November 5, 2013 by Julia
This is a long one, folks, and there aren’t too many epiphanies – just some good old-fashioned (true) storytelling, yee-haw!
A few days before Halloween I went away for two nights with my dear friend of six years, Emily. We met through our husbands who work together, but have developed a close friendship of our own, through playdates with the kids and kid-free evening outings. Once at an impromptu “emergency” dinner at The Macaroni Grille, we imagined a scenario in which Emily said to her baby and toddler on her way out the door, “Mommy is dead inside. Mommy has to go grow a new mommy inside.”
Which sums up in part why I’m all about the weekend trips. I often overdo it in my excitement at the FREEDOM!!!
and come back home even more tired than before. But I do have a new, more patient and joyful mommy inside, even if my outer shell is just a teensy bit hungover and/or sleep-deprived and/or overstimulated/oversocialized/travel-tired.
Anyway, Emily asked if we could go camping together sometime this fall, and I said yes! And then that idea developed into “Well…maybe we should stay somewhere with a bed and shower and a TV, close to cute shops and coffee places because we’re MOMS, we DESERVE it!” And then Emily found this beautiful old rustic stone farmhouse bed & breakfast which looked like an animal lover’s paradise and who cares if B&B owners tend to be off their rockers? And there might not be a TV or a private bath, but that hardly matters because it’s a MOM’S GETAWAY. And the prerequisite quaint, historical, charming town (with shops to match) was but a short drive away. To say we were looking forward to this would be an understatement.
We went into the town before checking into the B&B, and promptly entered a lovely fair-trade shop filled with interesting jewelry and toys and clothes and all sorts of knick-knacks. We thought we’d died and gone to heaven. It was only two large rooms, but we stayed for six hours (not really) and examined each object, hemming and hawing and considering Christmas gifts and not worrying about losing children or breaking things because we COULD, dammit! Luxury.
After dinner it was time to head to the much-anticipated farmhouse. We drove slowly over pitch black winding country roads, and finally pulled into the driveway of the B&B. A yellow laborador and a black lab leaped out of the dark yard to greet us, flinging themselves at the car and nearly giving me a panic attack in my efforts not to hit them.
The owner – we’ll call him Luke – appeared, looking like just what his website bio had advertised: a forty-something single-dad farmer in lumberjack clothes with pirate hair fit for a romance novel (shoulder-length dark curls, in case you’re wondering). “Don’t worry about them,” he said, gesturing to the dogs. “They’ll get out of the way.”
He welcomed us into the main part of the stone house, and introduced his two sons, whom he had just picked up for the weekend, presumably from their other parent. Interestingly, the two boys looked nothing alike but both seemed to be about thirteen, and were African-American. Luke also introduced a five-year-old daughter, who was also African-American. Looking at a very white Luke and his children, it didn’t seem likely that any of them were biologically related to one another.
Of course none of it was my business, and I would never ask, and they were a family no matter what I thought about it. In fact, I admired the way Luke had introduced his kids without any explanation. There was no other way to do it, really.
But my curiosity was piqued. I wondered if there was an ex-wife with joint custody, and how young the children had been adopted (if they were at all). Or maybe Luke had decided to adopt on his own, without a partner. I wondered how the teen boys felt about spending their weekends on a farm, without TV or Wi-fi (as far as I could tell). I suspected they sort of hated it, but deep down they also loved it, because that’s probably how I would have felt at their age.
Luke casually showed us around the kitchen, which featured lovely rustic touches and marble floors – but also felt like a real family’s kitchen in that it had dusty corners, tacky Halloween decorations, a splattered microwave, and an overflowing junk drawer. And no silverware tray, just a pile of mismatched silver in a drawer. In the adjacent dining room we saw a wood-burning stove, exposed beams, and a long communal table which displayed decapitated rubber heads as part of the centerpiece. A skeleton held a mason jar glass at the head of the table, as if he were about to drink from it. Also, a Hello Kitty poster presided over what was presumably Luke’s daughter’s play corner.
“Help yourself to anything in the refrigerator or the garden,” Luke said. “We’ll have fresh eggs for breakfast tomorrow. This one” – he pointed to another black lab waddling around the kitchen – “is in labor. We’ll have puppies by morning.”
Luke showed us to our room and then left us on our own. “We’re headed out for pizza,” he said. Emily and I stood in our small, simply decorated room and laughed, a little. It was quite tasteful, with bare walls, a pumpkin in the window sill, a distressed wood bed with natural linen covers, and an electric heater that looked like a furnace with a faux fire.
But the heater didn’t seem to give off any heat. There was a hole the size and shape of a light switch in the wall next to our door, opening out onto the hallway. “It’s freezing,” I said. “And between the peeping Tom hole and the lack of window coverings, I’m not sure where we should stand in the room when we get dressed.”
I hope Emily didn’t think I actually minded any of this stuff. I am always up for an adventure, especially if it’s going to make a memorable story. But it was very cold. And the room was quite TV-less. It didn’t seem like a place we’d want to retire to, just yet. So we took out our essential supplies (bottle of red wine, challah bread, Dubliner cheese and chocolate pretzels) and headed back down to the kitchen in search of a hearth and corkscrew. As Luke drove off in his pickup truck with the kids, he invited us to start a fire in the dining room’s wood burning stove.
The pregnant black laborador was pacing in the kitchen, and seemed to be in active labor. Actually, she was dripping some sort of amniotic fluid, too.
Sorry. I know that’s gross.
And then she stood by the kitchen door, and Emily and I watched every muscle in her body tense up and shudder.
“Do you see that?” she asked me. It was like watching some sort of weird intimate horror show. We both said at the same time, “She’s having a contraction.” And then I saw something start to pop out of the dog’s back end. “Umm…” I said. “She is going to have a puppy right here.”
Now, it’s a good thing that Emily is not only a trained nurse, but an animal-lover who has worked in shelters. Because shit got real up in that kitchen. A slimy bag of puppy fell to the cold marble floor, and the mama dog walked away, trailing drops of blood. The puppy wasn’t moving in the amniotic sac.
One or both of us said, “It’s not moving. Shouldn’t it be moving?”
Emily told me to get some towels. And then she ripped that mother-effing sac off with her bare fucking hands like a mother-fucking doggie midwife BOSS and I threw some rags at her and she rubbed that pup down and the pup started to squirm and squeal just like a surprised newborn baby and we were both like: WHEW. New life, right here. No big deal. Just a couple of mamas, saving newborn puppies, cause we got that mama bear instinct, yo.
The cord was still dragging around behind the puppy, though. I dug through the junk drawer in the kitchen and the best I could come up with, under pressure, was old shears and kid-sized scissors. Em sawed at the cord with the shears but they were too dull. “Is this really happening right now?” she asked no one in particular. I handed her the kid scissors, and they worked much better.
Thank goodness the mama dog’s instincts overrode her continuous labor pains after a few minutes, because human mama instincts can only go so far such a situation. She began to nuzzle and clean her new pup.
“Well,” I said, “I think it’s time to crack open that bottle of wine!” We set up shop at the dining table, next to the mama dog’s nook in the stone wall. Looking for firestarters in the closet, we happened to notice a live parrot on a bar hanging from the ceiling. HELLO. He’d been watching the whole thing, silently.
We cautiously got a fire going in the wood-burning stove, moving a hanging ghoul decoration out of the way so we wouldn’t accidentally set him on fire. We read trashy magazines and drank red wine, but it took no effect on us; we were too unsettled by the ongoing birth, four feet away. Every half hour or so the mama would stand up and pop another one out.
She was doing fine on her own at this point, but we felt compelled to keep watching. The puppies’ squealing for warmth and milk filled the room. The sight of them wriggling toward their mother mesmerized us; it made us nostalgic for the first moments of meeting our own babies. The newness of them, the magic of life, the need for touch. If we watched much longer we’d be in danger of wanting more babies of our own…ack! (Mothers/Grandmas, forget you read that.)
By the time Luke returned with his kids about two hours later, five puppies had been born. We breathlessly told him the story of saving the first puppy’s life, and while he admitted that the puppy probably wouldn’t have survived without our (ahem, Emily’s) help, he seemed pretty relaxed about the whole life and death situation.
I guess that’s what happens when you’re surrounded by farm animals every day. But I liked him, even if the accommodations weren’t quite…five star. He seemed to genuinely care about the animals while respecting their natural rhythms. In fact, he seemed to believe that every person and animal around him was capable of handling themselves, as long as he did his own job. He was a trove of information, and easy to talk to, while not exactly going out of his way to make conversation. And his unconventional life added a certain intrigue.
We went to bed at a room temperature of 50 degrees or so, maybe less. I huddled under the covers and read my novel (Outlander, recommended to me by Emily, about an English woman on the Scottish Highlands who travels back in time 200 years and falls in love with a man in a kilt – a ripping yarn, if I ever read one) and Emily said I looked like a little girl staying up past bedtime, with my flashlight. I fell asleep and woke up about five hours later, hacking my lungs out with the same lingering cough I get every year around this time, trying not to wake up Emily, who thankfully sleeps like the dead. I went through about twelve cough drops and kept reading, watching the slow daybreak through the ancient window. At the exact moment the sunlight turned our walls orange, a rooster crowed.
Upon our entry into the kitchen for breakfast, we were told that the mama dog now had a litter of TEN. Which was in fact her third litter of TEN. This mama has brought thirty sleek black pups into the world.
We explored the farm, pulling up misshapen carrots and walking ominously behind the gaggle of geese.
The dovecote was beautiful, and they were beautiful, too – fluttering like pure white lace on the wind, perching on the old roof of the stone farm house, casting a spell in the bright blue sky. I wondered what purpose doves served on a farm. I liked the idea that their sole duty was to provide the beauty.
We climbed a fence and went further out over the fields, and were rewarded by a creepy old house next to a creepy tree.
When I say creepy, I mean creepy. Creeptastic, in fact.
One of the little girl guests of the house yelled across the field to us, “You can go in!” and so we did.
In what I assumed was once a dining room, I felt the floor creak and a plank gave out beneath the metal platform that I was standing on. “Ooookay,” I said to Emily. We left.
And then we swung on an old tire swing. There is something about swinging from a tree in the woods, as opposed to from a swingset on a playground. Delightful!
We headed out in the late morning, got deliciously sidetracked by a flea market, and then spent the afternoon at the historic town on the river, crossing the bridge and enjoying the view from the hillside. It was a fantastic way to spend the day.
Once again, it was completely dark by the time we headed back to the farmhouse, and this time we saw a outdoor bonfire in the yard. We entered the kitchen to find a different set of guests, all related to Luke: his cousin with her husband and three-year-old daughter, and Luke’s sister along with her husband, who had been out by the fire and was referred to as “Charlotte the Smoker.” (Not her real name. Except for “the smoker” part – that’s really what they said.)
Emily and I settled ourselves at the communal dining table with margarita pizza and red wine, along with homemade beef vegetable stew offered up by Luke himself. Everyone kept asking where we were from, and remarking with laughter that we’d come to the wrong place for a mom’s getaway. While it hadn’t been the most relaxing atmosphere, exactly, I was enjoying the familial chaos of that moment. It was more like crashing at an uncle’s house for the holidays, surrounded by little cousins, than it was like staying as a paying guest. And when Charlotte the Smoker entered the room, she became my new favorite person.
At first I thought she was drunk, and Emily and I cast meaningful glances at each other across the table, holding in giggles. Turns out she was drunk, but I’m not sure she would have acted much differently if sober. She’s one of those people you might refer to as “a riot” or “a hoot;” in other words, she is a hilariously open, outspoken person who likes to call out any elephants in the room. But she was kind about it, and so I liked her.
She slurred out the names of Luke’s two teen-aged boys, her nephews, and said, “Why don’t you guys spend any time together? You need to be TOGETHER. Fighting and bonding, you should be BEST FRIENDS, you’re family, you’re the same age, C’MON guys!!!” She then grabbed one boy, who was glued to his handheld device (is that what we call them, now?) and dragged him across the room toward his brother, trying to smash them into a hug. One brother kicked a chair down on the ground in the struggle, but they were both smiling. Emily and I could only laugh.
We followed Charlotte the Smoker out to the bonfire and chatted with the other adults. I bummed a cigarette off Charlotte. (To clarify, I am an occasional social smoker, with very strict self-imposed rules to never EVER smoke by myself or on a regular basis, and I have never EVER broken these rules. For real. Hi, Mom!)
She kept referring to Emily and I as one entity named Stephanie, which was the name of a woman who had spent the previous night there. She also expressed some concern about falling into the fire every time she stood up, which was often. At one point she held up her phone and asked us what was in her hand. I could not stop laughing, which was certainly related to my own consumption of red wine.
Luke called us into the house to see his raccoon friend, who had stopped by for a visit, having been raised by Luke as a baby. We went into the kitchen to find the raccoon exploring every corner and cabinet he could get little paws on, and Luke’s cousin, mother to the three-year-old girl who chased the creature around the dining room, kept saying, “This is not normal, you know,” which could have been inscripted on a plaque over the door of the farmhouse.
Later on, Emily and I were sitting alone by the fire while the children were being put to bed. I was left holding a half-smoked cigarette Charlotte had told me to save for her, which I eventually threw into the flames after a few minutes.
I said to Emily, “We have to know the family history. I want to know everything. I bet we can pump Charlotte for information if she comes back out alone.” Emily skeptically wondered how I might bring it up.
Suddenly, she said, “Oh. Wow. Luke just walked out. WOW. You HAVE to see what he’s wearing.” But I missed it when he went back into the house. I demanded a description. “Well,” Emily began, “He was wearing TIGHT black leather pants and a see-through black shirt.” “Like, MESH???” I asked, incredulous.
He walked back out to his pickup truck, his sister Charlotte trailing behind. “Look NOW,” Emily hissed, and when I did the inner laughter was so great that it’s a Halloween miracle I didn’t bust up right there.
The see-through shirt was not a shirt at all. It was a bunch of black straps criss-crossing his bare torso. It was the polar opposite of muddy flannel and jeans, the most surprising getup on Luke that I could possibly imagine, and it was freezing cold outside. ‘What the fuuuuuuck,” I exhaled to Emily.
His sister yelled, “Luke, you can’t just leave everyone here!! What about the kids??”
He said, “The kids are down!” She protested, “The kids are NOT down!”
He got into his truck and said, “The kids are fine – they can handle themselves!” and drove off.
You better believe I got some answers from Charlotte the Smoker after that.
She and Luke were both adopted, from separate biological parents, whom they’ve never been able to find. Luke loved animals from the beginning, and filled their parents’ basement with pets. He was married to a man for twelve years before it became legal in his state. (“Did you know he was gay?” asked Charlotte. “Am I blowing your mind, here?” We said we hadn’t known, but were not shocked, and of course are pro-gay-marraige, etc.) They adopted their two sons and daughter as babies. And then, two years ago, after Luke’s husband recovered from a serious illness, their marriage fell apart, and according to Charlotte, it has been a devastating divorce, drawn out for too long. Luke, a former interior designer, bought the farmhouse five years before, and had been fixing it up and raising animals here since. The men had lived a wealthy urban lifestyle before, throwing lavish parties and keeping a pony in their backyard. And Luke was now going to a Halloween party, which made his choice of clothing somewhat less outlandish.
Charlotte begged us to stay up and drink more wine. But the fire was down to ashes, and we were tired. “Will you be here in the morning?” we asked her, after a group hug. “No,” she said, “I have to get up at 6am for an out-of-town meeting.” Later, we wondered aloud how she could possibly get up that early, considering the state she was in.
In the morning we were dragging a bit, ourselves, but Emily managed to cook us fresh eggs laid by the nearby chickens. When we walked out to our car, Luke (back in his farm clothes, of course, and seemingly none the worse for wear after having left for the party at 11pm the night before) asked us how we’d fared with his sister. We told him about the group hug and her mention of an early appointment.
“She doesn’t have an appointment,” he scoffed. “She probably spent the rest of the night at the casinos.”
And so ends the saga of our bed and breakfast getaway weekend. Much love to Emily, my partner in the practice of growing new mommies inside, and dog midwifery.