Mom and Vietnam Stepdad—a man not of Vietnamese origin, but one who fought in ‘Nam and refuses to talk about it—decide to sell our 5,000 sq. ft. Tudor home in Dallas and buy a farm in Bailey, Texas (population 187). We can get rich quick raising nightcrawlers and Red Wigglers. An ad in the back of Foxfire magazine assures that worm farming puts you in control of your own destiny.
We do not get rich.
Our trailer house is double-wide, which means we aren’t poor white trash. We park it behind the dilapidated, tin-roof farmhouse where we lived for the first year. All four kids sleep in the attic together, nestled like wayward squirrels or rejects from a V.C. Andrews novel. We have the authentic farming experience, which means no heat, which, as our menopausal, hot-flashing mother reminds us, is totally unnecessary anyway. “Stop being dramatic. We have quilts.”
Worms live in 6 x 3-foot wooden boxes of manure. You wake up every morning and water the shit so the worms can stay hydrated. You do this before your bowl of Cinnamon Toast Crunch. Before night falls, you water the worms and watch a gorgeous Texas sunset smear red and orange across the horizon like the frosting of God’s own birthday cake. You want the colors to obliterate the farm.
Sometimes you name a worm or two. Your brothers pick stupid names like Timmy and Mr. Wiggles. You prefer Clementine and Copernicus.
For fun on Friday nights, Vietnam Stepdad drinks a case of Natural Light and rips the Yellow Pages in half with his bare hands. He’s always showing off. On long Saturday afternoons you and your brothers ride the silver propane tank like a circus horse. You feel slightly stupid and childish, but this doesn’t stop you. The boredom does.
A giant bell is installed on a 20-foot post next to the old farmhouse. It is purchased to add quaint charm to the worm farm. You ring it to call your brothers in for dinner. They are only 30 feet away, but you are told to ring it nevertheless.
If you are 13 and start your very first period on the worm farm, your brothers think it is funny to ring the big bell.
Vietnam Stepdad served on an aircraft carrier. Something about an explosion and him pulling people out of a hole. Something about one guy not making it out.
Long before HGTV, Mom and Vietnam Stepdad strike a blow for home improvement. They spray acoustic popcorn texture over all the walls and ceilings, even up the narrow stairs to the attic. All of the walls are white because if you paint the walls in any color, future homebuyers
may not like the color you’ve chosen. “White is a neutral,” Mom proclaims, as if anyone would ever buy our house.
When no one is looking, you scrape little pieces of sheetrock popcorn off the walls and trample them underfoot.
One evening a tar-black tarantula the size of a wrestler’s hand attaches itself to a bright white popcorn wall. It sits there and throbs.
There is no silence like the silence of the worm farm on any random Sunday afternoon.
A website called thewormfarm.net actually has a link to Xmas gifts, like a children’s “make your own worm farm” kit. Why? Why would Santa ever do that to a child?
A person who raises worms is called a vermiculturist. Or a dumbass.
The worm beds only cover a very tiny portion of the 400-acre farm. The rest of it is grass, endless grass, and small ponds referred to as “tanks.”
Christmas on the worm farm. Nothing special, but it is funny to say, “Christmas on the worm farm.
When your mom finally files for divorce, packs up the children, and leaves the worm farm, Vietnam Stepdad starts digging tanks. Eventually the entire farm is almost underwater. When you drive by twenty years later, it looks like a lake.
reviewed by Matt Lee
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