Good Life / Muse

Musing on Limes

I have an odd fixation on limes. I cannot narrow a memory to when this began. Perhaps the fetish was born from just the simple preference for lime’s more tart and exotic flavor over its sweeter and more common lemon cousin. Lime, then, was always my choice when presented as the candy or drink. Lime-aid over lemonade. I earned the responsibility of procuring my own groceries, each trip to the store was accompanied with a compulsion to buy three or four Persian limes. Every time, and still today- every time. I generally select limes without regard for size but look for vibrant green limes with forgiving flesh when palpated between the thumb and finger. At home, limes are nearly all used. The citrus bowl is resettled like a floral arrangement with freshly added cuttings. Newer ones are added to the bowl with some having a slightly ashened transition to a harder peel, some flowers wilt- they are discarded without being eaten or used in a drink- but they were used.

There is an unappreciated exotic luxury to readily have a fruit that grows prolifically throughout a culturally rich band of the tropical world. We take for granted how easily the lime can be had here so far away in our concrete plantations. The limes we consume are so deeply hybridized, so often a blend of the keylime and a lemon. The smaller and more tart key lime is a hybridization of more wild and exotic citrus- the Persian a tamer breed. So, like all things American, we consume a down-breed more marketable- more sweet- more palpable- less exotic lime. Deep in our inner consciousness we know that there is something exotic within us- within the flavor.

As a child, I would carry out deceptive missions to the medicine cabinet in my father’s bathroom. My plunder was a whiff of Royall Lyme. I would find that green, lumpy old bottle and quietly unscrew the pewter crown from its top. I would take a slow deep breath and take in the aroma. There was something luxurious smelling those layers of scent all resting on a base of lime. Plugging the top with my index finger and turning the bottle over, I would wipe the smallest amount above my upper lip like a mortician. All those years the bottle stayed in its original ullage somewhere halfway up the neck.Then, I had no awareness of that bottles origin. I viewed cologne as the nasty stuff old men covered up cigarette smoke with on Sundays. My father obviously did not use the cologne, or any other for that matter. This bottle of Royall Lyme was purchased on a honeymoon trip with my mother to Bermuda. It was at best, sentimental for him to see among his shaving kit daily. I am certain that over fifty years and three homes later that this particular bottle of Royall Lyme still is on his sink. 

While my father has never exulted in the embrocation of Royall Lyme, my grandfather was well known to. This is my mother’s father, J. Houston Matthews, dad’s beloved father-in-law that died tragically so shortly after my folks married. He was an iconoclast, he was loved. He was cool and dapper and kind. 

Maybe my dad held on to that bottle because we hold on to memories. I bought my first bottle of Royall Lyme when I was a freshman in college from a Brooks Brothers store in a 4oz bottle. The second bottle I brought was an 8oz one from a men’s shop in Bermuda when I was newly married. The third from a duty free. . .and so on. The scent began to slowly define me. There is something about Lyme that sets a mood. It was and always will be about a feeling for me, not something I really invite a stranger to notice about me. Royall Lyme had* enough ummph to hang with you all day and into the night, but it was a scent that could be splashed on liberally. I was never accused of donning too much- I never felt like a teenaged boy. 

The most iconic setting for Royall Lyme fit right into setting from which it was born. A long day on the boat, diving, or laying in the sun. Suncrisp skin and a fresh afternoon shower. A bracing sting after drying off and running the last bits of a strong bottle-splash of the alcohol based tonic into my hair. The scent and ritual of applying Royall Lyme seemed to set the scene for a bright afternoon cocktail and perhaps a cigar, before disappearing into a long warm tropical evening- groomed well, dapper, on point. The ritual of Royall Lyme was no longer a vicarious notion at my father’s sink- but one I had now earned.

Oh, to live to be addressed, “Sir”. Clean and mannered. Relaxed and living well deserved. I am glad that Bermuda could be bottled and brought home to perhaps a less gentile living. Daily life does not allow us to dress and move like the Connery-007, but no one ever said we can not groom ourselves as if Ian Fleming drew us. We can bottle luxurious concoctions up and bring them home. We can have the everyday fruits born on trees of distant and exotic ends of the earth. We can dream.

  • I still regularly groom with Royall Lyme in the warm Southern months, particularly on vacation when I have little tan. It is thinner now, made in America- bought out— breed down like those hybrid Persian Limes. It kills off in hours, rather than hanging onto your lapel until morning. It still invokes the memories. My brother wears it, independent of my influence but completely influenced by the histories shared here. My dearest uncle, Vann Marshall Matthews, discreetly wore Lyme too. I didn’t realize this all these years. I recently became aware that his trips to Bermuda and the influence of my grandfather had him attached too. He passed away- way too young this year- I miss him. 

I have to confess, I have been accused of smelling like I just consumed a gin and tonic from time to time- but is that so bad?

As always,

Take great care,

Will Kelly

2 thoughts on “Musing on Limes

  1. Thanks for sharing. Scents/ smells can be very nostalgic. The two strongest memory-inducing scents for me are Zep tile wax, which always invokes memories from boot camp, and Bay Rhum, which reminds me of my father. Like your dad, my father procured his first bottle while on honeymoon in Bermuda, and like Royall Lyme, nothing I find lately compares to that Bay Rhum found in my dad’s medicine cabinet decades ago. As for me, I’m a Clubman Pinaud guy, just like my Grandaddy.

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