The scene: junior high gym.
The crowd: a group of newly minted 7th graders sitting on the bleachers.
The time: first day of gym class in the big pond known as junior high.
The main actor: the gym teacher.
Gym teacher: (paraphrase) Listen, you aren’t in grade school anymore. You’re getting older. You have to start taking care of yourself. You have to shower after each gym class. (verbatim) Because the only one who can’t smell your body odor is…you.
Powerful lesson, Mr. Gym Teacher. Apparently. Nearly thirty years later and I still remember the lesson. I don’t even remember your name or what you look like but I remember your words. They stuck with me. I live by them.
I worry about your words daily. “What if I stink?” “Am I the smelly one?” Whenever someone mentions something stinks I always wonder, “Uh oh, is it me?” And I do a discreet self-check.
One time I was in the store and smelled the most pungent odor. I panicked because I was the only one in the aisle. First I looked one way, then the other. Not another person in sight. I tried to determine if I was the source of stinkiness. Finally, a mother with an odoriferous child walked around the corner. A wave of relief swept over me.
Here’s my question, is it true that we can’t smell our own body odor? Or is that something teachers teach us to scare us straight? I have worried about being the unknown stinky one since 7th grade. Have I worried in vain?
And why do I remember the weird facts/myths from grade school? Sneezing stops your heart. Cold water kills more germs than hot water. Did I ever learn anything true and useful?
Other childhood lessons: