My mother’s mother, Cassie Lavina (Tuttle) Holmes (1896-1988), was the only grandmother I knew. ‘Gram’, as I called her, was my true Valentine. The first of the many things I associate with her is Evening in Paris cologne, or Soir de Paris as it is called in France:
Evening in Paris came from the daring decade of the 1920s — think glittering nightlife, flapper fashion, the heady perfume of luxury. By the 1950s, Evening in Paris was touted as ‘the fragrance more women wear than any other in the world,’ yet by 1969 it had disappeared.
I say without any proof whatsoever that I seriously doubt my grandmother engaged in much of a nightlife in rural New Hampshire in the 1920s or cavorted about as a flapper. In 1917 she married my grandfather, Elmer Hilton Holmes (1895-1967), and late that year had her first child.
Evening in Paris is described as “a rich floral eau de parfum blended with a slightly woody base.” This may explain why I am drawn first to any chypre scent.*
Most likely Gram’s distinctive little cobalt blue glass bottle of Evening in Paris with its silvery label was a gift.
It’s chypre scent was a gift to me as well. I do not think I ever wore more than the occasional dab she placed behind my ear when I was young. That fragrance lingers and evokes memories with me even until today.
Gram was what you would call an unsophisticated clean-cut country girl. I do not believe she ever went to a hairdresser. She always cut and trimmed her own hair in the same neck-length style — brown-haired when I was young, snow white by her 80s — wound up in pin curls, combed out with a casually-crafted ringlet in front of each ear, each expertly turned inward towards her face.
When she was headed for an outing like church, the Ladies Aid, the Woman’s Club or a card party or, later in life, her beloved Bingo, she “set” her hair in the early or late morning or early afternoon. It was a tip-off that an outing was at hand.
She always wore a dress and hose with garters above the knee for more formal occasions or white cotton ankle socks with the cuff always turned down and white canvas sneakers in her later years.
Gram wore screw-back earrings. Having her ears pierced would never have occurred to her. She had several costume jewelry dress pins, necklaces, and the often-present string of “pearls”. I never did find out where her pale sapphire-blue ring ended up. It was only worn for those dress-up occasions.
And, of course, she always wore her gold wedding band.
Right before leaving the house, she rubbed a touch of rosy-hued rouge onto each cheek and carefully applied bright red lipstick. I don’t think she ever wore anything but the brightest cherry red.
Gram was no follower of Vogue or any other fashion magazine. Changes in color from one season to the next gained no interest. The only other facial adornment might be a pat or two of skin-toned face powder from her compact.
I can imagine that her cosmetics all came from one of several local Five and Dime stores like Woolworths, W.T. Grant or J.J. Newberrys. However, she was a great fan of the visiting Avon lady. I think it was more an opportunity to entertain and swap gossip than an interest in the most recent product catalog.
Next in the getting-ready scheme came the dabbing on of the Evening in Paris. This was followed by the ritual checking in her purse to make sure she was equipped with a roll or two of butter rum-flavored Life Savers — always smelling a bit like Evening in Paris! — a few dollar bills in her wallet, and a crochet or lace-edged handkerchief or two. It was a long long while before a Kleenex found its way into her bag.
Gram did not smoke, so no need for cigarettes, matches or a lighter. She did not drive and the only keys she carried were house keys.
Last but not least, if she was headed for Bingo, she tucked her necessary repurposed margarine container of clear red Bingo chips into the purse.
The frequent occasions of Gram readying for any social event are fixed in my mind. Her routine was simple, predictable, and nearly always the same, forever in my memory by the scent of Evening in Paris.
. . . .
* My favorites are Euphoria by Calvin Klein and Chypre d’Orient by Molinard. Classic chypres, for example, are the original Chanel No. 5 and Miss Dior. My guilty pleasure, sparingly used, is Jean Marc’s Sinan Lune.
. Tip: Use a test strip before purchasing a chypre as it is a very strong scent, an acquired taste, and a strongly offensive smell to some people.)