The Dirtiest Day


This dirt was nothing compared to what the hired man dished out.

Before sunrise I knew it was going to be one of those days. I hadn’t yet eaten breakfast when I messed up my shoes on some really fresh—and really fragrant—cow manure in Grandpa’s barn. Then one of the oversized eager eaters in the hog pen gave me a pretty good shove causing slop to slop onto my shoes and pants.

After breakfast things went steadily from bad to worse to awful. This was the day Grandpa had selected to have us put “soil sweeteners” on a newly cleared piece of land. I didn’t realize it yet, but Grandpa had just sentenced the four of us—Uncle Lynn, the new hired man, my little brother, and me—to a slow death by asphyxiation.

As we pitched several million tons of really ripe cow manure into the spreader, my brother managed to miss the spreader and “accidentally” hit me with a pitchforkful of the stuff. After slipping and falling several times while shoveling, all I could say to no one in particular was “No 13-year-old boy has ever been this dirty.” I didn’t hear anyone disagree.

Things didn’t get any better as the day went along. After the manure had been shoveled, we had to take the spreader to the sawdust pile and load enough sawdust to cover all of North America. Not so bad, I thought.

Boy, was I wrong. First, my brother nailed me in the back of the neck with a shovelful of sawdust. I nailed him back. He tackled me. I stuffed a handful of sawdust down his shirt. He returned the favor. Over and over we rolled, wrestling like a couple of overgrown kittens.

Cow, pig, and chicken manure on my shoes. Cow manure in the center of my back. Hog slop on my pants and shoes. Chicken manure all down my left side. Sawdust inside my shirt, and enough sweat to give me a nice shine.

Now I’m as dirty as I can get, right? I wish. While we were catching our breath, the hired man decided to tell a really dirty, offensive story.

When he finished, there was this long silence. Nobody laughed. Uncle Lynn was the ward clerk and an innocent, virtuous man. I was a newly ordained deacon who wanted to be like Uncle Lynn. My 11-year-old brother hadn’t even understood. Finally, the hired man said something about guessing his story hadn’t been very funny. He had that part right.

By the end of the day, I was dirtier than I had ever been. Eventually, I took a long shower with lots of soap and shampoo. It felt so good to be clean again. My skin was clean. My hair was clean. Even my fingernails were clean.

But no amount of soap, water, or shampoo would wash the hired man’s lewd story out of my memory. Like an unwanted and unwelcome guest, it had arrived and now it wouldn’t leave.

It’s been decades since I heard that dirty story. I’ve never repeated it. I’ve tried hard to forget it. I know the Lord considers me blameless regarding that story. But every once in a while, it pops into my mind for just an instant, and I discover the uninvited guest still hasn’t gone home.

You see, there are some kinds of dirt which soap can’t reach.

[illustration] Illustrated by Rob Westerberg