Mothballs and Memories


Mothballs. They are neither moths nor balls.  A funny combination of two words with no telling what it might be.  Mothballs are in fact a chemical pesticide and deodorant used for storing clothing.  Yes, I had to use Wikipedia to find that out.  The aroma that these mothballs give off was a vital part of my childhood.  You may be wondering, mothballs?  Playing a role in the childhood of a 24 year old?  But alas, it is true.  The smell is strong yet subtle.  If you know it, then you never forget it.  Like the smell of fresh-baked chocolate chip cookies wafting through the house.

I cannot pinpoint the start of this small obsession with the smell of mothballs. I just know that the smell is forever etched in the framework of my brain.  First, I would like to make a confession.  I thought the smell of mothballs was the smell of old people, plain and simple.  I thought that as people got older, that smell emanated from them.  I really thought that when I too grew old and grey, I would slowly but surely smell like mothballs.  Something to look forward to.

Now as to why mothballs are so important to me.  The smell of mothballs reminds me of my grandparents.  My older brother and I used to fly to Phoenix, Arizona every summer to spend a couple weeks with them back in the early 2000’s.  I am not sure if you have been to Arizona in the summer, but the weather is a bit umm, warm to say the least.  Staying indoors or in a pool were the only ways to avoid melting into the sidewalks.

One of the best memories when visiting was eating “Rich Frosted Entenmann’s” donuts watching the Marx Brothers on TV.  If you have never heard or seen the Marx Brothers movies, I advise you to go out right now and rent them or download them (legally, of course).  The movies are similar to the Three Stooges, taking place in the 20s and 30s and black and white.  It is not everyone’s cup of tea, but I remember sitting for hours and laughing just as long.   Another memory is of my grandmother always making us wait to go into the pool after we ate.  I can remember sitting in the living room looking out the glass doors and just being so sad watching the seconds tic by as the pool sat in the sun and mocked me. 

Many of you know I am an avid fisherman.  If I have time off, you can most likely find me walking the sandy beaches of Santa Monica bright and early in the morning.  When I was younger my family and I would drive to Copper Mountain, Colorado and have family reunions.  This is where I learned how to fish and got hooked (yes, that pun was intended).  My grandfather would take me to the local pond and fish for rainbow trout.  I do not have such a good recollection of the fishing exactly, but I remember hiking through the beautiful mountains and streams.  I also remember getting a hook caught in my thumb.  It seems that every fisherman is not truly an angler until they’ve taken a hook to the hand.

I visited my 87 year old grandfather, who still lives in Arizona, this past weekend and the first things I smelled when I opened the front door were, you guessed it, mothballs.  However, what I forgot my grandfather had was a grandfather clock mounted in the dining room. Every 15 minutes it would chime.  This grandfather clock has also been part of my visiting experience.  You become so used to the sounds that occasionally you forget it is there unless you are sitting right next to it.

The last memory I would like to share is about the Passover holiday.  My grandparents would drive every year to Los Angeles to spend the holidays with my family.  I love to cook and bake and think of myself as a pretty good cook and baker at that.  Passover is the holiday of freedom, freedom to experiment.  Matzah becomes the main ingredient for everything and anything.  The two main things I learned and still make on Passover are matzah fry (not bry!) and pancakes.  Everyone knows what matzah fry is but I am sure some of you are wondering how pancakes can be made without flour.  We found a recipe many years ago and have since made these pancakes year in and year out. 

My grandmother passed away more than 10 years ago.  I can still picture her and hear her and see her cook.  She was one of the most loving people I have ever met.  Every time I get a whiff of a mothball, all I can think about is her and my grandfather, of course.  The power or our senses is an amazing biological phenomenon.  Songs take me back to middle school, tastes remind me of a family vacation, sunsets take my breath away and smells bring a tear to my eyes.

Chaim, 24, a resident of Los Angeles, is pursuing his degree in Marine Biology at Rutgers University.  He likes to fish and write during his free time.

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