Bonnie Henry

Ron Medvescek/Arizona Daily Star

It hit me just past the string beans, but before the rutabagas, that unmistakable scent of Estee Lauder Youth-Dew — advertised on its Web page as “captivating, rich and exceptionally lasting.”

I’ll say. I followed its contrails — and the woman wearing it — down condiments, past cereals and baked goods, all the way out into the parking lot.

And still it lingered in my nostrils, long after I’d put away the last of the groceries. And to think, I once wore this stuff. Everyone did back in the ’60s and ’70s. My mother and I even gave it to each other for birthdays and Mother’s Day.

Today, I only wear soap and water, along with whatever natural scents I happen to pick up during the day. Vials of gift colognes given years ago still clog up the nether reaches of my bathroom cabinet, unopened, unloved.

I’m not sure what triggered this anathema to “exotic oils and spices.” Maybe it was allergy creep, either mine or my husband’s. Either way, we both now hold our breaths and count to 10 as we race by the cosmetic counters of fancy department stores on our way to more prosaic errands.

Used to be you had to rush past scary-looking women along these aisles, ready to pounce with various spritzes and sprays.

Thankfully, most now spray pieces of blotter paper instead, which you feel obligated to accept. Woe unto you if you slip one into your purse for any indeterminate period of time. Nothing will remove the reek.

Same for the perfume samples slipped into various advertising circulars, which go straight into the garbage can, unread.

When I used to give talks to women’s groups around town, I always carried a couple of spare Kleenex with me, along with a cough drop or two to ease the inevitable runny nose and scratchy throat caused by the various scents soon to be wafting up from the audience.

Even worse is getting trapped on an elevator with a bevy of over-scented females. You try holding your breath through seven floors.

Women, of course, are not the only culprits. Nobody has to tell me when the sailor is home from the sea. I can smell his Old Spice a mile away.

Not that I’m just picking on the older guys. My son, home for a visit, once spilled his favorite fragrance in the bathroom. It wasn’t called Eternity for nothing.

Noxious smells can also trigger a full-blown emergency response. Just recently, a Seattle church and daycare center were evacuated and a hazmat team called in to “dismantle” what turned out to be a can of Axe body spray emanating “malignant vapors” from inside a backpack.

These days, everything my husband and I spray, swipe or lather onto our bodies is as fragrance-free as I can find.

Still, I sometimes wind up with the wrong product, such as a certain bath soap so strong it stunk up the whole bathroom, once freed from its hermetically-sealed packaging.

Household cleaning products can also be olfactory offenders. Laundry detergents, spray cleaners and dishwasher soap must all pass my sniff test, though I’ve got to admit it’s hard to find dishwasher detergent or spray cleaners that are totally fragrance-free. In that case, I’ll settle for lemon. At least it beats that fake pine smell beloved of gas station restrooms coast to coast.

I also shy away from dryer sheets — ever since one clung to a blouse in my closet until its sickly-sweet smell gave it away days later.

Equally noxious are the scented household garbage bags. Frankly, I’ll take whatever garbage smells these bags are trying to mask.

As for those of you who simply must spray or splash some sort of scent upon your bod, why not do what Granny Clampett used to do. Dab a drop of vanilla extract behind each lobe.

Might even earn you a little nibble from a certain someone you’re hoping to attract.

Bonnie Henry’s column runs every other Sunday. Contact her at