Those who move into old houses are never the first to live there. Entire generations are guaranteed to have preceded today's occupants, and I only wish I were talking about people.
Unfortunately, when houses sit in the same spot for more than five score years, the creatures who live near it and under it and around it begin to think they deserve to live in it. They're particularly likely to think this when the house has no human occupants for a while. Without giants to keep them at bay, all that is tiny, with segmented bodies, gauzy wings and the habit of gestating children in egg sacs, begins to thrive.
By the time my husband and I moved into our farmhouse, it was no longer empty in the strictest sense of the word. Houseflies seemed to be the primary occupants, but other species were merely waiting their chance to emerge.
I battled flies for years. One of our first acts upon buying the house was to sweep out hundreds of millions of flies, and those were just the most visible ones. For years after, new generations appeared in the windows when winter waned and the spring sun warmed the panes.
By the time the flies finally gave up and took their larvae elsewhere, the crickets were poised to take over. They began appearing in early fall, and if they were surprised to crawl out of whatever crevice they were hatched in and find themselves in a shiny new kitchen, I can only say their surprise was short lived, since we either wooshed them out the door with the business end of a broom or resorted to more permanent measures with the business end of the vacuum cleaner.
And don't give me that look. I started out thinking crickets were cute too. They don't bite, sting or give people dire diseases, and they have the reputation of being happy, carefree creatures who play the fiddle all day. Unless that's grasshoppers. But even if it is, look at Jiminy -- he definitely was a cricket, and he always looked sharp in his little hat and with his little umbrella.
My fondness for crickets didn't survive the cricket plague, however. For years on end they were everywhere. In September and October our house wasn't our own; it belonged to the crickets, who sat around the living room in the evening like occupying soldiers, terrorizing our German shepherd and convincing our daughters that we were raising insects the way some people raise chinchillas.
The crickets died out, finally, but we had no time to rejoice because the earwigs came swarming out the instant the coast was clear. I never managed to truly despise earwigs, which seemed to me to be the wooly lambs of the insect world, but I still didn't want to step on them with my bare feet.
After the earwigs came the black bugs, those ubiquitous creatures that can wiggle through the smallest opening and survive the most thorough smushing a person can deliver. I can't tell you how many times I smooshed a black bug with several pieces of paper towel between it and my bare hand, only to watch it pull itself together and stagger out of the paper folds, dazed but perfectly healthy and no doubt thinking about reproduction.
This year it's centipedes. Centipedes! I ask you. What can be next, if we manage to survive these inch-long monsters that stroll across the kitchen floor as if they hold the deed to the house? Ma Ingalls, who grew pale and sick when the grasshoppers marched across the prairie, up one side of the house, over the roof and down the other side, would positively swoon had she had to deal with this parade of wormlike creatures.
And I haven't even mentioned the spiders, which appear no more often in our house than they do in any 135-year-old building built with porous material that insects apparently find laughable. Most of them are spider sized, but we've seen a few that would look like monster trucks if they were a little smaller. Seriously, from time to time a spider larger than a salad plate appears within the walls of our house, and my husband and I can only clutch each other until it goes away.
OK, I'm kidding. Eventually my husband will peel himself out of my grasp and go after the spider with the fly swatter. But even he concedes that these creatures are nothing short of terrifying. It's their enormous thumb-sized bodies and their thick legs. Spiders aren't supposed to be that hearty. It's not in the natural order of things.
The good news is the insect numbers are dwindling. Every year fewer appear to torment us, and the ones that do seem to be lower on the food chain. The centipedes are a case in point -- no visible mouths or ears, and while they have a lot of legs, they're extremely small and spindly. It won't be long before fall arrives without any insects in its entourage -- just colorful leaves, chilly nights and the promise of Thanksgiving.
I for one will be so grateful.
Write to ThisWeek News columnist and copy editor Margo Bartlett at firstname.lastname@example.org.