In every family, each person has a 'signature' story. Maybe it's the time Uncle Bill helped a cow give birth, or that time Aunt Jean stabbed Cousin Joey at Thanksgiving dinner. It's the one event that, like it or not, defines who you are for time eternal.
For my brother Shane, it all started with him not being able to wipe his ass.
Shane was five, and there is no five year old on the planet who wipes their ass worth a shit (ba dum bum). So, what happened was kind of not his fault, or so he'll tell you.
Because he was not properly wiping, he had tremendous skid marks in his little underwear. Great swaths of poo stained his every pair, and my mother would get so irritated. "Shane, honey! Wipe until the paper's clean!" I could hear her yell from the laundry room. It became his bathroom mantra, and you'd hear him chanting it, walking down the hall towards the toilet. Wipe until the paper's clean...wipe until the paper's clean.
But try as he might - maybe it was his stubby little arms - the boy could not get his arse free of feces.
To avoid the wrath of my mother, he did what any sneaky five year old boy would do - he started hiding his dirty underwear.
He got away with it for awhile, but eventually my mom noticed that the child had no clean drawers. She checked the laundry, his dresser, the closet - but no underwear. She started poking around, and went to look under his bed. She caught a whiff of something poo-smelling (which can be the natural smell of boy) when she lifted the bed skirt. Shane, criminal in behavior from birth, had not simply shoved his poopie underwear under the bed. He had cut a hole in the box springs, and stashed the offenders away.
Mom threw the underwear away. At the time, I'm sure I thought it a waste. In retrospect, I would have done the same thing. She bought him all new underwear, gave him yet another lesson in proper butt wiping techniques, and considered the problem solved.
A couple of weeks passed.
One day, Shane came out of the bathroom after his morning constitution. "Toilet's clogged!" he announced. Now, this was before low flow toilets, and my father prided himself in a commode that could really suck down some turds. You could flush an entire head of cabbage down our toilets, no problem-o.
My Dad had a thing for toilets. I'll never forget the time we went on a family vacation to San Diego. The zoo, the ocean, the shops, the restaurants - all the fabulous sites of San Diego, and it was the hotel toilet that captured my dad's heart. "It's a Bemis." he whispered. I wasn't sure what that meant. When we returned home, he spent weeks searching out not just any Bemis toilet seat, but that particular Bemis toilet seat which had so satisfactorily cradled his butt in San Diego.
He was somewhat of a commode connoisseur.
So when Shane yelled, "Toilet's clogged!", we knew there was a serious problem. My mom tried to clear it.
My dad tried to clear it. "Lord, Boy! What did you do in here?" Anyone who has ever had a five year old can tell you, the output is approximately five times the input, and a little kid can lay down a serious log. But this was extreme.
"Get The Snake." Dad said.
The Snake was the rusted length of coil that was tossed in the corner of the garage. It may have actually been a plumber's snake at one time, but it was clearly past it's poo-clearing prime. My dad cranked it out the best he could, until he hit what seemed to be cement.
"We're going to have to call the plumber." It was admitting defeat. We all knew, it must be bad.
The plumber showed up with his new, shiny The Snake. He probed and poked and prodded. He disassembled. He sighed heavily and went errrrrrr... a lot. He, predictably, showed his crack.
The entire time this was going on, my brother hovered around the periphery. He was nervous, that was clear, but he was also excited. He loved to pull things apart and put them together, so while this might have been tedious to an 10 year old girl like me, to Shane it was very, very cool.
It was about to get cooler.
The backhoe arrived after lunch, accompanied by a crew of five. The men plotted out our backyard with sticks and strings, and began to dig. All afternoon, they dug - stopping occasionally to talk about what they were doing, their Marlboros hanging from the corners of dry mouths. My father joined them, talking, gesturing, smoking.
It has always been fascinating to me, watching men smoke. How they can get the very edge of a cigarette to stick to their bottom lip and hang there, smoke curling up into their squinty eyes. How can they see? I wondered. Years later, I'd try the trick myself. I ended up half blind in my right eye, with a hole in my living room carpet.
Shane and I spent most of the afternoon on the deck, watching the hole get wider and deeper. A man would go down and need help getting back out. By the time the sun began to set and mom went in to start supper, the hole had taken over most of the backyard. Just as we thought they'd run out of daylight, there was a flurry of activity. The Man in Charge signaled to the backhoe to stop digging, and called the men over to where he was standing in the hole.
"They found something." my dad half whispered. "Miss Debby!", he called to my mom, "They found something!"
My mom came running from the kitchen with a dishrag in her hand. We rushed down the deck stairs and peered over the edge of the deep chasm. I don't know what I expected to come out of that hole. What had they found? A body? A dinosaur? Gold? I was ten, the possibilities were endless.
I held my breath. My mom rang the dishrag in her hands. My father put out his cigarette and narrowed his gaze. Shane chewed his lower lip.
"I think I found your problem." The Man said. And from the depths of the hole he raised a stick, high into the air. In the fading light, we could see the object clearly - a small, stained pair of boys' underpants, festooned with tiny red fire engines.
We all looked at my small brother, standing there wide eyed. He slowly turned his head and with all the innocence he could muster, spoke -
"They're not mine!"
2 weeks ago