Awkward Barn

Thinking back, I can hardly believe how such a peaceful trip ended up in a scandal that ruined our family. Oops — I forgot to introduce myself. I’m Ronald P. Miller. Well — it used to be Miller. That was my dad’s last name. Now, it’s Johnson. 

The Awkward Barn 

I was staring out the window of my dad’s Toyota when it all started. It was a quiet day. Cloudy. The dirt road was full of bumps, and unpaved. I didn’t tell anyone, but I disapproved of this road.

We were driving out into the country to visit my paternal grandmother. In case you don’t know, that means my father’s mother. But — oops, again — I’m not supposed to talk about him. I think I’ll have to to get through this story.

In any event, we were going to visit my grandmother. She lived in the country and owned a farm. Yup — a real farm. Cows, chickens, the lot. The whole shebang-bang. Even a big red barn, forever since called by my family “The Awkward Barn” (when they even discuss it). 

Granny Miller welcomed us with open arms. Literally. She gave me a hug that squeezed out all my organs. Even though that’s not scientifically possible. I’m on the school’s honors program, and if my health professor found out about this, he would go nuts. 

We were welcomed into the house, and I went to my room in the loft. That is a place in the barn where hay is kept. I set up my sleeping bag on two bales of hay and placed my backpack on the ground. My mother was sleeping on the other end of the loft, on the rickety bed with the old quilt, full of holes and stains. I disapproved of that quilt. I never told her that that quilt was the vomit quilt used by relatives when they were sick. I didn’t want to hurt her feelings. Was that the right choice? Looking back now, I don’t know. 

Then I headed down the rickety stairs. I heard my father talking to my grandmother. 

“… had him. I didn’t ever want you to,” she was saying. “That’s why I put them in the loft.” 

“Ma,” I heard my father say. “You know my thoughts about this. When we…” 

“What are you two talking about?” I blurted out.

“Ronald!” cried my father, looking surprised and almost relieved. “Er… how much did you hear?… ” 

“Oh, I’m terribly sorry.” I said quickly. “Was this a good time? I didn’t mean to butt in like this.” 

I don’t know if that was the best way to say it. I was really thinking in the moment. If my English professor were here, she’d make a thousand corrections. But that’s not very realistic. If my math professor were here…

“Oh, no! It’s a perfect time!” said Granny Miller, sticking a smile on her face. Was that smile part very respectful of me? Our school counselor would freak. 

Granny and my father acted happy, but I could tell something was up. I don’t want to hide things from my family. But before I could ask them what was up, Granny said,

“Who wants apple piiii-iiiiiiiie?” She took a cold piece out of the fridge and held it up in front of my mouth. I didn’t like cold pie. Still don’t. But I ate it, just to be polite. I had a few disgusting bites, then took one of Granny’s porcelain plates and put it and the pie on the table. To clarify, the plate was on the table, and the pie was on the plate. Was that hard to understand? My English professor says to not use long, unnecessary sentences. I’m totally getting held back this year… I barely scraped by last term, with only Bs and As. My best grade was only an A+++! If I want to stay on the honors program, I need to average at least an AA. I mean, they don’t publish the actual criteria, and no one I know has ever gotten that grade, but I know I need to stay on top. 

After the pie, we played Trivial Pursuit: Farmer’s Edition. My father and Granny teamed up. They won, obviously. My mother and I were a team, but we barely managed half a point. Oops — you can’t actually get half a point in Trivial Pursuit. Our school’s Board Games Club director would get so mad at me. 

After that, we played Monopoly. I won. I am a master of strategy (not to brag. I hate to brag. Was that bragging? I hope not. I bet soon I’ll be seeing the school counselor on an hourly basis). Granny grumbled a bit, but I think she’s just competitive. Then, we played Scrabble. I knew I could win, but I gave mother a chance, opening up places where she could score big. I thought it was only fair, because she hadn’t won a game yet. When we finished scoring, and mother won, Granny slammed her fists down on the board and got this really angry look in her eyes. She had come in last, her best play was “COW,” eight points. 

Okay,” she growled. “Let’s eat dinner now.” 

We had sheperd’s pie. In case you don’t know, that is like mashed potatoes, but with some meat and carrots and peas. And things. It is pretty good. But all throughout the meal, Granny kept rambling on and on about all the original Millers being shepherds in Ireland or England or some country. Whatever it is, it’s been scratched off the family tree by now. Also, my mother called that company that tests your DNA to make sure I was actually part Irish (or other foreign country from my father’s side). 

But I’m getting ahead of myself. 

After dinner, Granny served apple pie (luckily, heated up). She gave herself a big piece and gave Dad a medium piece. I got a smallish piece. She was about to cut the tiniest of slivers for Mom, but then said loudly, “You’re on a diet, aren’t you Jessica?” and did not give her any pie. 

No one said anything, but my mother, Jen, is not on a diet. 

That night I couldn’t sleep, but I pretended to so mom wouldn’t fret. I thought about how Granny knew full well my mother’s name, and that she was not on a diet.

Granny… Granny wouldn’t say things like that, I reassured myself. She’s old. 70. She probably forgot mom’s name… and maybe my mom was on a diet earlier… but didn’t tell me…  but if she was… on a… diet, why didn’t she tell… me? I wondered sleepily as my head started nodding — for real this time. 

By morning, I hadn’t forgotten about the diet thing (oops — my English professor doesn’t really like the word, “thing.” I bet you anything I’m getting held back. And my school’s Gambling and Statistics instructor would agree). 

I went downstairs and saw a large breakfast of scrambled eggs, bacon, ham, pancakes, and a load of fruit. The table was the kind of table that was a rectangle. There was a tall chair on on each of the short sides and two shorter chairs on each of the long sides. The table was empty. I was about to sit in one of the tall chairs when Granny came in from the kitchen and sat in it, pushing me aside.

“Excuse me?” I asked politely (I think), but just at that moment, she started loudly pouring herself orange juice and splashing a lot. Then, my dad came in from the bedroom (Granny was in the master bedroom because she owned the house). Right now, I’m wondering if there was another reason she was in the master bedroom and mom had the vomit quilt. 

“Hey gang,” said dad cheerfully, absentmindedly taking a seat on the other tall chair. He glanced at me and a sad look passed over his face for a second. Then, he stared down Granny and said loudly, “Why don’t you come sit next to me… Ronnie boy.” But he did not look at me. He was staring hard at Granny the whole time. 

Carefully, I sat down next to dad, torn between staring at Granny or looking sad. I ended up looking sort of sympathetic at Granny, which I was sure pleased no one. It was a very uncomfortable breakfast. 

Afterwards, Granny took us all into the barn. Long story short, I don’t like barns. Very unhygienic. And too much dung and messy animals. Barns smell terrible! But I didn’t show it. Instead, I pretended to thoroughly enjoy the whole stinky experience (oh no! Really I am not being respectful at all! Though, mother says I should feel free to speak my mind about The Awkward Barn).

Near the end of the tour, Granny was showing us the animals. After the cows, sheep, and horses, we came to the pigs. Dad seemed to want to get on with it quick and get to lunch (it was noon already — or should I use the exact time? My math professor will have fainted by now, I’m sure), but Granny couldn’t get enough of the pigs. She kept rambling on and on about pigs: what they ate, how they were born, how they pooped (pardon my language), on and on and on. She concluded her lecture with: “And last but not least… you really are a PIG, Ronald.” 

I couldn’t believe it. I was shocked. My mom was sad. But my dad was furious.

“Ma,” he huffed. “I told you not to bring this up.” 

“Why am I a pig?” I asked, as politely as I could be. 

“Because–” started Granny rather nastily, but father interrupted. 

“Let me,” he growled. “Tell this story.” He huffed a little, then began.

“When you were born, we made a deal.” He sighed heavily. “I guess I should tell you why. My mother… never wanted me to get married. She just wanted me to stay in this house forever because… I’m an…” 

Suddenly Granny spoke. “Because I just want you to be my little boy forever, Dedalus.” Then she fiercely whispered, “I can’t have you giving away family secrets! We’re the only two who know this and it’s going to stay that way!”

Dad looked sad but resigned. “Fine,” he said. “Because she was an overprotective mother. See?” He whispered to Granny. “I’m not lying to my son. Anyways,” he continued in his normal voice. “She was never the biggest fan of… well… your birth in general. So we compromised. You would keep our last name, and your mother picked your first name. But she… she chose the middle name.” 

“Did you ever wonder what that ‘P’ stood for?” asked Granny with a nasty grin.

“Er…” I said. I had never really thought about this and my parents had never told me. I always assumed it was something like “Patrick,” or “Paisley.”

“PIG,” bellowed Granny. “Hahahahaha!” I couldn’t believe it. But Granny was so nice! I just… just… there must have been some explanation. I stood there for an eternity, desperately waiting for someone to say, “April Fools!” (although it wasn’t April Fools’ Day. My World Customs teacher would go ballistic).

But right then something in my mother snapped. “You have no right,” she said, shaking, “no right to speak to my son like this. I’m — we’re leaving. He is going to live with ME and MY family and not you… people. WE’RE LEAVING.”

And with that, she took me and marched out of THE AWKWARD BARN. 

As we drove off, we passed a Miller’s Hot Dog Palace (not Granny Miller). It used to be my mom’s and my favorite restaurant.

We ate lunch at McDonald’s.