Weird how smells can take you back.
No one uses moth balls anymore — at least, not anyone I know. I don’t think we used them in our household when we were growing up . . . but my grandparents did. I never knew that until now.
On the way back from the grocery store, I stopped off at a local Thai market. I had been meaning to check out this store for the last few months, but hadn’t gotten around to it. But, hey, I want to get back into cooking Thai food, so no time like the present.
I bought three different kinds of rice noodles: the circular wrappers for making cuon, the thin vermicelli used to stuff the cuon, and the wider noodles for making pad thai. I bought red, green, and masamun curry paste, some coconut milk, two different kinds of squid snacks, a mix for making satay chicken (because I’m lazy), and pre-made sauce for pad thai (see last parenthetical). I went up and down the aisles twice so that I wouldn’t miss anything important, and it was the back of the store that brought me to a halt.
Actually, it was the huge crystals of alum that caught my attention. I wonder what it’s used for? But when I got closer to examine that bag, I found another bag labeled “naphthalene balls.” You can smell them right through the plastic. I stood there for a few minutes, smelling the bag, and even after I moved on, I kept smelling my fingers. I was back in the house on Atlantic, and it seemed a small matter to close my eyes, step forward, and enter that forever-dark living room with its shmatte-covered sofa, the chair wrapped in plastic that No One Must Ever Sit In, the TV no one ever turned on, the cabinets of tchotchkes. I can see my grandfather sitting in his recliner, I can hear my grandmother yelling from the kitchen. (The GM: Off your ass, useless! The GF: Shut up, you toothless witch! Half in English, half in Yiddish.) A few steps further and I’m sitting on the wooden bench of the kitchen’s dinette. My grandmother gives me a slice of my grandfather’s bakery’s rye bread mit shmear (margarine, never butter) and her signature beverage, watered down RC Cola, or something very much like it.
Something tells me that smell was everywhere. Something tells me you only need to bring a bag of naphthalene balls into your house and leave it there one night, and your house will forever have that smell.
The package said: Covers odor of mildew and decay with sweet smell.
I wonder what my grandparents were trying to hide? Maybe the odor of that monkey my grandfather kept hidden in the attic, the one he would never show me.