Mud dots the street in front of the Rucker house in Centralia, where 9-year-old Johnny Veazey works on his messy masterpiece. He and four of his friends crowd around a patch of dirt in a grassy ditch next to the street. Some sit crossed-legged; others lie down, propped up on their elbows.
Each boy is dressed in mud. Jacob Rucker, 7, has clumps stuck to his chin. Danny Beachy, 10, has a smudge in the middle of his forehead. And Johnny’s arms look like they have been dipped up to the elbow in brownie mix. But it doesn’t matter. The boys have a job to do.
Eight-year-old Leo Benson scrapes at the dirt hole with a stick. His long blond hair shakes each time he stabs at the earth. His job is to stir up the dirt, which will be formed into rough balls of mud.
Isaac Rucker, 10, has a worn cardboard box behind him. Inside are two round mudballs the size of apples, tightly packed and smoothed by hand. The group is looking to add to that collection, which will be used to wage a war on a bully in town.
The boys work diligently, rolling their creations in a nearby puddle as they shape, pack and smooth the dirt into spheres.
But Johnny has another, higher goal: his masterpiece, what he calls the “ultimate,” the largest mudball his friends have ever seen. And as each mudball takes shape, Johnny tries to sell his ultimate idea. He isn’t as interested in the war.
So what started as ammunition building for a bully battle results in the construction of the mother of all mudballs. One by one, the friends add their creations to Johnny’s, and with a little help from Jacob, who contributes more dirt from the ditch, Johnny soon holds a glob the size of a loaf of bread.
Using both hands and rolling it up and down his T-shirt, he shapes the giant ball. After a few minutes, Johnny holds out the ultimate for his friends to see. Grass pokes out from its top and sides and the ball is far from round — but everyone agrees it’s the largest mudball ever created.
The next step is to figure out what to do with the ultimate. Isaac suggests that they should do what they have been doing all day with the balls. “Let’s throw it up and watch it hit the street and blow up.”
And so they do.