I’ve been thinking quite a bit about the old Middleton farm the past several days. I think it has a little something to do with all the fun and exciting veggies showing up at the Hoboken Farmers market. (Note: I suspect I incite great jealousy lugging my giant stalks of brussel sprouts up the entire length of Hoboken.) As much as I love perusing the strange produce showing up on the market tables lately, I doubt Grandpa Herman spent much time cultivating an exotic patch of New Zealand Spinach or Purslane.
It had been several decades since I’d last seen the farm last. My most vivid memory from that trip was Mom’s anguish at seeing her childhood home so deteriorated. I’m almost positive there was a possum or rat skeleton also, but that may have been the result of too many tales of Grandpa Herman cleaning out rat bites with gasoline. Ugh. That thought still gives me the willies.
This trip promised to be different. About a year or so earlier, the property had changed hands. I still don’t understand the logistics of it all, but I find that’s true of 90% of all Middleton happenings. Someway, somehow, a guy bought the Middleton farm. He grew up just a couple farms over and went to the very same school as the Middleton siblings. Someway, somehow, someone who knows that guy also knows one o’ the many Middletons. He put two and two together and made an introduction. In typical Middleton fashion, instantly the entire family, down to the fourth cousin thirteen times removed, had the contact information for this poor new owner of the farm – and had absolutely no reservations about contacting him directly with every question imaginable.
For those that have never experienced the charm of the Middletons, that probably sounds terrifying. I’m sure you’re wondering how that poor man survived the deluge of emails and phone calls. Don’t fret, he’s just fine. In fact, he loved every second of it. The attention of a Middleton is warm, enveloping, and slightly too juicy – like a sun-baked tomato fresh from the vine. This guy was neck deep in a barrel full of Middleton/tomato lovin’.
Somehow, someway, one (or all) of these relatives convinced this guy to let a pack o’ wild Middletons roam his property. I’m sure we were polite enough to ask if there was a limit to the number of people we could bring. I’m not entirely sure we mentioned that we’d like to visit during our family reunion. Luckily for him, turnout was relatively small with only about one hundred of my closest relatives in attendance.
We piled into our seventeen vehicles (no, not everyone went to the farm – there was still beer left at the party, after all) and struck out Nachusa way. The fields of corn curved over the hills like the super fat wales of my corduroys curve over my knees. Mom became more anxious with each passing moment.
“That used to be the school house!” Mom shouted just before we turned down a long lane. “Grades one through four were in the one room, grades five through eight in the other. My graduating class was a whopping six kids.”
Every inch forward brought another gasp or giggle, sigh or sob. I couldn’t believe how many times one of the Middleton siblings had been struck by a car or tractor. It’s quite possible Thom and I come by our fear of motorized vehicles honestly.
The corn crib came into view first, then the barn, and finally the house. We unloaded our clown cars, and walked towards the house.
Everyone was incredibly curious to see what the new owner had planned for the house. All were deeply relieved he was not planning on tearing down the original house, but were somewhat nervous to see the changes and additions already underway.
The house was absolutely nothing like I remember it. The floors were gorgeous. The molding and doors were fantastic. Now, how the hell they raised nine kids in that tiny three bedroom number is a mystery to me, but I can see why they loved the house. It’s surprising how big a difference just replacing the broken windows and removing the rodent skeletons will do for a place’s appeal.
Neither Mom’s nor cousin Patty Mouse’s knees could quite make the climb to the attic, but after hearing so many tales of the two of them hiding up there playing dolls in their secret wonderland, I HAD to see for myself. After the past year of house hunting, my first thought was “Nine kids and they never tried to finish the attic?” What a city girl, eh?
As for the basement, there was no way in hell Mom was stepping down there. “That’s the type of basement that inspired the whole horror genre,” she shivered as she passed the door. So of course I immediately veered left and headed down the stairs.
Dear. God. The. Smell.
Clearly all the rodent skeletons had been moved here, into the bowels of hell. In my many subsequent nightmares, those dark, dank cinderblock walls were covered in chains, manacles, and the other torturous restraining devices depicted all too frequently on Criminal Minds. When I emerged back into the sunlight, I was still swatting at the cobwebs, spiders, and ghosts clinging to my pant legs.
We worked our way behind the barns towards the creek (or crick as we call ’em in Appalachia), wading through the tough weeds that had overtaken the gravel road.
“There’s the old concrete bridge!” Aunt Sharon giggled with glee. “We’d come up here to swim and that thing would just be covered with snakes sunning themselves.”
Bad knees and all, Mom started stomping, making exaggerated noises and whooping at the top of her lungs. I couldn’t decide if it was terrifying or hysterical. She paused long enough to explain. “This is how we’d scare them away!”
Sadly, the bridge itself had mostly crumbled away, and we were unable to cross. That worked out well, however, because we suddenly noticed a small wiry stick of a man clad only in denim shorts and a wildly untamed handlebar mustache. He beamed at us good naturedly as Mom and Sharon rattled on about their adventures in the creek. Eventually the conversation sputtered to a stop as we all stared blankly at one another. Fortunately, Uncle Chuck arrived an instant later to introduce the rest of the family to the new owner.
Everyone immediately poured on the compliments and thanks. Not me, I was mesmerized. Did I mention he wasn’t wearing anything but those shorts and his mustache? Oh, silly me – there were glasses, too. Perched on the tip of his nose were round specs surrounded by the thinnest of wires. The rest of the bod had not a thing perched anywhere. He wasn’t even wearing shoes! How on earth were his feet navigating the stones, burrs and stalks that were tormenting me around my flip flops?
We all began walking back towards the house. When I wasn’t looking, Chuck and Sharon must have done some shot of Hennessy or something, for suddenly they decided to take off into the woods in search of the ramble. (I can only assume their ramble doesn’t work the same way as the ramble in Central Park.) Rocco and Dad were analyzing some gears in the barn, and suddenly Mom and I were all alone with Mustache Man.
I have no idea what they talked about, honestly. I spent the next three minutes imagining a profound discussion with his nipples. I thought it was rude to just completely leave them out of the conversation while they were so prominently displayed.
“So, you two come here often?”
“Well, you know, any time Mustache Man comes to work on the house,” they squeaked in unison. (They were very small, pert nipples after all).
“Ever worry about injury while he’s swinging hammers or taping drywall?”
“Nah, that’s not bad at all. The only real problems arise when he’s carrying lumber in his arms. We manage to stay out of the way most of the time.”
“Do you get sunburned?”
“Hasn’t been a problem this year with all the rain, really. Besides, we’re like little golden raisins now. I think we’ve grown impervious to sun damage.”
Every now and again, our conversation would lull as we watched Chuck and Sharon disappear and re-appear as they worked through the underbrush surrounding the ramble.
“I hope you won’t be offended, but I have to ask…how do you feel about that mustache?”
“Oh not at all! You’re not the first to ask, you know. We have to say, it provides us with endless entertainment. There’s nothing quite as enjoyable as feeling the tickle of those whiskers when the breeze blows, or riding in the pick-up with the windows open. Sometimes, we even pretend his nose is Rapunzel and we’re just waiting till her hair gets long enough to climb up and rescue her.”
“Well that’s just….well, lovely. I didn’t know that nipples were familiar with fairy tales as a general rule.”
“Oh sure! We get out more than most nipples, ya know.”
“Yes, I gathered that.”
“You know, your mom left a while ago and Mustache Man can’t figure out why you’re staring at us. Maybe we should wrap this up.”
“Yipes, thanks for the heads up. Lovely chatting. I’m sure I’ll see more of you later.”