Everyone has a favorite smell. Some enjoy the sweetness of a freshly picked flower. Others prefer the scent of a salty ocean breeze. Me? Well I love the smell of an old musty basement to tell you the truth. Not just any musty basement, mind you. Iím speaking about Nanaís old musty basement on Bacheller Street, the cream of the crop of old musty basements. To quote my cousin Shawn from "Little Cereal Boxes": "Nanaís basement was a world of wonder. It had a smell that is a story in itself, which I will write about another day. Suffice it to say, it always smelled the same and we loved it." Well, it looks like I beat him to the punch. The smell in that basement was comforting. All of the grandchildren would spend countless hours down there. It was our turf.
Last spring I got a call from Shawn.
"Youíre not gonna believe what I found today", he said. "Iíve located Nanaís basement smell."
"What are you talkin about Shawn?"
"You hafta get down here as soon as you can. Iím almost positive that itís the smell, but I need a second opinion."
Weeks later I headed down to Woods Hole accompanied by the younger brother I never had, Brendan. We wasted most of our weekend playing Mario Golf and losing to that little prick Mario who is not only programmed to eagle every frickin hole, but feels the need to laugh and taunt us in his stereotypical Italian accent. God I hate that Mario. After officially giving up the dream of winning the Super Mario World Cup, we headed to the piers for some serious fishing. We managed to bring up a few sea bass, but overall didnít seem to excel in anything that day. On the way back to Shawnís place I realized that it was my last day there and I hadnít gotten the chance to smell Nanaís basement. Shawn parked the car in the center of Falmouth where all of the little shops are located. He told me that one of the shops held the treasure that I was seeking.
"Which shop is it?"
"I donít know", he said.
"How do you not know!"
"I think itís this way", he said very reluctantly.
We strolled down the sidewalk a few times hoping that the wondrous scent would find its way out of one of the shop doors. A few times we thought we had found it. One store sort of had a musty smell, but the mustiness was overpowered by a flowery scent. We moved on. I knew we were close.
"This is it!" he excitedly announced.
We walked through the doorway. It hit me immediately. What an eerie feeling. There was no mistaking that smell. Now let me explain this store to you. This place sold high class womenís clothing. Everything in the store was black and white and you knew that everything was expensive because the clothing racks were miles away from each other. Let me explain. If clothes in a store are packed tightly togetherÖcheap; If it takes more than 5 paces to reach the next rackÖexpensive, then we were out of place. Not only were we three males in a womenís clothing store, but we literally, as Brendan would say, reeked of squid guts. Shawn insisted that we find where the scent was at its strongest. A woman approached.
"Can I help you?"
And thatís when Shawn spoke those famous words. "Na, weíre just smelliní around."
What a puzzled look she gave us. She didnít know whether to be insulted or freaked out. Shawn explained the whole story about Nanaís basement and how he had been in the store a few weeks back. The woman agreed that the store had somewhat of a musty odor to it and insisted that it was coming from the old wooden stairs in the back of the store. She even let us walk back there and smell the stairs ourselves. And oh, did we smell. You know those expert wine tasters who make ridiculous faces as they swish a fine wine across their tongues? I cannot stand those people, but much to my dismay, we had become those people. We made sophisticated faces as we held our noses high and savored that vintage odor. I think the lady was sort of creeped out by the whole event. As we left the store, Shawn pondered how he could somehow capture the smell for himself. That Christmas his mystery was solved.
Sometime around the holidays I was in my basement looking for something when I came upon an old chest. I believe my dad had kept the chest after we cleaned out Uncle Billyís basement. Opening the chest I was hit with a wave of Nanaís basement. I had to capture this smell. The inside of the chest was lined with paper. The paper was so old it was literally chipping off of walls. I took a few pieces, pummeled them into a fine dust, and put them in a small floral box that was once Nanaís. On the box I wrote:
1. Shake box vigorously
2. Smell Nanaís basement
I let my mother smell the contents and she was overwhelmed by the scent. She couldnít believe I had captured Nanaís basement smell. When Shawn opened the box on Christmas he couldnít believe it either. Itís really an addicting smell and is a lot like booze. If you keep smelling it, you almost become immune to the smell. If you havenít enjoyed it in a while and you take a hit, it takes control of you. Shawn once called me and told me that the box had lost its scent. I told him to put it down and not smell it for a month. Thatís what he did and that is when the smell returned. Make sure you take a hit the next time you go to his house. You wonít regret it.
When Nana moved out of that house on Bacheller Street, I was too naÔve to understand what we had lost. Who would have thought a smell could be so tangible? Today I look back and realize that we lost a part of our childhood. I understand that it was time for her to move on to new places which better suited her, but damn I miss that house. Shawn and I often joke about someday buying back that house. We could have our cabin in Northwood and our own secluded Lynn sanctuary. Itís funny to think that some people probably work their whole lives to get out of Lynn while we sit around wishing we could vacation there. Isnít it ironic...donít ya think?