Saturday, April 3, 2010

One Hundred Things My Mother Taught Me A Million Times – Chapter 32

#32 – “During the summer you should always pack your woolens with mothballs and store them in a cedar chest.”
(My kids, Colt, Cuatro and Jolene with Mom)

Mom’s #32 of the one hundred things she taught me a million times presents a bit of a mystery because although I have a cedar chest and woolens, never the twain do meet. Why? Because I just don’t see moths as a threat. 

This begs the question, “Where have all the moths gone?” Is this one of those ecological disasters that we just haven’t heard about yet? I remember there being lots of moths in my childhood, but I honestly can’t remember the last time I saw one. Were they a West Texas thing where I grew up? Do I simply not see them now, their existence blurred by the priorities of my complicated life – deadlines, bills, allergies? Are they out there? Are they hiding in my spare closet, covertly munching holes in the beautiful wool suit that I once wore to a tea at the White House? Click on Read More Below..

When I was growing up everyone had cedar chests. The purpose of which was to provide a spring and summer hideout for wool clothes and blankets to thwart those anticipated swarms of ravenous moths. Now when I think of cedar chests, I think of mothballs.

The smell of mothballs, an intriguing mixture of pleasant and deadly, is one of those indelible childhood memories that I hang on to like a tether to my personal history. I can’t tell you why. I just remember being fascinated by the concept of a little butterfly-like creature being so threatening and destructive that it inspired an annual ritual involving furniture and perfectly cylindrical, candy-like crystallized poison balls.

In my childhood-wonderland mind, the family cedar chest always felt a little like a pirate’s treasure, the opening of which was ceremonious, as though something magic might have happened in there during the long summer months.  And while not much would keep me around the house, I was always there on the first cold fall day when mom opened the cedar chest, as we anxiously awaited that whoosh of mothball fragrance escaping with the lift of the lid. We would inspect each piece of clothing and blanket, perhaps a keepsake baby cap, hoping for no holes to verify that we put enough mothballs amongst the folds and corners. Almost without fail, we would find a tiny hole in something, a testament to the tenacity of the moth and the failure of the chemical industry, and I would feel curiously satisfied that nature had won.

So was mom right? Should we store our woolens in mothballs in the cedar chest during the summer? I don’t know. Perhaps the mothballs killed all the moths? Or, perhaps moths, feeding for years on the toxic concoction of mothball (which I too was tempted to taste), evolved to become fire ants taking their ecological vengeance.  Now, rather than the fall and spring ritual of packing away the woolens in the cedar chest, we have the annual ritual of going to war with fire ants. I miss those moths and the candy-like mothballs. There’s just no romance or magic in freaking fire ants.


  1. They are not gone! They're in my closet--every time I foget your mom's #32, I end up with holes in the few woolens I still have left from my stint in the NE! r I refuse to buy any more! Happy Easter!


  2. In Mississippi, people put mothballs in their carports to keep the snakes away! Debbie

  3. This is great... my mother was a weaver when I was young and closets where filled with spools of wool. She would chase moths around trying to catch them in her hands and say, 'Little bastards!' We had moth balls every where because of this. Growing up in Northern Arizona, elevation 7,000 ft. we wore lots of woolens. We were the kids in school who cross country skied to school and smelled like moth balls! Thanks, as always, for sharing your lovely stories, ideas, and memories.

  4. Thanks everyone for your wonderful, fun comments and memories!

    Memories seem to be the twine of humanity that bind us together, and isn't it lovely!