BOSTON — That smell of camphor, mothballs, always brings me back to the cottage in Maine.
Blindfold me. Muffle my ears. And if, after miles of misdirection, you deposit me in the living room of this little house, my nose would know I was there.
My mother hated moths. She feared that unprotected clothes would be Swiss-cheesed rags unless closets were filled with hailstone piles of mothballs, under sweaters, in coat pockets, on the floors, inside shoes. Summer and winter clothes were subjected to this ritual every September when we shut up the house for the winter.
In May or June, when we returned from St. Louis, Sarasota, Fla., or wherever we had spent our winter, that first whiff of air escaping the living room always carried the sweet smell of camphor.
All summer as a child, I dressed in clothes that had been in piles of mothballs. I played with toys from mothballed closets; Scrabble, chess, and puzzles all smelled like mothballs. We wriggled our noses till we got used to it and could then concentrate on the game.
Playing outside in the sharp Maine air, I was a walking insect repellent. My summer friends eyed me with questioning looks: Did I know I smelled like a mothball? They were too polite to say so.
Today, the scent is a friendly one. What was a cloying, antisocial odor is a reminder of summers in Maine: a whispering wind, fire in the fireplace, my little crowd playing outside in the clear air, strangely tinged with a hint of mothball.
(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society