No, it doesn’t stink to have a job and a career. It doesn’t stink to bring home a paycheck at the end of the week. But sometimes there is a bad smell involved in working.
On these summer days when I get out to mow the lawn or perform some other sweaty task in the steamy heat, I detect a certain unpleasant odor that comes from me. In those cases, I choose to stay away from others to keep them from bearing witness to the odor I am emitting.
But the stink from work doesn’t always emanate from the individual. Sometimes it is the job itself that lends itself to the offensive smell. While most of my pay-for-work jobs revolved around a desk or with pen and paper in hand, these summer days remind me of some stinking moments from my first job.
As a camp counselor at the S.C. United Methodist Camp (now Asbury Hills United Methodist Camp), I found myself outside most of the time. While most of the three summers I worked there found me with a group of boys each week, there were the occasional “work weeks” where I performed odd jobs around the camp.
My very first week there found me working with the maintenance man, Bob, and one of our first tasks was to work on the oxidation plant, a nice term for sewage treatment facility. As you can imagine, there was a smell that came with that job.
A couple of years later I had another “work week” and was given the smelliest of stinky jobs I have encountered. The camp has a small lake which is now used for kayaking and canoeing. Back in the 1960s it was also used for swimming.
At the far end of the lake, a chapel was carved out of the woods with terraced seating made of logs stepping down toward the water. An opening service for the entire camp was held there each Monday evening. On this particular Monday, the camp director noticed that a snapping turtle had drowned near the lake chapel, snared by a fishing hook that made it unable to escape.
The floating carcass was not something conducive to a worship service, so I was dispatched along with the waterfront director to get the snapper and dispose of the already decomposing body.
Chris Thorngate of Aiken, someone I had known for many years already, was the waterfront director, and we got a canoe from the boat house along with paddles and a large bucket. Before crossing the lake, however, we did the one thing I was later most grateful for. We dug a hole.
As mentioned previously, work can be a stinking business, and this endeavor certainly fit the bill. While I was familiar with the box turtles found around Aiken, I hadn’t had a close-up experience with a snapping turtle. Box turtles are shrimps compared to this snapper. It must have been about 20 inches in diameter and weighed well over 20 pounds.
Chris and I paddled across the small lake and approached the chapel when we saw the turtle floating on the surface. With Chris at the front of the canoe holding it in place as much as possible, I first had to free the beast from the snag that had led to its doom.
The hook had gone through a rear leg with the rest of the fishing line caught on a snag below. An unhappy angler had no doubt become upset when he had to give up his line, but he had no idea of the hazard it would pose to a passing turtle.
Once the line was cut and the turtle freed, getting it into the canoe was the next problem. Actually, the next problem was the smell, because it was about then that we realized the decaying animal reeked. Between gasps for fresh air, we managed to get the turtle into the bucket and into the canoe. But now we had to paddle back across the water, and I was sitting just a few feet behind the smelly body.
It’s probably not possible to peel out in a canoe, but Chris and I came about as close as one can. We paddled with all our might, and the two of us made record time across the lake, beached our craft and lifted the turtle-filled bucket. Then it was a race to the hole we had dug.
The turtle was placed in the hole and dirt was quickly thrown on, the offensive odor diminishing with each shovelful. The main part of our task completed, we set about our cleanup. The canoe went back to the boat house, and we took the bucket – empty but still smelling from the cargo it had carried – to clean it out.
Chlorine bleach, a product that normally smells bad on its own, was a welcome fragrance to our nostrils after suffering through several minutes of turtle stench.
That evening more than 100 campers and staff members hiked to the lake chapel for the worship service, unaware of the stinking problem that had been removed just hours before. I feel sure that Chris had the same feeling as we peered into the water that evening toward the spot we had toiled over in the morning.
Jeff Wallace is a retired editor of the Aiken Standard.