Find That Stench™

My Family’s Epic Minivan Game

It’s Saturday morning, and I’m trying to get the kids out the door to Grammy and Poppa’s. We’ve finally gotten Dan’s shoes on the correct feet, Tim found his jacket in the bottom of the LEGO bin and Pete just finished his 30-minute shower. With the morning dramatics complete, it’s time to pile into the van and play Find that Stench™.

Find that Stench is our family van game where we try to find and evict the source of the vehicle’s newest odor. With three young sons, the smell contestants are endless.

This week, the van reeks like a county fair dumpster with a touch of coastal rotting egg smell. The stench causes us to physically recoil when we open the sliding door on a hot summer day. Kate gags, composes herself, and then rallies to enter the putrid vehicle. The kids protest, but eventually hop in and pull their shirts up over their noses, but that offers little relief.

The boys know the drill, so they begin sifting through the ankle-high debris. They’ve become proficient at examining the mass of toys, half eaten food items, sports gear and random items with their feet while still being strapped in. The process often reveals treasured lost items, but it can also unearth objects we’d rather not find. The stakes are high because the smell is usually powerful, and the grand prize is so enticing. Whoever locates the offending item will get an extra Little Debbie Cosmic Brownie and the chance to hurl the rank article out of the van at highway speed.

We’ve had some notable entries in our mobile game show. One easy to find contestant was Dan’s vinyl, non-breathable Spiderman shoes. They wreaked of sweaty five-year-old boy feet and bacteria-infested third-world shoe material. Unfortunately, we couldn’t hurl the biohazards out the window until we could get him new footwear.

Another semifinalist was Tim’s seashell and assorted dead sea creature smell. He thought he had gotten all his beach finds out of the car, but we eventually found a few petrified critters under the back seat. Pete’s lacrosse pads tormented us for a few weeks in the off season. I was convinced a varmint had crawled into the vehicle and died. Pete was also responsible for a two-month smell champion—the puke splatter. That odor was more of a long running, smelly guest host than a contestant. It took a while to clean all the remnants causing that smell. I never imagined the human body could launch half-digested Mac and Cheese so far.

Our aromatic adventures caused us to institute some van debris ground rules. The first and foremost of these procedures is that if any food item hits the floor, leave it alone. Countless months-old, preservative -laden food items on the floor could be mistaken for fresh. I’m convinced that centuries from now, perfectly preserved McNuggets will be in the Smithsonian, right next to the dinosaur teeth.  

For a while, I tried cleaning the van to stay ahead of the smells, but it was just too daunting and time-consuming. We then tried covering up the smells with air fresheners, but that was like trying to contain a forest fire with a garden hose.

But it’s all good because I’m at peace with having a dented, stained, stinky van. It’s our family vehicle, and that’s where a lot of memories are made, good and bad.

I’ve heard our senses, especially smell, can bring back vivid memories. If that’s the case, I’m sure to head down memory lane whenever I drive past a landfill or down the New Jersey Turnpike. I’ll welcome the memories of Tim closing the sliding door on Pete’s head, Dan dishing out serious little brother justice from the back seat, the boys uncontrollably giggling over one of Tim’s epic gas attacks, and the site of a rancid, half-eaten Big Mac hitting a mile marker at 60 miles per hour. Those are the memories I wouldn’t trade for anything, especially a shiny, non-stinky van.

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