Maureen Doyle was “Momo” to her friends and family. She, her parents, and her younger brother and sister lived in a trailer park. Her dad supported the family as a night watchman, limiting his drinking to the job and coming home to sleep. Momo’s mother was slow-witted, making Momo the de facto mother of the family. She was determined that school would be her ticket out of the trailer park. She studied hard and frequently asked her teachers for extra work. Even as late as her senior year in high school, when her younger sister was already pregnant, Momo had never gone on a date. It wasn’t that she was never asked. But when a boy asked her out, no matter how cute he was or how sweet or how funny, Momo would force herself to picture the trailer park and remind herself that her goal was a full scholarship to college.
Between her excellent grades and her glowing letters of recommendation, Momo was able to kiss the family goodbye and hop on a bus for Kalamazoo College, on a full scholarship. Her goal had been just to get away. When she signed up for classes, she couldn’t declare a major. She had no idea beyond a four-year free ride away from the trailer park. Momo’s freshman guidance counselor was helping her choose her first semester classes. Mrs. Fields began talking about graduate school possibilities, mentioning law school, medical school, and business school. At the phrase “business school,” Momo’s ears pricked up. Business school? She had no idea there were schools just for teaching a person to make money.
“Mrs. Fields,” Momo began, cautiously. “What’s the best business school a person can go to?”
“Well, different schools have different strengths, but I guess the best one would be Wharton School of Business, in Philadelphia. I think it’s considered the most prestigious.”
“I want to go there,” Momo declared. “What do I have to do to get there?”
Mrs. Fields was startled by Momo’s sudden determination, but she explained what a good coursework path would be for the next four years. Momo wrote down every word and pasted the piece of paper above her desk in her dorm room.
After two years at K, Momo’s junior year college roommate was freshman Linda, the first real friend she’d ever made. She wasn’t even too sure of how to be a friend. Linda had made many friends over the years, but had also lost many. In her life, there was no such thing as a “true friend” because of all her summer traveling. So in a strange way, Momo was her first real friend, as well. They didn’t share any classes, and Momo was still dedicated to her schoolwork, but she and Linda developed a real fondness for one another. When Linda suddenly dropped out of school, Momo was at a loss as to how to make another friend.
But luck was with Momo. Her next roommate was Maia, a Texas girl who wasn’t sure what she wanted to do, but who also wanted to go to business school later. They ended up realizing that they both wanted to go to Wharton, but they were not in a good school for that path. They transferred to the University of Pennsylvania, the university that was the parent school of Wharton. Momo and Maia both transitioned smoothly later into the Wharton School.
Just before graduation from business school, Momo bought a lottery ticket. A winning ticket. A big winning ticket. She skipped the graduation ceremony in favor of visiting an apple farm in Michigan, hearing about it from one of her old Kalamazoo College connections. But Momo didn’t just see an apple farm. She envisioned, dreamed, an apple commune. Workers could move in for room and board and they would all make the apple commune a great success. On a flat plot of land near the barn, her mind’s eye could picture a new processing building, up to code and with the latest and greatest available machinery.
Momo bought the farm.
Momo raced back to Pennsylvania to gather up her things and catch Maia before she left town.
“I bought the apple farm,” she told Maia. Maia’s mouth dropped open.
“What?!” she asked in surprise.
“I’m going to turn it into an apple commune. You’re welcome to come. Free room and board, just work the land with me.”
Maia shook her head.
“You’re crazy. You’ll be destitute in a month.”
Momo was crushed but pretended to be unconcerned.
“Fine. Don’t come. Let me know when you’ve made your first million. I’ll be eating an apple.”
The long-time roommates parted company on poor terms.
Momo didn’t own much. Everything would fit in a car, and she knew she would need one at the farm. Always thrifty, she bought a retired Post Office jeep, loaded it up, and headed for her new home.
The family that sold the farm was delighted to have palmed it off on someone and moved immediately, no forwarding address. Momo arrived to her first farm crisis. The door key was under the mat, as promised. She entered the living room and flicked on the lights. No lights. No electricity. The farm used well water, but the pump was electrically operated. No water. Momo drove around and stumbled upon a Motel 6 that wasn’t listed on her map. She carefully marked the map with her current location. The next day, she visited the utility company and opened an account. She had to give a large deposit. She was young and had no credit. Good grades didn’t count anymore. It was the same with the phone company. Just those two errands took all day, and there would still be no service at the farm for several days. Momo used her time in town to familiarize herself with the area and also to find an industrial architect.
Over that summer, the new processing building was designed and built. Momo could never have imagined how expensive that would be, what with design fees, re-design fees, the rates of the contractors, running the electric, water and sewer lines to the building, engineering fees, the cost of materials, etc., not to mention all the local inspectors who had to approve all the work.
Then there were the additions to the house. It had to be made “commune-ready” for all her fellow laborers. As Momo saw all her lottery money dwindling more rapidly than she had anticipated, she didn’t hire an architect for the house. She hired some local contractors to just build expansion rooms onto the existing building, and install some commercial-grade appliances in the kitchen. The laundry room was large enough to add another washer and dryer. The civil engineer warned her that her water table might not support all this extra water. Momo believed that if there had already been enough water to support the apple orchards, the rest would not be a problem. She hoped.
There was already a supplier for the farm, jars, lids, etc. Momo didn’t bother to tell them that the farm had changed hands. She gave the driver, Dan, a check from her private account. He looked confused and wanted to take back all the supplies. Momo asked him if he really wanted to load them back on the truck and then unload them again at the warehouse. Dan sighed and took the check, which cleared for the owners without a problem. Momo’s credit was now good with them. The supplies continued. So did Dan.
Although Momo’s free time was extremely limited, she began to date Dan. He was incredibly handsome and great in the sack. But Momo was so self-absorbed that she didn’t see Dan’s growing distance from her. She was stunned when she called him and he announced that it was over. Momo was hurt and angry and frustrated. Looking around at the men who had moved to the commune, there was no one else suitable to date. She began to feel jealous that Dan had an outside job and could meet all kinds of other women. She was stuck at the farm and had no opportunity to replace him. Momo had no idea how lonely a commune full of people could be.
Momo needed some love. She called her family, and they begged her for money. Momo hung up the phone.
The other thing Momo seemed to need was applejack. She found a recipe for it in an old cookbook left by the previous farmers. It was sweet and potent, and it put her to sleep on the nights when she was too lonely or too frantic.
A variety of people moved into the commune, but not in a good way. Momo didn’t realize that only certain people are drawn to live in a commune. Of the more permanent residents, first came Richie, an organic gardener, whose needs were simple. He just wanted a cheap place to live, and free is certainly cheap enough, and enough land to do some serious organic gardening. He was an insomniac who kept odd hours. He wanted to sleep with Momo, but after Dan, Richie was a poor substitute. Yuck.
Next came Race and Teeny. Race was a musician and poet, earning spare change on the streets in town. Teeny was a little elfin thing who had latched onto him, and they seem to be glued at the hip. Race was certainly entertaining, but did not pull any weight whatsoever. Teeny did even less than that, but she was dumb as a door knocker, so you couldn’t really fault her. They had been crashing with friends or sleeping on park benches before coming to the commune. Momo felt guilty and couldn’t ask them to leave.
Kick came shortly after that. Kick claimed to be a Buddhist, and that seemed to be all the occupation that he wanted. He ate like a horse, did no work, and only chanted when he thought someone was watching. It was no trouble to eventually kick out Kick. Between Kick and Race, a number of marginal characters found out about the commune and were constantly showing up or leaving suddenly. Many of them never even knew that there was someone named Momo who actually owned the property.
That’s how Bobby and Baz came to be new residents. Bobby and Baz were fraternal twins who looked nothing alike. They came to the commune through Richie, being fellow farmers of a sort. Bobby, the grower, found a piece of land on the property that seemed adequate for his purpose and was obscured by trees. That was where he cultivated his crop of pot plants. Baz, who considered himself a natural-born salesman, was the distributor. They kept to themselves and were very secretive, but when the commune had a financial emergency, somehow, they were always helpful. Momo had too much on her mind, and never asked a question about their finances or their cash crop.
Among the deadbeats came Jarrett and his little boy. Jarrett felt selfish and entitled, and had no trouble living off the fruits of Momo’s labors. Momo would have gladly physically kicked Jarrett off the property, but how could she evict the little boy? And so, Jarrett stayed.
Momo and Jarrett both got lucky when Melody accidentally left the bathtub running in her house, leaving herself, husband Gary, and their two children, homeless. It was the social worker who suggested that they head out to the commune. That was that. They just stayed. Gary was an incredibly handy mechanic, who actually held an outside job. Melody was a stay-at-home mother who quasi-adopted Jarrett’s little boy, freeing Jarrett up to do absolutely nothing at all. Gary also kept most of the machinery running smoothly, and helped out with the orchards when he could. The problem was Melody. Melody was trying to homeschool the boys with no more than a tenth grade education, herself. All three children soon were bored with her attempts and were becoming more and more unruly by the day. Melody was also extremely jealous. Gary gave her no reason for jealousy, but her insecurities were major after moving to a place where so many nubile young women came and went so casually. Gary would often have to remind Melody that the commune was the cheapest possible place for them to live. Melody was a secret crier.
Dulcie was someone that Momo was happy to recruit. The crowd at the commune had gotten large, and Dulcie was an unhappy professional chef. She naïvely thought that she was moving from hell to paradise. Dulcie and Melody were soon at odds, permanently.
One day, Maia, Momo’s former roommate, showed up unannounced. Momo thought her eyes were deceiving her, and it took her a moment before rushing out to her fellow Wharton grad with a giant hug.
“Maia! How long can you stay?” Momo breathlessly asked.
Maia just shook her head slowly.
“Indefinitely,” was all she said.
People that Momo didn’t know were sleeping in the bedroom opposite hers. She went into the kitchen for a pot and a metal spoon and returned making loud, banging noises, ordering the people to leave immediately. After a loud shouting match and a continuation of the pot-banging, the disgruntled transients picked up and left. As they were heading to their rusty, old bus, they could be heard discussing where they would go next.
Momo and Maia aired out the room, and Maia moved in. Maia never did say why she was there, but from that day forward, she worked like a horse with nary a single complaint. Momo was afraid to rock that boat, and never asked why.
All in all, the commune ended up being a petri dish of the selfish and the thoughtless.
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