This is our first home in Guatemala, where one rainy afternoon when I was 7, our plumbing backed up, forcing unspeakable filth up through the bathroom drains and sending my fastidious mother into a dither. She commandeered one of the maids and me, instructing us to go to the nearest house with a working telephone. My mission was to call my father at the US Embassy and, “Tell him our bathtubs are full of kaka.”

She might as well have asked me to yell the word “shit” into a megaphone, because I believed that “kaka” was a dirty word and I told my mother that I didn’t want to say it in front of strangers. Mom assured me, “Don’t worry, it’s Greek and nobody knows what it means.”

Now c’mon. Even though “shit” wasn’t part of my 7-year-old vocabulary I somehow knew that “kaka” was the universally accepted way of saying it, and I was pretty sure the Guatemalans were part of that universe.

Nor would it have made sense to tell my father that our bathtubs were “full of poop,” because in our home, “poop” was the word that my mother taught us to use for “passing gas.” She would lift her head, put a finger to her nose and ask, “Did one of you just poop?” We couldn’t blame it on the dog, who was usually outside digging divots in the lawn, and it never occurred to us that our mother might have been the guilty party because we’d been brain-washed into believing that her bodily functions were more elegant than ours.

Defying my mother’s instructions, I whispered to my father that our bathrooms were full of “dirty stuff.” When pressed to clarify what I meant by “dirty stuff,” I whispered more loudly and more emphatically into the mouthpiece. “You know, Daddy. DIRTY STUFF!”

Sensing my mother’s urgency through my confusing euphemism, my father, who presumably had nothing better to do, came home from work to save us from the dirty stuff.

4 comments on “Euphemism”

  1. You are too funny!

  2. That was truly hysterical…..I can picture your mother now making you do the DIRTY work!! Loved it!

  3. Your future grandchildren will LOVE this stuff!!! And even your current children:)

  4. Wonderful way to start the day…I just sent an hour reading your stories and inevitably drawn both into your tales and into my own childhood. Thanks!

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