By Kevin O'Hara
March 17, 2010
During my donkey travels around Ireland in 1979, I often told stories
of home that would not only entertain my hosts, but also open up
their pantries. On this particular night I sat in the Burren -- the
"rocky place" of County Clare -- with Jack and Maura Casey, an
elderly couple proud of their self-sufficiency, buying only tea and
sugar from the village shop.
'Have ye any people like ourselves who are self-sufficient in the
states?" Jack asked, a robust farmer in his early 70s.
"Oh, yes," I eagerly replied. "I knew a couple who dropped out of
their senior year of college and built themselves a log cabin in the
Green Mountains of Vermont, all in hopes of becoming self-sufficient."
"A log cabin?" asked Maura, fixing me a ham and tomato sandwich.
"Made of timber only?"
"Yep, just like Abe Lincoln's. Have you ever seen one?"
"In this stony paradise?" laughed Jack, looking out his window upon a
wild and barren landscape. "The old men in this parish have a hard
time coming upon a walking stick, let alone a house of sticks."
Maura placed the thick sandwich beneath my nose: "Please tell us more
about this couple, and the Green Mountains." I took a satisfying bite
and blathered on.
"This couple was married under an apple tree five years to the day
after they'd met at Woodstock, the infamous festival of love and
music in 1969. They both believed their marriage was aligned with the
divine cosmos. In fact, the ceremony was performed by a Justice of
the Peace dressed up like a Cherokee chief, and the wedding guests
squeezed rose-quartz crystals as the high and happy pair exchanged
"By God," Jack mumbled, throwing a few sods of turf onto the fire,
"they sound more pagan than ourselves."
"Brad, the husband, was a former engineering student who soon erected
a windmill for electricity. His wife, Sarah, was an earthy sort who
took to raising bees, goats, and a fine organic garden. They almost
packed it in that first harsh winter, but there was no stopping them
the following summer when they had their first child, a daughter
named Astral, that they delivered in their bathtub."
"Their bathtub!" exclaimed Mrs. Casey. "Hadn't they beds to sleep in?"
"Oh, they did," I laughed, "but this was the rage at the time -- the
so-called Age of Aquarius -- and these water-babies were believed to
go through an easier birth."
The two of them gaped at me in dismay.
"Oh, the tub would've been half-filled with lukewarm water," I
clarified, "since they believed infants are born swimmers."
"They'd need to be," Jack said abruptly.
"I'd never fancy doing that to any of our own," gasped Maura in mild
horror. "Good Lord, my sons can't swim to this day, and they grown men."
"Sarah's mother felt like yourselves," I went on, enjoying my
attentive audience as much as the sandwich. "It was one thing for her
grown daughter to be living wild, but quite another with a little
girl involved -- the mother's only granddaughter -- growing up like a
weed between two Flower Children.
"The disgruntled granny often made her way up the rutted dirt road to
their hilltop homestead, finding it more uncivilized with each visit.
Scrawny cats and dogs littered the place, the goat had its own way in
the kitchen, and Brad began to look like a wayward hermit in dire
need of conversion. Sarah, too, became thin and unkempt, and little
Astral was long due for a good scrubbing, not having revisited the
bathtub since the morning she was born."
Jack spat into the fire: "A wild breed, altogether."
"On the couple's second anniversary, the mother presented them with a
new Sunbeam toaster that left them rolling in laughter. For months
this toaster shifted around the cabin, unused and forgotten, until
Sarah discovered it in a heap of old car parts. Surprisingly, she
blew her own gasket and confronted Brad, asking what her mother's
gift was doing in the junk pile.
"Brad, in his unruffled manner, told her he was going to disassemble
it for parts, but Sarah raved on, reminding him it was a gift from
her mom, that he had no right to destroy it and, indeed, she was
planning to use it. In desperation, Brad tried to convince her that
the toaster's use would be the death of their self-sufficient
existence. Yet Sarah couldn't understand how the simple pleasure of
morning toast and honey would jeopardize their lifestyle, and
stubbornly held out for this singular luxury."
"That mother is no joke," Jack interjected, contemplating this social
curiosity. "I'd say she was scheming all along with that toaster."
Maura scolded her own husband: "Will you stop your opinions, or I'll
send you packing for the Green Mountains! Now, Kevin, go on with your story."
"Unfortunately, the toaster would only take thin-sliced bread, and
nothing Sarah baked could fit into it without crumbling or jamming
the pop-up mechanism. Exasperated, she descended the mountain and
purchased a loaf of thin-sliced Wonder Bread from a grocery store in
"The resulting toast made for a taste she could no longer live
without, so Sarah made her Wonder Bread runs week after week, and
each time she visited the shop she would glance up at the colorful
shelves until, finally, she arrived home with a special treat for
Brad; a treat he had habitually devoured during his college days. A
treat that left him weak-kneed at hearing the crumpling of its
cellophane wrapping. A treat that would send him packing for the
straight life with one bite of this delicious goody -- yes, a
two-pound bag of creme-filled Oreo cookies!
"And the last time I saw that couple," I concluded, picking the last
crumbs off my plate, "they were driving around my hometown in a
brand-new automobile eating ice cream cones."
Jack poked the fire triumphantly with the tongs. "Bedamned, all on
account of that toaster! Now, wasn't I right, Maura, about the
mother's cunning connivance?"
"Right as rain," Maura conceded with a laugh. "And isn't it lovely,
Jack, to hear stories from such faraway places as the Green Mountains
of Vermont. Now, Kevin, are ye ready for the tea and apple tart before bed?"
"I am," I said, politely handing her my empty plate.
Kevin O'Hara writes an annual St. Patrick's Day column for The
Berkshire Eagle. His latest book, "A Lucky Irish Lad," is now in bookstores.