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
There is no silence like the silence of the worm farm on any random
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
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.
Julie Steward is Professor of English at Samford University in Birmingham, AL. She teaches creative writing and drama and has been known to appear on local stages from time to time. Her sons, Finn and Tex, bring her great joy as do her students just learning their craft.