I was trying to straighten out the skin on my neck the other afternoon, wondering if I'd ever had a turkey as an ancestor, when there was a howl of panic from the living room. Grandchild Kevin was watching a children's afternoon program.
"Grungies!" he said in shock when I went to see the cause of alarm.
"Where?" I didn't know what a ‘Grungie’ was, but if it caused that much anxiety, I wanted to get both of us away from it. Maybe they stung or bit people.
His baby fat finger pointed toward the television. There they were, alright, several of them, leering at us from the vantage point at the top of their television toilet bowl. But their leers turned to dismay as a brush came out, sprinkled with some Grungie Killer Powder and - instant extermination!
"See Kevin, they're all gone:" I said brightly. "All flushed away.”
Kevin's bright little mind drew an instant connection between television grungies and the ones he had noticed in my bathroom. Those might spring up on a tot, just trying to keep his diaper dry. I saw his worry, and realized it was time to destroy some grungies for real.
"Let's go" I said, and Kevin and I spent the next few minutes, sprinkling, scrubbing, and brushing away. The product worked as advertised, and the grungies were gone. The job needed doing anyway, and it relieved Kevin immensely.
The event set me to thinking of all the grungies I've encountered, some that Kevin will probably come across in his own lifetime.
The first grungies I knew about lived beneath an outhouse, one of those old fashioned ‘bathrooms’ where no one ever took a bath because there was no running water. It was at Consolidated School District Number Six, late 1930s, where I went with my cousins. While we were our at the school, my parents remained in the city. They were trying to decide whether they'd made a mistake in getting married.
The fear I had was they might decide that it was a mistake. It probably heightened my sense of fear, but I would have been terrified of the outhouse under any circumstances. The outhouse was located about a hundred feet from the school building. It was painted red, sagged in splintered age, and had a latch on the door. If the latch was hooked, someone was inside. If it was off the hook, the place was open.
Inside, the seat had two side by side cutouts, permitting two at a time to go in and do their business. The rules were simple. Girls went in with girls. Boys with boys. There was a three minute time limit, unless three was a severe emergency, such as eating old watermelon the day before.
One of the most important school rules was that the older kids were not to tell the younger ones that colorful snails (1930s grungies) lived below the seat, in the pit, where lime was sprinkled daily over the top of the business transactions.
Of course, the older kids did just that.
"They're red, green, purple and silver colors" a sixth grader told us. "And they can leap all the way up to the top of the cutout and grab anyone who drops anything on them."
Since 'dropping something on them' was the whole point of the outhouse, this produced some negative results, such as a drastic increase in wet pants during school hours.
Eventually, the teacher found out. The younger kids were reassured that rainbow snails did not live in the lime. And, in my own life, my parents decided that they could tolerate each other for another fifty years.
Soon after, I returned to indoor plumbing in the city. But, after all that time, there has never been a night at a campsite, throughout all my adult years, when I haven't had to shine the light down into the outhouse before making my business transaction, just in case there was a grungie.
The next grungie began to appear in my nightmares when I was in my twenties, pregnant for the first time. It never occurred during waving hours, but was in there lurking as one of my night fears. Along with the wonderful knowledge that a human being lived inside my body, I had the fearful thought that at some point, the baby was going to have to leave said body. I didn't see any trapdoors, and the story I had been told—that babies come out of a woman's navel blowing up a balloon with the baby inside—was gone with Santa Claus.
"Does it hurt?" I asked my mother.
"It's a cross between trying to push a basketball though your wedding ring and having trees tied to each leg, trying to pull you apart." My mother said. "But it only lasts for ninety six hours."
Never argue with your mother over how long it took for you to be born. She was there and remembers the truth, even though the length of time it took increases yearly from the actual happening. The last time we discussed my own birth, I had grown to ninety six inches long, with a weight of seventy six pounds. But always, the doctor had told my mother that she must be the 'bravest little woman on earth.'
"You would have been an only child" my mother continued, "but your brother was an accident. Don't tell him that."
"No one could ever pry it out of me!"
In my own birth experience, it was indeed like trying to push a basketball through a wedding ring. But it didn’t last ninety-six hours. And when it was over, it left a tiny tyke with blond hair and eyelashes that were gold in the sun. Grungies no longer mattered.
After that, there were many grungies. Unemployment for a few months, kid problems here and there, empty nest syndrome…
Lately, my husband has begun actively searching for grungies.
"It says here that inflation may reduce our retirement credits to zilch!" my husband said, looking up from the newspaper.
"And the world health situation is not improving.”
"it can be improved if enough people want to improve it."
"And even if health is improved, where will the food come from?"
"All grungies." I said.
"What's a grungie?" he asked, pinning me down with blue eyes.
"Have you ever tried pushing a basketball through a wedding ring?" I asked.
"No, but I think we'd better get out of here for a few days and go on vacation. You're getting a little strange in the way you talk!"
Opaline Marks is the pen name of Opal Markiewicz, a writer of novels, short stories and nonfiction essays.