The farm is no place for a hypochondriac. The barn is a collection of generations of dust, moldy hay, forgotten trash, rusty equipment, abandoned nests, old poop, fresh poop, composted poop, petrified poop, barn swallow poop decorating the posts and beams and corners. The pigs delight in being filthy. They make pig-sized depressions in the mud and roll, snouts first, until they look as though they’re wearing wetsuits. They smile their pig smile, proud of their improvised swimming pool. When they’re thirsty, they dive into the water bucket with both arms, immersing the entire front half of their bodies.
The house, despite our best efforts, is an old farmhouse. The mudroom is our storage for dirty barn boots and overalls. There are an inordinate number of resident spiders, filling the place with cobwebs within hours of a deep clean. The windows are perpetually fly-speckled, the plywood kitchen floor abused. The basement is dank and suspicious, the sort of place Indiana Jones might investigate. It seems to provide the upstairs with a constant supply of moldy air, hungry mice and a musty odor.
And so, for a person predisposed to worry, there is ample opportunity for discomfort. All of my distrust of germs comes from my father, who inherited his distrust from his father. He demands antibacterial hand soap, brushes his teeth for fifteen minutes at a time, and keeps his fingernails impossibly short.
When my family comes to visit the farm, my father stiffens. He steps from the truck and immediately into tall “mud” boots, which are spotless. He looks toward the barn suspiciously. My family always brings too much. My mother will have packed a cooler full of dinner, and another full of appetizers. They’ll bring armloads of pillows and blankets. They bring tools. My father brings his box full of paper towels, Dial soap and bottled water. It is as if they believe I need rescuing.
In the morning, they’ll wake up with me to come out for chores. My mom and brothers are good sports, bundling up and eager to help carry buckets of grain and water. My father tags along reluctantly, sulking like a child at having been woken too early. He brings along his mug of coffee, then thinks better of drinking from it after standing in the dusty barn. My brother grabs the bucket of feed from me and climbs bravely into where the pigs wait. They are on him in an instant, snouts smearing across his shorts and knees. He laughs, amazed at how quickly they’ve made a mess.
Back in the house, as they pack, my father is uneasy. “DON’T get in the car with those shit-covered shorts on!” He tells my brother. “I’ve got a clean pair in my bag, in the living room.” My father goes nowhere without his canvas bag full of spare clothing.
It’s getting better with time. I’ve given in to the fact that the pigs will muck up my shorts, that the eggs are sometimes dirty, and that it’s okay to touch the chickens. Still, I keep my fingernails short.