Thank you for joining me for the summer redux series. I will be re-posting stories you may not have read, in the fashion of a summer re-run. We’ll get back to our regular posting schedule in a few weeks. The original “Llama Poo Day” story posted back in May 2012. It’s been embellished a little since then.
* * *
“I want to thank everyone for coming to this year’s garden party and plant sale,” LuAnne said, waving lavender-colored garden-gloved hands wide like she was hosting an elegant dinner party. “Before you leave I have a gift for each of you. Follow me.” She waltzed to the back of her yard. Leading us to the light-gray, 8-foot by 12-foot garden shed with hand stenciled daffodils on the walls. She opened the sliding glass door. And pulled out a 32-gallon trash can filled with llama manure and earthworms.
“Everybody grab a container. I’ll shovel it in for you.” LuAnne plunged the shovel into the trashcan loosening the rich nutrients. A scent filled the air. One part earthy, one part decomposition, one part strong manure. “Fannie, grab an extra bucket, I want to give you and Richard one each.”
“You know LuAnne,” I said, my eyes watering, my throat catching, “somehow thank you doesn’t quite cut it. So in the immortal words of your father, ‘I wouldn’t normally take crap from anyone, but for you, I’ll make an exception.’”
“Well, you won’t thank me if you don’t get the lids locked down before you put it in the truck,” LuAnne said, laughing.
Richard, my six-foot five-inch husband with crystal blue eyes, grabbed the forty-pound bucket. At a towering five-feet tall, I lugged the 30-pound bonus pack. Stopping twice, bruising my shins twice, and stubbing my toes twice on the way to the Love Wagon, our red Ford F150, with queen futon and disco ball in the back. Only we removed the futon to haul plants this trip.
“Fannie, this is great,” Richard said, placing the bucket into the back of the pick-up truck. “We can work the poo into the soil today. I can’t wait to get home.”
Handing him the bonus pack and wiping the sweat on the sleeve of my black and white striped rugby shirt, I said, “Well it shouldn’t take more than an hour to get home from here unless the traffic is backed up.”
Richard secured the plants we purchased and bungied the buckets.
The May sun warmed the air and the truck canopy. The aroma filled the truck cab. Merging onto Interstate 5 in Seattle, we rolled the windows down, preventing Niagara Falls from pouring out of our eyes and filling the cab.
“You know what my favorite part of llama poo day is?” I asked, trying to distract myself from the stench.
Richard shook his head.
“When we’re finished and the squirrels roll all over the ground like they just ate catnip and coffee beans.”
Laughing, Richard said, “If we only had a camera to film it.”
Forty minutes later we rounded the Fife curve heading into Tacoma. The Tacoma Dome came into view.
Just ahead of us, a white 1995 Cadillac DeVille drifted into the next lane clipping the front of an old blue Ford Ranger. Cars swerved out of the way. The sedan spun around ripping off its front bumper and clipping a black Suburban sending the Suburban across three lanes of traffic. It shoved two compact cars ahead of it like the cattle guard on a train. The cars and Suburban hit the median. The Suburban popped up. It straddled the on-ramp median. And crushed the trunk of one of the compacts.
The 1965 red Ford Mustang coming down the on ramp side swiped the Suburban, striking the lead compact car sending it spinning around to face on coming traffic.
“Richard, watch out,” I said, my voice reached a falsetto pitch that should break glass. I grabbed the dash board. My heart punched my ribs trying to get away.
Richard slammed on the brakes and swerved to the left, missing the spinning bumper as it dashed across the lane into the railing. The plants and forty pound container broke free of their bindings and hurled into the cab wall with a thud. The thirty pound container followed crashing into the forty pound bucket. A lid burst. Manure exploded into the canopied area.
Clearing the accident Richard pulled over to the side of the road.
“You okay?” Richard asked, shaking.
“Yeah, you?” I asked, my heart slowing now attempting to exit my throat back into my chest.
“Yeah, but I don’t even want to look in back.” Richard ran his fingers through his short, thick brown hair.
We looked over our shoulders.
“Oh god,” I said.
Ten pounds of manure repositioned itself across the back of the truck.
“Can you tell if any of the plants were damaged?” I asked, craning my neck.
“I can’t tell from here. We’ll have to wait until we get home.”
With the traffic stopped behind us, we pulled back on to the freeway and headed home.
“I hope we don’t see anyone until we get this mess cleaned up,” I said, when we drove down our street.
George and Bunny Gutierrez stood at the end of their driveway across the street from our house waving at us. We adopted them when they landed here from Texas. Bunny’s transition to the Pacific “north-wet” lifestyle akin to Dorothy visiting Oz. Richard pulled up beside them.
“Honey, I guess I don’t have to asked if you got your manure,” Bunny said, with her refined Texas accent. Her long blond hair swept back into a pony tail behind her head, crowning her statuesque figure. Her up-turned nose trying to crawl into her face. Her pony tail whipping flies.
“What did you do Richard?” George asked, with his soft spoken Texas accent. A contrast to the bass voice emanating from his lineman’s frame. A pencil-thin, black mustache and goatee framing his mouth. He waved his ham-sized hand in front of his face, “Fill the back end of your truck?” He nodded toward the manure on the windows of the canopy.
“We avoided an accident on the way home, but the plants and manure didn’t do so well,” Richard said, shaking his head. His tenor tones taking a step up the scale. His cheeks a fetching shade of pink. “Now we’re left with this,” he said, pointing at the back.
“Well, honey, let me get my dungarees on and I’ll be right over to help,” Bunny said.
Richard backed the truck into the driveway.
I hopped out of the cab. Standing on tip-toes, I peered through the side window. “It’s too dark to see for sure,” I said, biting my lower lip. “I’ll grab the coveralls and gloves.”
“I’ll get the shop vac and cleaning supplies,” Richard said, walking with me into the well-organized garage where even pine needles feared to tread.
Bunny arrived in time for the big unveiling. Richard opened the canopy door. The stench of hot manure wafted over us. We took a step back.
I experienced a sewer gas leak when I was a kid. My mom poured water down the pipe. No more smell. Mere water would not even come close to extinguishing this manure’s piquant flavor.
“Honey, that’s not for the faint of heart,” Bunny said, her eyes watering beyond onion tears.
Richard lowered the tail gate. Two tomato plants lay on their side. Part of their dirt spread out in a fan pattern. The rest of the plants snug in their cardboard containers pressed against the far end of the truck bed. A tie-dye pattern of manure covered the truck bed and canopy. A dozen or so earthworms squirmed along the bed.
“I guess it could be worse,” I said, tucking my sleeves into my gloves.
“How?” Richard asked, holding his nose.
“It could have been all seventy pounds,” I said, commandeering my husband’s devilish grin for the occasion.
“Fannie, honey, what is that?” Bunny asked, pointing to the small brown and silver object hanging from the canopy ceiling.
“That’s our disco ball. It looks like it could use a bath too,” I said, frowning.
Bunny looked from Richard to me, one eyebrow taking the street car to the top of her forehead.
Richard laughed. “Now that you’ve opened that can of worms Fannie, you may as well tell her.”
I took a deep breath. “We bought the truck for hauling and camping,” I said. “When we camp, we use a queen-sized futon, which fits perfectly. Richard christened the truck The Love Wagon. I told one of the in-laws about it. She and I decided the only thing missing was a disco ball. So she sent us a miniaturized one. How could we not hang it?”
Laughing, Bunny said, “Well then we will need to make sure we get The Love Wagon clean enough for camping. I’m sure you’ll be able to restore the disco ball to its former glory.” Her refined Texas accent wobbling.
Bunny and I carried the plants and the unopened bucket of manure to the greenhouse.
Richard picked up each worm and placed them in the container. Using a hand trowel, he scooped the loose manure back into the bucket.
Bunny and I lugged two five-gallon containers filled with hot, soapy bleach water out to the driveway. Richard dipped rags into the water and passed them in. We scrubbed the interior of the truck until the earthy odor disappeared. Richard swiped Q-tips into every exposed crevice until they came out clean.
The disco ball soaked in its personal spa waiting to return to the spot light.
“Bunny, thank you for all of your help, it would have taken forever without you,” I said, sitting on the tail gate wiping sweat from my forehead on a clean dry rag.
“Fannie, honey, you two get into more scrapes than Tom Sawyer, I wouldn’t have missed it for the world,” Bunny said, grinning. Her pony tail wiggled. “What on earth is wrong with that squirrel?” Her tone implying it was tripping on drugs.
Fifteen feet from the truck a large gray squirrel rolled over three times. Pausing long enough to scratch its ear, it looked at us. Rolling onto its back it used its shoulders and hips to scoot back to its original location.
“I must have spilled some of the llama poo over there when I carried the container to the back yard,” Richard said, laughing.
Bunny’s pony tail bobbed. “Priceless.”
“Welcome to the best part of llama poo day,” I said, with a wink.