“Guys, I need to warn you about something. Mom, I don’t want you to get mad,” My brother Wendell said one night at dinner. It was three weeks before the start of school and the team had just begun pre-season football camp. All summer, Wendell had been lifting and running and now a rising sophomore, he was looking forward to putting to together.
We stood in suspense. He was fifteen going on sixteen. Was he suffering from depression? Was it an academic issue from the year before? Did he get a girl pregnant although we never even saw him associate with a woman? Was he hurt?
“I am in camp and we are having a contest. So for the next few nights I will not be bathing.” Crickets chirped in our Western Pennsylvania Florida room as the dusk set around us. Our mouths hung open.
I said, “Wendell, you need to spend less time around those muscle heads.”
“Shut up April! You have no friends.”
Wendell was caked with mud, sweat, grass, and smelled terrible enough to be used for chemical warfare. My dad, still in his business suit in contrast to Wendell said, “Son, I am with April. This is pretty bad and you smell bad enough to devastate an enemy village.”
Wendell said, “You never support me! You wanted me to play football and now I want to fit in! Where is your sympathy.”
My dad said, “It falls between shit and syphilis in the dictionary. Now take a Goddamn bath.”
Skipper tried to play the peacekeeper. The ten year old sliver of a woman with strawberry blonde hair proposed, “Maybe Wendell needs to do this to make friends. Why don’t we try to be sensitive to his needs?”
I looked at the sprite, “Our needs are that we need to breathe.”
Skipper, who was well beyond her years said, “I realize that. But it’s also lowering his immune system against opportunistic infection. Give him a day.”
Shorty, our mom, sat silent during the proceedings. We nicknamed her that because she wasn’t even five feet tall. Wendell’s odor, which was getting worse by the second, wafted through the room. My dad held his nose and got up. My dad and brother bickered about his lack of willingness to bathe as Skipper and I laughed. This was free theatre for sure.
Wendell had the highest GPA on the team and dreamed of attending an Ivy League university. However, at this moment no one would have suspected it. As my dad made his exit Shorty sprung to life. She turned to Wendell and said, “No son of mine will win this stupid contest. You are done participating.”
Wendell said, “Stop ruining my life. All you do is ruin my life, Shorty.”
With that, Shorty took him by the ear and began to drag him. As Wendell yelped in pain she said, “You want to talk about life ruining?! I let you live in my womb for nine whole months and you destroyed my waistline. Then instead of coming out in nine months, you were nine months and two weeks!”
Skipper and I laughed as Wendell was dragged upstairs. He protested, “That’s not fair!”
“Not fair! It was 24 hours of labor, an emergency C, and then I breast fed you and you sucked my beautiful chest away! Since before day one, you have been a dick ass!”
Wendell still in pain said, “Those things werent my fault!”
Shorty wasn’t having it, “And that's just what your ungrateful father would say.”
She let go of Wendell’s ear, took his foot, kicked him straight in the ass and he sailed into the bathroom door. Wendell had a look of defeat on his face. Shorty said, “Shower now or die!”
Whether Shorty knew it or not, she was a hero to the whole family. While her force was excessive, it was understood and warranted. The Brucker’s could breathe again.
The next day at camp, it was revealed that a vast majority of the team were disqualified from the contest as well as Wendell. To his pleasant surprise, this bonded him with his teammates who felt they were the only ones who were disenfranchised. And those that lasted an extra day because they had absentee or permissive parents withdrew when their girlfriends threatened to dump them.
One fellow lasted three whole days. It was Luccio Lazarro, who’s father owned the local pizza joint. A dirty and filthy sight, Luccio would have given any bum on the Bowery a run for their money in the stench department. At this point, Wendell was not only socially encouraged to shower, but necessary. As he said at dinner, “I am doing science fair this year. Maybe I could get a new bacteria off of him.”
However, Luccio’s reign was soon ended when the Coach Marzelle, a West Virginia native who was “all fired up” with a thick mountaineer accent, got a garden hose from the grounds keeper and said, “Boy, you have been stinking it up for far too long,” and then without warning sprayed him. Marzelle told the lad that he was to take a shower, run, and then shower again to make up for lost time. And Marzelle warned that anyone who refused to shower would be getting the same treatment.
From that day forward, Wendell bathed without argument. My brother learned a very important lesson though. Unless someone is paying your bills or your rent, you don’t need to do stupid things to get them to like you, especially things that endanger your health. Hey, it gets better.