with a big linen towel, which had been kept warm by hanging over a chair by the fireplace, and quickly, lovingly, Mama was dusting my body with a puff covered with Borotalco Roberts.

In those days, life was tough. We did not have much, but my mama made sure that our bodies were fed, kept clean, and she splurged with a bit of luxury called Borotalco Roberts.

Having found that bottle of talcum powder was like having a little bit of my mother back.

I often go back to that pharmacy, and I’ve purchased several containers of Borotalco Roberts, and even a bottle of bubble bath by Roberts, for my granddaughters. Whenever they take baths in my lake house in Connecticut, they absolutely love the fragrance of the Borotalco Roberts, and I can only hope that some day when I am gone, they will find a bottle of the borotalco and remember their Nonna.


  1. Good luck with your op. Doesn't sound like a small thing to me! And I love the story about the talcum powder. With me, it's the smell of engine oil that reminds me of my dad. He and my two younger brothers used to spend hours in our workshop tinkering with machinery. Being a soppy girl, I was only allowed to watch.

  2. I wish you the best of lucks. And I absolutely loved your story.

  3. Ah yes, the scents of the past...what is it about dad's cigarettes and mom's perfume that brings back memories all the time? Best on your surgery! Vision is no small thing at all...

  4. oh my gosh I hope the surgery goes okay

    Great story, smell is a v. powerful scent.

    Thanks for joining in!

  5. Sending a prayer your way that the surgery goes perfectly and recovery swift.

    Ain't nothing like the senses. And the sense of smell can trigger so much. That might be a good story where the character gets lost because he can't control the memories smells bring out.

  6. I will be keeping you in my prayers, Graziella, and hoping that your surgery goes well. Your post is great. The books that really transport a reader are the ones that use smell effectively.

  7. It's great that there's a surgery to help you, and congrats on finding the talcum powder and reliving happy moments. Have a wonderful weekend! :-)

  8. So nice to hear from you, Grace! I hope you sail through surgery.

  9. What a sweet post, Grace. I hope you have a speedy recovery from your surgery.