Tuesday morning and we are ready to hit the road. After another fine Irish breakfast in our B&B, we called a taxi for a short ride into the car rental office in Galway. Mike and the rental agent completed all the paper work and we were assigned a Ford Focus, automatic, right hand drive car that was one hubcap short of a full set. No bother.
Our goal for the day was to be in Labasheeda by dinner. This would be no small task as Muhammed Ali was in Ennis. Yes, that fine son of Ireland and former world champion was being given the keys to the city of his grandmother’s birth. I’ll bet you didn’t know that Ali’s grandmother was an O’Grady. The papers had been full of the story for days and huge crowds were expected for the parade and festivities. This presented a particular problem for us as all roads in County Clare pass through Ennis. Looking at our map was like a story problem in seventh grade geometry. If a triangle has three sides and you are trying to pass a camel through the eye of a needle by avoiding one of the sides, what is pi? The only consolation is that Ireland is roughly the size of West Virginia, so any detour we choose would only add an hour to our travel time. We traveled southeast for a bit, swung southwest to the Shannon Estuary and then followed the river west to Labasheeda. Don’t blink.
Why were we headed to Labasheeda? That story starts out with an Email. It went something like this. “Hi Jody. You might not remember me, but we went to high school together and you gave me a book that I still have with me.” Um, yes, I did remember her. So, I wrote her back. “Hi Mary, how nice to hear from you after only forty years. I live in Florida. Where are you?” She wrote back “Labasheeda, Ireland. If you’re ever in the neighborhood….”. So, we corresponded over this past spring and early summer. Our letters were great fun because we both are very irreverent about life and fancy ourselves as undiscovered comedy writers. The invitation was firmed up and we were expected for dinner on Tuesday evening.
We were a bit early, so we cruised through town to get the lay of the land. I am guessing that town consists of about thirty houses, a pub, a school, a church, a post office and a community center. We explored the road that lead out to a peninsula at one end of town. Well, the term “road” is a bit of a stretch. It is the sort of pathway that we all searched for in our teens as the perfect make-out spot. As we drove along, the road became a single lane with grass growing in the middle. We passed one car and that was only because we pulled into a hedge to allow the oncoming car past. We followed the path until it drove straight into the Shannon River. Thank God there was a little “T” where we were able to get turned around and head back to town.
We parked and walked to the door. Mary and Bruce greeted us and welcomed us into their home. It was a leap of faith for all four of us to think that we would simply sit down and be old friends. And, that is exactly what happened. Mike and Bruce got our luggage up to the guest room and then we were treated to the tour. If I were to tell you that Mary and Bruce were doing a bit of remodeling, it would be like saying Joan Rivers had a wee bit of plastic surgery. Their house had once been a dry goods store and home in a row of buildings that sit along the river. Over the years, the house had become uninhabited. It was a very old stone building whose roof leaked causing huge amounts of damage to the interior of the structure. Some saw a derelict but Mary and Bruce saw their dream house. The deal was done and they bought it. What sort of crazy folk would take this project on? Why a dentist, of course. Bruce showed us photos of the reconstruction process and they are amazing. They are several years into the project and have completed the second floor bedrooms and baths, allowing them to sleep and bath in comfort, and have guests.
When you enter the house, you sort of have to side step the new windows that are stacked in the front hall awaiting placement in the as yet to be added addition. Off to the left is Bruce’s workshop. This is the section of the house that was the dry goods shop. Bruce has set up a dream workshop where he can fix or rebuild anything. And I mean that literally. He has power tools, table saws, hundreds of bins of nails and screws, workbenches, and things I don’t even know what they are. He has a section where all the hand tools are hung in perfect order. Turns out Bruce was an engineer before he became a dentist. He knows how things work. He can tear it down and put it back together. Now that the second floor is finished, he is working at extending the back of the house to include a new kitchen and dining room with a beautiful deck looking out onto the Shannon Estuary. The room that is now used as a kitchen will become a living room.
And, now to Mary’s temporary kitchen. This is where we found ourselves seated after our initial welcome. When I tell you that there is no sink or running water in the kitchen, I know you will be surprised. There is a drop dead gorgeous dark green professional stove and two refrigerators, a table, chairs and two worktables built to form an “L” along two walls. The worktables are covered in oilcloth and have a set of shelves underneath to hold bins that contain silverware and other kitchen items. The end wall has the exposed studs that will some day be dry walled to form the living room wall. Till then, little shelves sit between the studs for glasses and plates. Food is prepared, meals are eaten and the dishwasher is in the laundry room. It all works.
Now, you may think this kitchen arrangement sounds rather primitive. Not so. This is the true heart of Mary and Bruce Dietz’s home. What comes from this kitchen is nothing short of miraculous. The food was gourmet. The hospitality was world class. We sat. We ate. We drank. We laughed. We became the best of old friends. While Mary sat at the table peeling potatoes for Wednesday’s dinner, I sat and knitted and we talked. We told each other about our brothers and sisters, our Mothers and Fathers. We talked about what sort of women our daughters had become. The memory of that late afternoon, of two women sitting in a kitchen, listening to Motown as the day unwound will be something I will carry with me. Mary prepared dinner and I tried to memorize how she was doing it. Bruce puttered in the workshop and Mike read. Over cocktails and then dinner, we discussed politics, the Irish economy, our cholesterol, travel, our individual roots.
We didn’t eat and drink the entire time. Mary took us on a drive about on Wednesday that included a trip along the cliffs that form the southern tip of County Clare, reaching west out into the sea. I will dare to say that, in my opinion, these cliffs, out beyond Kilkee, are more breathtaking than the Cliffs of Moher. The road is a single lane that winds along the top of the cliffs. The sheep are on one side and the sea is on the other. Magnificent.
Thursday morning Mike and I packed up the car and said our good byes to Mary and Bruce. Our time in Labasheeda was nothing short of fabulous. I’m hoping we get an invitation to revisit and see how the house changes and reshapes itself over time. And, I’m hoping Mary will cook.