Special to the Village News
I begin this story with the first verse of one of the greatest TV theme songs ever written. It is a metaphor for my life as I stand at the doorstep of my 70th birthday. I’m sure all of you know this tune by heart:
“Green acres is the place to be. Farm livin’ is the life for me. Land spreadin’ out so far and wide. Keep Manhattan just give me that countryside.”
That ditty was written by Vic Mizzy as the introduction to “Green Acres,” a sitcom that originally aired from 1965-1971. The iconic episodes are regular fodder for the cable stations that target old fogies like me.
Farming is in my blood, and I have 13 pets. Two cats, two kittens, four hens, two pullets, two pygmy goats and a chameleon. How I obtained each one is a story unto itself, but I won’t go there.
My kin grew potatoes in Ireland before the blight sent them scurrying to six continents. My great grandfather cooked moonshine upon his arrival in America and parlayed those profits into a vegetable farm that eventually was passed onto his son.
Francis O’Leary had two children: a daughter and a son who became my father. When my father was in his late teens, his grandfather offered him a cut of the profits from the bean crop if that summer was blessed with abundant sun and rain.
Alas, my father left the farm and went to work for Kodak that fall when my grandfather reneged on their deal and used all of the profits from the bean crop to put a new roof on the barn.
Feeding his hungry brood, my father grew a large, luscious vegetable garden everywhere we called home over the years.
In time, I left the nest, but I have always favored the country over the city. Even in my restless years, when I eked out a subsistence wage via the written word, my blood ran green and the clamor of chickens and the lullaby of dairy cows echoed within me.
Agriculture was among my many beats during my first full-time job as a newspaper reporter. I was thrilled to be named an Honorary Chapter Farmer in 1985 by the Lompoc High School’s Future Farmers of America chapter.
I have tracked agriculture and its salt-of-the-earth participants throughout my 42-year career in journalism.
I kept my few chickens when I lived on a quarter acre in Quail Valley, which is now in Menifee.
My second wife and I purchased a 1.6-acre property in Fallbrook, and the joy of growing my own avocados became a sweet nectar to my farmer’s soul. Years later we reluctantly stopped growing avocados when our water bills topped $700 a month amid the cruel summer heat.
I kept a few chickens; one was named “Paul” for reasons unknown, and they provided a steady stream of fresh eggs. But some neighborhood dogs killed Paul and a couple of her companions one day when I let them wander outside the coop. Weasels got the rest of my hens when the creatures burrowed underneath the coop’s exterior mesh.
My wife Margaret’s departure for a care facility near Boston last summer left me with a big vacuum to fill. I have done that by writing columns and interacting with my friends and my pets. I eat my fill of eggs and give the rest away, many to the hungry or needy. Folks rave about my cornbread and quiche, both made with double the eggs called for in their recipes.
I bought the pygmy goats after I drove by a place along Fallbrook Street that had a handwritten sign out front that read: “Two goats for sale.” The young family had bought the creatures as small pets but eventually realized that their tiny yard was a pathetic, insufficient pasture.
The family was initially asking for $500 for the male and female pair. But the adolescent kids and their parents settled on $300 after I promised not to barbecue their beloved pets. Other prospective buyers had that fate in mind for the critters.
Thus now I care for “Honey” and “Miguel,” whom I have lovingly nicknamed “Stupid 1” and “Stupid 2.”
Margaret recently emailed me a query asking me why, on God’s green earth, did I buy goats. I answered her accordingly:
“Oddly enough, the goats give me great joy. They needed a home, and I could provide it. A young family is thrilled that their pets got a larger, better home, and I made good use of our dead swimming pool and its enclosure. Plus, caregiving is in my blood now. I have always been a servant of sorts, and my family has deep farming and animal care roots. God has richly blessed us,” I said in my reply.