SGLY: Love's lingering fragrance

By Tiffany Chartier
Special to the Prosper Press
Tiffany Chartier

“Fashion changes, but style endures.” - Coco Chanel

My first high school job was at Foley’s Department Store (yes, I just dated myself). I worked in the Dooney & Bourke handbag section, helping women pick out bags that cost more than I made in a month. My paycheck was spent on gas for my 1969 Ford Mustang Fastback and extras for school and soccer. I did not make enough money to save or to share, but I wish I did after meeting Ruth.

As the youngest associate in the handbag department, I often found myself being taken under the wing of older co-workers who found pleasure in showing me the ins-and-outs of their definition of class. To this day, my memories fall on fond conversations and shared laughs. I loved that time - when I had one foot in girlhood and the other in womanhood.

 “A girl should be two things: classy and fabulous.” - Coco Chanel

My favorite co-worker was a widow named Ruth. She spent most of her time straightening purses on racks and mannequins, making sure each strap and buckle faced forward like proud soldiers. She told me once that she would never be able to afford a fancy purse – that she had used the same black handbag for years. I felt a pang looking at her tattered bag, wishing I could buy her whatever she desired. She deserved to wear the best. Ruth was solid gold in a world of fool’s gold.

“Come. Come with me, dear.” Ruth waved me from behind the counter. “Let’s take our break together today. I want to show you something.”

We nodded to another co-worker to supervise the floor as I followed Ruth. “Where are we going?” I asked.

Ruth smiled. “You’ll see.”

It was Christmastime, and Foley’s was decorated with beautifully adorned trees lined with empty boxes wrapped in splendid holiday paper with curling ribbons and big bows. Holiday classics piped through the speakers, and it seemed as if all were truly merry and bright. As we continued walking toward the mall entrance, I barely noticed when Ruth stopped in the last department before entering the mall. She stood proud before me, back straightened and her eyes looking upon me with a grandma-like mix of gentleness and seriousness.

“Now, listen to me, Tiffany,” she began. “I can’t buy you a Christmas gift like I’d like to, but I still can give you a little something.” Her smile widened, and I could not help but smile with her.

We spent our entire break smelling fancy perfumes and collecting samples, spraying and dabbing a little here and there upon our wrists, the crevice of our elbows, and the napes of our necks. When we finally returned to our department, I was a touch dizzy and had a bit of a headache. But I also felt like a girl who had been gifted something that money cannot buy – love.

Ruth spread out the perfume samples on the glass counter. We peered over them, barely noticing the Dooney & Bourke purses peeking up at us under the glass.

“Now, this… this one has always been my favorite.” Ruth did not appear to be talking to me anymore. “Fred gave me a bottle of this every year for Christmas. Every year.”

I knew who Fred was – Ruth often talked about him. Fred was her one true love whom she was fortunate enough to marry.

Ruth ducked behind a curtain and returned with a small Foley’s shopping bag. She put the collection of perfume samples in the bag and handed the bag to me. “Merry Christmas,” she said as she kissed me on top of my forehead.

I will never forget Ruth or her gift.

I left not too long after as the weekend shifts conflicted with my soccer schedule. However, when my dad asked me what I wanted for Christmas the following year, I remembered Ruth and the fragrance Fred gave her every year. Every year.

“‘Coco’ by Chanel,” I said.

Dad looked at me perplexed but did not ask more; he simply replied with action. That year under the tree was a small box wrapped in splendid holiday paper with curling ribbons and a big bow.

I beamed the first day I dotted my wrists, the crevice of my elbows, and the nape of my neck with the fragrance of Coco, the kindness of my father, and the memory of sweet Ruth.

To this day, over 30 years later, my father still buys me Coco parfum by Chanel. He is the only one besides Ruth who has ever gifted me this sensory indulgence. And I will forever be thankful for both their generosity and thoughtfulness - for being an example of how to love richly, deeply, and honestly.

“There are people who have money and people who are rich.” - Coco Chanel

This holiday season, may we be solid gold in our responses to others – enjoying and sharing quality moments, knowing what we do today could very well become the lingering fragrance of love put to memory for years and years to come.

SGLY, dear reader.

(Smile, God Loves You.)

Tiffany Kaye Chartier is a Christian author and opinion columnist. Submit feedback and connect for more soul lifts on Facebook: Tiffany Kaye Chartier; Instagram:@tiffanysgly; and Twitter: @tiffanychartier. The views and opinions expressed here are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of Texoma Marketing and Media Group.