Old Lady Hetch loved to garden. But she was getting on in years, so she always offered to pay the kids on my block a few dollars to help out in her yard. Most part-time jobs for us 12-year-old boys ended with the last snowfall and wouldn’t start up again until the golfers emerged on the local fairways. So working on Mrs. Hetch’s garden beds was a good way to make some quick movie money.
One year Old Lady Hetch decided to lay out a big new garden bed on the far side of her house. She offered Kenny the Gooch, Dobie, and myself five dollars each to turn over the soil and get it ready for planting.
“That’s a fair price for good work,” she said, and we agreed. Our instructions were to remove all the grass and loosen up the soil down to the depth of our shovel blades. Easy enough! Mrs. Hetch drove off on her errands, and we got started with the shovels. The soil was moist and soft. We had no trouble turning the big clods and breaking them down to remove the old thatch—until Kenny struck a rotted piece of wood.
We cleared the soil and removed a long, thick board that was almost rotted through. Then Dobie found another board. We tried to pry it free of the soil. It didn’t move. I cleared some soil away and Dobie and the Gooch grabbed and lifted again. Nothing happened. Nothing except that we noticed a faint smell, like an unlit pilot light on Mom’s stove. I cleared away more soil. Dobie and the Gooch grabbed, lifted with all their might—and disappeared!
They’d fallen into a hole that reeked of all the farts and foul smells I could ever imagine. It smelled like my baby sister’s room the time we returned from a camping trip and discovered Mom had forgotten to empty the diaper hamper. It smelled so bad I had to put my hand over my face when I walked over to look.
Dobie and the Gooch were standing up to their waists in a deep festering tank of goo—goo number two!
In minutes all the homes on the block (it seemed) emptied, and kids bicycled from all over town. Everyone watched and made jokes as firemen saved Dobie and the Gooch from death by doo-doo. And that wasn’t all. When the Gooch was being hosed down, his gag reflex kicked in and he started upchucking in full view of the crowd. That got me started. Then a couple of bystanders started tossing their lunches as well.
Just then Old Lady Hetch returned. The old gal was surprised to see all the fire trucks and police cars and neighbors and strangers gathered on her lawn. When the situation was finally explained to her, she walked over to the exposed septic tank—with a hanky up to her nose—looked inside, and calmly said:
“So that’s where that awful stuff goes.”
Then she turned around to Dobie, the Gooch, and me and said, “Make it $10 each, boys!” ❖
This article was published originally in 2016, in GreenPrints Issue #105.