Our Own Little Tara

[Here's an excerpt from Little Farm in the Foothills about finding the perfect acreage for our new home.]

Who knew I could have such a lust for land?

Maybe it all goes back to my Irish forebears. That Irish longing for your own plot of earth is well-documented—at least in the movies. In Gone with the Wind, Scarlett O’Hara’s dad tells her land is everything. “It’s the only thing worth fightin’ for,” says Pa O’Hara. “Worth dyin’ for.” And Tom Cruise, playing an Irish tenant farmer circa 1890 in Far and Away, goes through hell and back to enter the Oklahoma Land Rush, all so he can grow potatoes on his own spread.

Irish land-hunger also runs in John’s family—his McDonald ancestors raced alongside other potato-lovers in the Land Rush too. To trace my newfound craving for acreage, I looked to my own Irish grandmas, Hazel Hennessy, my dad’s mom, and Alice Monaghan, my mom’s mother. Although both were granddaughters of 19th century Irish immigrants, neither was into real estate.

And two Irish peas in a pod they were not. Hazel Hennessy was genteel and retiring, with a wistful air about her—even her favorite song was soft and wistful: “Danny Boy.” She was also a dedicated member of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union—which is like the League of Women Voters, only this group campaigned against liquor. So despite her Irish blood, “drink” was not in her universe. Hazel never had much money, but she was naturally “lace-curtain Irish” (as the old saying goes, folks who have fruit in the house even when no one is sick).

A larger-than-life beauty, Alice Monaghan was black-haired and green-eyed—like Scarlett O’Hara, come to think of it. And, like Scarlett, she enjoyed a tot of bourbon now and then. Mostly now. Alice’s main claim to fame was being the “spit image,” as the Irish would say, of Hedy Lamarr, the 1940s movie star. Like any Irish-Catholic matron worth her Daily Missal, she attended Mass every day, but I think it was because she had a bit of a crush on the Monsignor. Despite her devotion, however, and the fact that she always had fruit in the house, Alice was still terrified of being considered “shanty Irish.”

Okay, I admit the Shanty versus Lace Curtain thing has nothing to do with fruit. It’s more a state of mind. But surely, acquiring our own ten-acre Tara would forever keep me out of the Shanty Irish set.