It’s All Coming Back To Me Now

When I was a little girl, I loved to play in my mama’s make-up. I’d sit in front of her magnifying mirror and put on eye shadow, rouge, powder, lipstick – and then I’d take all of it off with her Merle Norman cleansing cream. I have vivid memories of all of Mama’s make-up brushes and compacts and skin creams, mainly because practicing Seventeen magazine’s easy eye-shadow tricks with the mini-Merle Norman store in Mama’s room was one of my favorite things on earth.

Plus, all that frosted baby blue and leaf green eye shadow wasn’t going to apply itself, now was it?

This past Saturday the little man and I made an unexpected trip to Merle Norman with Sister because she needed to buy some of her beloved loose powder before we walked over to TJ Maxx. I hadn’t been in a Merle Norman store in about ten or fifteen years, but I am here to tell you that as soon as I stepped through the door, it was SENSORY MEMORY OVERLOAD. It took me about five seconds to get my bearings, and then I made a beeline for the display case of powder base and said, “Alex! Come here! This is the smell of Mama’s childhood!”

What? You don’t walk into a cosmetics store and then enthusiastically ask your child to smell a container of foundation?

Well, you have no idea what you’re missing.

And let me tell you: that powder base took me RIGHT BACK to 1983. Before I knew it I was singing Duran Duran songs and tying a big lace sash around my head.

Before we left I saw a bunch of other products I hadn’t thought of in years: cleansers, toners, masks – you name it. I saw the cream that Mama used to slather on her face every night before bed and could instantly remember how it smelled. I’m telling you: I was flooded with memories. And just as we were about to leave, I looked over at the check-out counter and saw these:

OH SWEET MERCY THE LIPSTICK SAMPLES. I can’t tell you how many times I pulled out Mama’s gold lip brush (it was retractable! and fancy!) and opened up one of those little blister packs. In fact, I had so many of them (thanks to sweet Miss Sara, the lady who owned the Merle Norman in my hometown) that I probably didn’t own a real tube of lipstick for the first two years after I started wearing make-up. I’d forgotten all about them until Saturday, but as soon as I saw them I remembered how much I used to adore them. And I told myself right then and there that the next time I need some make-up, I’m going to go to my local Merle Norman store.

Because if I buy some powder? THEY’LL GIVE ME FREE LIPSTICK SAMPLES.

The thrill of free never dies, does it?

What about y’all? What products or smells stir up all sorts of happy childhood memories for you?

If you’d asked me last week, I’d have said “Mentholatum” in a New York minute. With Dial soap, Mama’s White Rain hairspray and a big ole jar of Noxzema as distant runners-up.

But no kidding: Merle Norman totally trumped the Mentholatum.

That is no small feat, my friends.

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  1. Usually it’s a certain smell. I can’t describe it but it reminds me of elementary school for some reason. I smell it every once in a while and I’m immediately transported. Funny how smells do that!

  2. Lynnette R says:

    My grandmother operated a beauty shop out of her basement in the early years of my childhood. Talk about a fun place for a little girl to hang out on a Saturday. Anyway, Granny used a shampoo that smelled like mint. The smell of mint, buzzing hairdryers and chatter of ladies was always a thrill for me. I get a whiff of the minty shampoo smell occasionally and it never fails to transport me back to my happy place.
    And green beans cooking on the stove do the same thing for me. I always associate the smell of green beans cooking with my Granny’s kitchen. Delightful!

  3. Tame Creme Rinse – You are probably too young to remember this but it was in a glass bottle with green lettering! I loved that smell.

  4. I can STILL smell my mom’s Merle Norman foundation. Jean Nate After Bath Splash would put me right back into a tiny bathroom fighting with my sisters over the curling iron. Thanks for the memory!

  5. Definitely my great-grandmothers aqua net hair spray and baby powder! She powdered every day and sprayed her hair (after she rolled it on metal rollers!) Every time I think about it, I can still smell it!

  6. Oh, I’m with you! My mama was a beautician and she was queen of Merle Norman make up. Queen, I tell you. I still use the foundation because Mama always said it was the best. So I smell my childhood every single day. And if you ever run into my mama, you would totally go to the Merle Norman store cause that lady is 63 and looks like she’s in her 40’s. No kidding. (There’s a four generation pic in my sidebar. She’s the oldest. Yeah.)

    And I have to throw in that sweet (tea) olive tree blossoms in the spring and fall take me back to the days I rode the bus to and from school. There was a certain part of town where I’d throw my window down and gulp the air because of those sweet olive blossoms. I have two in my yard!

    Thanks for taking me down scent-memory lane.

  7. Do you remember Dippity Do? My sister and I used to love that!

  8. nanette lynch says:

    Jergens body lotion for sure! Both grandmothers used it.
    Great post!

  9. What great timing for this post! Tomorrow afternoon, I’ll be taking my 14 year old daughter for her makeup lesson at Merle Norman! When I was a teen, my Mom took me to the studio in my hometown so they could teach me the proper way for a young lady to apply her makeup so that I wouldn’t look like a clown – or worse! Now I’ve started that tradition with my girls as their 14th birthday celebration. Thanks for the sweet memories!

  10. The smell of strong varnish evokes the memory of my growing up church. And walking into that church is an amazing flash of nasal memories! I’m pretty sure I licked the back of the pew in front of us when I was a kid.

  11. Oh. My. Goodness. I practically SQUEEEEED when I saw that box that said “Bamboo Beige” because that is the foundation that my mom wears to. This. DAY! It is absolutely the smell of my childhood, that and Merle Norman’s cold cream.
    Here’s a story for you…for my wedding, I wanted a professional to do my make up, so we headed to the closest Merle Norman store and had Melinda work her magic. (She did a FANTASTIC job, although I’m sure she would have appreciated it if we had actually BOUGHT something!) To this day, 14 years later, she asks my mom about me BY NAME when my mom goes in there to get her Bamboo Beige and cold cream. Amazing!
    Oh, and also the smell of White Linen perfume transports me back to childhood. That’s what my mom wore when she was dressing up fancy!

  12. My grandmother wore Este Lauder perfume. she paased away when I was 10 but I still remember her smell. Every sp often I will hug an older lady at church and she will have that same perfume on. Sometimes when I am in the store I will go smell the Este Lauder perfumes. When I am a grandmother, I will wear it too!

  13. It’s so funny that you say Noxzema! That and the toner that she used (whose name escapes me) were my mama’s skin regimine. Now she goes to a high-end aesthetician so she doesn’t smell the same. Ha! I love that someone above said “creme rinse.” I haven’t heard anyone call conditioner that in about 15 years but that’s exactly what we called it and I can smell our brand just thinking about it!!! I’m with some of the others that you don’t necessarily think about it until it just hits you! Mmmm, the memories!

  14. Oh the smells of childhood. Yes, Noxzema–we put it on sunburns. But mostly Ponds Cold Cream reminds me of my favorite aunt, Alice, who used it every day. She used Ponds hand cream, too. Love that smell!

    I wonder what smells my kids will rememberl? Hairspray?

  15. Every time I smell Estee Lauder’s Beautiful, I feel like I am a four year old, sitting on the edge of the tub in my mom and dad’s bathroom, watching my mom get dressed for the day! I love how smells can remind you of so much!

  16. I am such a memory smeller. I tell my husband all the time this smell reminds me of….

    I LOVE LOVE the smell of magic sizing starch. Takes me to my grandma’s house instantly. White Rain hair spray too.

    For my mom it is Este Lauder moisturizer and a perfume that we can’t remember the name of but she used to use and I get a whiff of out and about every now and then. One of these days I’ll ask someone the name!

  17. Oil of Olay for my mom and Obsession perfume for my grandma. Think of them whenever I smell them.

  18. The smell of a newly opened Cover Girl make-up package makes me think of my grandma. Oh, how I loved her so! The make-up has a slight Noxema note that comes out in the end and makes me think of Grandma and her Cover Girl cosmetics right up until the very end.

  19. Sallie Baker says:

    Do you remember the mask that Merle Norman had….? it was kind of pinky red…and BURNED THE FIRE OUT OF YOUR FACE???!! It would dry and get all crinkly like …and then you would wash it off, and have baby soft skin…( if you could touch it after being so raw!!)
    You are probably too young…they surely improved that many years later! Loved your post about the smells! YES!!

  20. **Warning**not a pleasant memory but you asked so I am telling.

    Roses- I am instantally 9 years old and walking in the door of the funeral home for my Dad’s funeral.It is a shame as they are so beautiful. I love to look at them but just can’t take the smell.

  21. Noxema, Chanel No. 5 and Reese’s peanut butter cups. These smells are all my mom.

  22. I ran out of my regular Clinique blush a few weeks ago so I picked up a compact of Cover Girl. As soon as I opened the lid I was reminded of my Mother’s make-up bag. My Mom died when I was seventeen, but watching her put on her make-up is a very strong memory for me and the smell of that blush was transporting.

    I haven’t shopped at Merle Norman since high school, but I SO remember those little lipstick samples. Fantastic!! I also loved their loose powder. I might need to make a little visit to the MN….

  23. Pat in Birmingham says:

    Rolaids! My grandfather used to eat them like candy when I was a kid. I had forgotten all about it until I had indigestion while pregnant. When I opened that roll, oh my…I was 9 years old snuggling with Pop on the sofa watching Lawrence Welk! By that time he was with Jesus, and it was the first time I became aware that scents ARE memories… BTW, that baby I was carrying will be 37 in a few days. Can’t believe it! LOVE YOUR BLOG!

  24. The smell of my childhood is original Jergen’s hand lotion. My mother doesn’t wear a lot of makeup, but she loves Jergen’s. I’m a fellow MSU bulldog, now living in Alabama, and LOVE reading your blog!

  25. Oh my! Hadn’t thought about those Merle Norman smells in years!! My mother owned the Merle Norman store here for a while…so I got to smell those smells & unpack, stock & reorganize those samples a lot in my late high school, early college days. Thanks for the memories :)

    Another smell of my earlier childhood (Southern California) is the smell of geraniums & honeysuckle!

  26. I still use Noxema. It makes me so happy!!

    My twenty-year-old bought my four-year-old some Love’s Baby Soft and let me just say that every time she wears it I’m transported back. I’ve been tempted to wear it myself. Except she sprays so much that we both walk out of the bathroom in a baby powder scented cloud. Less is never more with the four-year-old.

    There’s also a certain smell that I’ve never put my finger on that will remind me of lip gloss I had as a child. I wish I knew what it was because it is one of the happiest smells in the world.

  27. Merle Norman makes me think of my mom too. She had that strong smelling foundation, and at night she wore (and wears) Superlube. It’s this pink, thick, vaseline-like moisturizer that she slathers around her mouth and eyes. I have to say, at 69, my mom’s skin looks awesome so it must be working.

  28. My childhood memories included the smell of Coty face powder.

  29. my mama still uses bamboo beige!!!! she always gives me the gift with purchase to this day…i love their face wash and mascara…it is tried and true and the company is still there in this economy…i do wonder what will happen after this generation though

  30. Alysia in MS says:

    I totally La-hoved the smell of the Merle Norman store. And I so wear their foundation right now! Every day!(Well almost) And I had several(read-a ton of)lipstick blister packs, also I was lucky enough for Mama to have the fancy and amazing lip brush, I felt so grownie. They were awesome. I too love Jergens, have some at home. Thanks for the post, it reminds of wonderful moments!

  31. my mama always (still does, in fact) wore oil of olay on her face, calling it her “makeup,” and to this day, whenever i smell it, i am instantly transported to my mama’s side.

  32. I’m with you Sophie – the Merle Norman store is my smell of childhood. That and the Estee Lauder “perfume” (word used loosely) that my grandma wore. I still think of her when in an elevator and I smell it on someone – also usually over the age of 70!

  33. Rose Milk skin care lotion at my grandma’s house. After hearing Lawrence Welk advertise it on commercials during his show, how could she resist?

  34. Cigarettes and coffee mostly (don’t think bad of my mama. It was a different time!)

    In the mornings, I’d wake up and I could smell cigarette smoke in the air and coffee brewing. I knew she was home and in the kitchen, probably making me breakfast. There was something comforting about it.

    Then, I’d have to say noxema and vicks :)

  35. I love how so many of these are so southern, with our Mama’s hairspray reigning as the scent of our childhoods :) My smells are for sure my Mama’s Freeze & Shine and Shower to Shower. I still smell it and instantly think of my Mama! My MaMaw also always used a body powder that she kept in a fancy little container in her bathroom with a big brush. She would always dust a tiny bit on for me, but it was off-limits to my own two hands. I have no idea what it was called, but to this day if I randomly smell that scent, I think of her… and that’s a really nice memory. Also, oddly, the smell of my elementary school.

  36. The smell of crayola crayons and play dough takes me back to back in the day.

  37. There is a lotion that my grandmother used to wear in the 70’s that smelled like roses. Every time I smell rose scented lotion, I think of her in a heart beat!

  38. My Grandmother always wore White Shoulders cologne. I always declared that when I grew up, I wanted to smell just like her. And guess what? I keep a back stock of at least 4 bottles just in case it becomes obsolete. In fact, you gave me a fright over the Mentholatum scare. I might need to up that backstock!!

  39. Oh how this brings back memories! Merle Norman’s foundation was the first I ever wore. Coincidentally, my shade was Bamboo Beige, too! I LOVED going into the store in my hometown, it was run by two of the nicest ladies. They would load me up with samples when I was in college! I need a new eyeliner…think I’ll stop in my local store tonight!

  40. I know this sounds weird but the 2 smells that bring back the strongest memories for me are fresh tar and a mechanics garage!
    Explanation; when I was little we would go to Silver Dollar City in Branson MO…a lot. And they’d always just re-tared the sidewalks. And then my grandpa who I only have faint memories of was a mechanic so I love that smell, it reminds me of the few times my dad took me to see him.
    **Also rose scented air freshner…my grandma’s bathroom!

  41. Oil of Olay moisturizer was my grandma, big time! And grandpa was Old Spice. Who knew that grandpa’s cologne would someday have a pitchman riding backwards on a horse – on the beach?!

    You cannot forget the Love’s Baby Soft- the first “real” perfume of every tween girl in America. Oh, and my mom wore the Jean N’ate body splash. Oh my! The memories are flooding back to me. Great topic, BooMama!

  42. Powder Fresh Secret deodorant. Makes me wish for a hug from my mom.

  43. oh man this makes me feel 15 again! I can so totally smell that powder base. I can also feel the sting of Miracol mask!! Thanks for the memory and the smile!

  44. Donna Taylor says:

    The smell of corn and soybean harvest. The combine picking corn stalks (which always comes first) and then the soybean cutting. There is nothing similar to smelling the soil, dust and gran in the field.

  45. Merle Norman was the makeup I grew up on too!
    Love that stuff and as soon as I saw your pictures….I went back!

    Bandaids make me think of a good friend I grew up with. Her mom babysat a ton of kids and her house always smelled like bandaids! Weird, I know!

  46. I can’t even begin to pick those favorite smells. But to this day I can smell that gold Dial soap, and it reminds me of my g’mother’s bathroom. She died nearly 20 years ago, and sometimes I just take a sniff of a bar just to be reminded of her.

    And let me just say that when my little sister (a one-time Mary Kay rep) cleaned out her apartment before a move to CA, she handed me her Rubbermaid shoebox full of MK samples and said, “Go nuts.” I mean, those lipstick and gloss samples come with those tiny little applicators?! And little towelettes soaked in toner? I wept for joy.

  47. I’m a Merle Norman child. My mom totally had it all – the cream makeup remover which doubled as a night cream, the toner, the masks (oh the masks), and the lip stick samples. My first make up memories are of Merle Norman. Then, when I competed in Miss Louisiana, Merle Norman was a sponsor. Every year the girls would have to make a photo op stop at Merle Norman and we got a ton of free samples. I looked forward to it every year.

  48. Oil of Olay is the scent of my mother. I was at an outdoor expo last weekend when someone wearing Oil of Olay passed by. I had to overcome my urge to sniff them out and inhale deeply – although I’m sure that would have been highly admired by the scent-tracking folks in the booth nearby.

  49. Jean Nate’. Or however it is spelled.

  50. Finesse shampoo and conditioner, White Rain hairspray, Jaan Nate, Rose Milk lotion on my grandma, my mother’s Blue Grass perfume (she wore old lady perfume long before she was an old lady) and Aussie scrunch spray b/c my BFF used it on her spiral perm and then proceeded to sit right in front of me in Sra. Trujllo’s spanish class (for 10th, 11th and 12th grades!) and I could not then, nor can I now, stand the smell of the stuff!

    I don’t even want to think about what would happen to your head if Merle Norman started carrying Mentholatum and solved that whole dilemma for you! ;-)

  51. Yes, Yes, Yes. . .gold bars of Dial soap, white, gloppy Noxema, and a big, gleamming glob of Dippity Do. . . brings me right back to 1254 Dodd Road, circa 1970’s. Thanks for the memories!

  52. My mom found some apple-scented shampoo that we used for the longest time…Apple Pectin was the name, I think. It reminds me of our summer cross-country trips because apparently that shampoo lived in our camper. ;) Every once in a while I will run across some shampoo that smells like it, buy it…and never find it in the stores again. It’s like a conspiracy against me. ;)

    My mom didn’t wear perfume during my childhood, but she kept her old bottle of Chantel No. 5 that she probably got when she was a teenager. I still have it and smell it when I’m really missing her. I never use it, though, ’cause there’s only a couple of millimeters of it left in the bottle!

  53. I am continually amazed by scents and how one whiff can seriously transport you to a time or place.
    Estee Lauder Youth Dew = my grandmother.
    Estee Lauder White Linen = my mother (or Gloria Vanderbilt or Chanel No. 5 when I was young.)

  54. I’d forgotten about Magic Sizing! That’s a huge scent memory for me, too–the smell of my mom ironing our clothes in the basement, the scent wafting to the main floor.

    I’d replied to your post earlier; did I do something to offend you? If so, my sincere apologies.

  55. My great Uncle Frank’s house had a certain smell that for some reason I always associated with salted and roasted pecans (that’s probably because he ate them like they were going out of style). It wasn’t until I walked in my boyfriend’s grandparents house that I ever smelled the familiar smell again. I think it has to do with all the wood paneling!

  56. Prell Shampoo—the one with the pearl floating down the bottle in the commercials. and Noxema. and Emeraude perfume, in the green bottle. and Old Spice. and cotton candy. love that burnt sugar smell of the fair.

  57. Jergens lotion. The original almond-cherry scent. My cousins and sister and I loved it so much we actually ate it. (Please do not tell our mothers.) Also the Merle Norman Cleansing Cream, which we all called “Pink Lotion.” I still have the tub that my mom gave me when I left for college. It’s lasted so long because I only ever use it on my lips when they are chapped. It truly has miraculous overnight healing powers.

  58. My childhood stank. :) No, literally! Only because I’m extremely sensitive to smells, though. And no one believed that I was (they all thought I just complained a lot for no reason) so everyone ignored my pleas to stop wearing so much flowery perfume already!!!! Since my brain is so sensitive (read: gets migraines at the faintest hint of flowers or cinnamon) the bland smells bring me the best memories. So, fresh cut grass or (don’t laugh) cheerios with fresh blueberries are my fave childhood smells.

  59. Oh my word- so many memories, just by reading every one else’s posts!
    Mine would have to be ‘Evening in Paris’ perfume. If you were really lucky [at Carrie Stern Elementary School in Greenville, MS ]
    at the Christmas gift swap, you might just get a bottle or two. I will never forget the year Cathy Cooper got the whole gift set. I think I am still bitter about it, really.

  60. Cindy Clark says:

    Do you remember the Merle Norman facial called “Mira-call” ( I think) you would paint it on and it would set you ON FIRE!!! until it dried.

  61. My grandmother always wore Merle Norman make-up and only used Triple Lanoline hand lotion; she always kept Wrigley’s Double-mint gum in her purse…

    I grew up in western Kentucky where dark-fired tobacco is raised…nothing makes me more homesick than the smell of a barn fire in the fall.

  62. Love’s Baby Soft, Bactine, and Seabreeze

  63. Smells are a HUGE memory trigger for me, and always take me back to the first time I smelled it.

    Noxema & Prell shampoo would remind me of my mom for sure, the white bottles of Old Spice is my dad,and “Love’s Baby Soft” would take me back to 1983 in a hurry!

  64. My scent memories are almost exclusively tied to my mom and dad; I don’t think they use any of these products today, but I’d love it if they did. . .

    Lectric Shave
    English Leather
    Ban roll-on
    Powder in a compact
    Jean Nate After-Bath Splash
    Straw Hat
    Aapri facial scrub (yes, it had a very natural smell)
    Colgate toothpaste–the original, white chalky stuff
    calamine lotion (still my favorite smell in the world)

  65. The smell of fresh peaches takes me back to my childhood since my grandparents owned a peach orchard. The smell makes me think of standing in the orchard with my grandfather, picking a peach right off the tree, and eating it with the juice running down my chin.

  66. Clothes dried on the clothes line, campho-phenique (yes, I had to look up the spelling, I adore Google), oil and grease (my Daddy is a mechanic), calamine lotion (we lived in the country…poison ivy thinks I’m wonderful), puppy breath, and pinesol.

  67. We must be long lost sisters. Oh how I remember the lipstick samples and gold retractable brush! My mom’s friend owned the Merle Norman store so yeah, we were stocked up!

  68. Sea Breeze astringent.
    My Grandmama used on her skin every night.
    Followed up with some Oil Of Olay. Those two smells with some Folgers Instant Coffee tossed in the mix bring back such sweet memories from sleepovers at Grandmama and Grandaddy’s house.

    (and the smell of a bait and tackle shop from getting up at 5am to go fishing with Grandaddy)

  69. Mary Kath's Mom says:

    When I saw the picture with the Bamboo Beige my heart just jumped! That was my mother’s color and I LOVED going to the Merle Norman store! I also loved getting to put on Miracol and have my face all pink and pulled and stretched so tight. My brother would then come and tickle me to make it crack and it hurt so much. Our school got the sample lipstick blisters to put in the “Go Fish” treat bags for girls at our Halloween Carnival. I am talking circa 1968 here! Fun memories and thank you BooMama – also “Don’t. . . be. . . cry!” to ya!

  70. To this day I keep a Coty’s loose powder in the Rachel color in my dresser just because it takes me right back to my great-grandmother. When I would hug her or kiss her I could smell that powder all over me. Like you, it takes me right back to my childhood. Love your post!

  71. Oh yes and I also have a bottle of Avon’s Sweet Honesty and a bottle of Love’s Baby Soft! Those were the smells I used to wear—back in the 70’s!!

  72. Oil of Olay. It reminds me so much of my Momma and her perfect no wrinkles skin. She used it throughout all of my childhood and at 72 —- no wrinkles! I love the smell. I have some upstairs in my bathroom on the vanity!

  73. Noxzema for sure takes me back. Also the smell of Yardley lipgloss – I had the whole set back in the 60’s! Every so often I will get a whiff of that smell in a new lipstick and it takes me back!

  74. Sweet Honesty was the perfume (by Avon) I used to wear in high school. I loved the smell of it! Dad always carried Rolaids in his pocket when I was a kid. Juicy Fruit gum makes me think of my grandma. My mom always washed our clothes in Oxydol when I was growing up. I always thought my mom smelled so good. It’s funny how just a whiff of any of those things makes me think of the people I love.

  75. White Shoulders perfume – I don’t know if they even make it anymore, but it IS my Grandma. It just reminds me of visiting her and she smelled so good!

    Also, the smell of a pipe reminds me of my childhood. Get this – my elementary school principal used to walk the halls smoking a pipe!!! That would never fly today. But it smelled soooo good. A little whiff of it and I’m taken back to Northridge Elementary School in a second.

  76. Oil of Olay Pink lotion- My grandmother used it and I use it now! I think of her every night when I lather my face with it!
    Lysol- I can remember my grandparents maid cleaning with it.
    Clorox- My grandmother believed in it!
    White Rain- My aunt used it by the gallon!
    Jergens original cherry almond- My mother used it!
    Merle Norman- Oh How I loved those lipstick samples!
    Ponds Cold Cream- My other grandmother couldn’t live without it!
    Rose Milk in the pink bottle- My grandmother loved that stuff!
    Ivory BAR soap- The only soap my grandparents ever had at their house

  77. I love Merle Norman cosmetics. My mom used Merle Norman and so did I. I’ve tried other cosmetics, but always go back to alabaster beige. As a teen in pageants, I always visited the local Merle Norman to have my make-up done by the best. Thanks for the memories.

  78. I got hit with some Drakkar Noir and Obessision for Men in the same week recently from a passer by and I was right back in the 80’s–if there had been someone wearing Georgio it would have pushed me right over the edge.