Updated: Jun 26, 2020
| This is the 361st story of Our Life Logs |
I was born in 1980 in Limavady, a small town in Northern Ireland. My parents owned a small farm and were hard-working. I was the oldest of six children and often had to help with the chores on the farm and at home. It was great having so many brothers and sisters to play with, spending long summer holidays running around, playing together.
I attended the local primary school where I enjoyed learning about life in other countries. I dreamed of escaping the confinements of our small farm and planned to travel a lot when I grew up. However, whenever I told my parents about my plans to travel, they would laugh at me–not unkindly–and say, “And where are you going to get the money for all this travel?” I knew that I was hard-working and would save the money somehow.
Beyond travel, I didn’t really know what to do with my life. I left school when I was 16 and got a part-time job in a café. I also began helping my dad on the farm a lot more. We had 500 head of sheep and I learned every skill necessary to care for them. I enjoyed farm work and always felt inspired when a new lamb was born especially if I had helped to birth it in difficult circumstances.
However, I also felt restless, I felt that there was more to life and that maybe I was wasting my life doing what I had always done. Work on the farm was hard and physical. We had to work in harsh weather conditions.
I began trying out different hobbies and meeting new people, I was trying to figure out what I was good at and what I could do as a career. I also started going out partying, getting lifts home at all hours on the backs of tractors or staying out all night. It seemed that in search of purpose, I become more at a loss. My parents started to worry about me as I was technically not even old enough to drink. They felt that I needed a new challenge, so for my 18th birthday, I received the best present I could have wished for at the time.
A puppy. She was six weeks old, with soft, black and white fur and an inquisitive nature. I called her Floss and was so happy to have my very own sheepdog to train. From a young age, she was smart and learned how to round up chickens quickly. As she got older, we moved on to working with sheep which she loved. Floss followed me everywhere, she was my pride and joy. She brightened my days.
During this time, I decided to give up my café job which I had been doing for almost two years. The farm was doing well and I wanted to be there to help my dad and train Floss. I would still meet up with friends from the café at the weekends but felt like my life was at the farm. Now that I had my own dog, I was able to get work helping on other farms. Floss and I became well-known in the area as we were a great team and were useful to have around. I was able to start saving a large chunk of my wages every month.
I didn’t forget about my desire to travel and see the world, but at that point, it seemed like a distant dream. I also knew that I wouldn’t leave Floss for too long so my travels were at that time limited to weekends away to Belfast with friends. My parents said that I could save up for my own house or even a farm of my own, which seemed like a more sensible idea. So, my dream was put aside.
The next few years passed in a routine of farming, taking on other odd jobs when there was less work, and meeting friends.
I still had school friends that I would meet up with in the local pub. We would discuss our life and dreams and would often talk about going traveling around Europe together or even getting a working holiday visa to Australia or Canada. It was easy after a few drinks to plan a few months’ road trip or even a year away from our normal lives. But all too soon, I realized that we my friends were all talk. When the dates became more concrete, they would come up with reasons why they couldn’t go away at the moment.
I felt that life was passing me by.
I started to feel a bit fed up with the drudgery of my life. In the winter of 1999, I started to feel really cold and shivery. A bad cold turned into bronchitis which I couldn’t seem to shift. I had to take a few months off work to get better and stayed in bed or sat by the fire. I felt like I had no energy and wasn’t able to do much.
During that winter, I had a lot of spare time to think about my life and my mind always wandered back to the travel plans I had so often thought about but always seemed to put off. I realized that I was waiting for someone to say, “Come on, let’s go.” My friends had their own lives and that probably wasn’t going to happen. I knew that I had to do something different if I wanted to have an adventure. It was my dream, after all.
I got better and started to help out on the farms again, but my energy levels felt low and my doctor said that I shouldn’t be doing hard physical work. So I stayed mostly at home. I was bored, and when the café where I used to work offered me a couple of shifts a week, I jumped at the chance.
I enjoyed the café work and the banter of the staff and customers much more than I had remembered. I also made a new friend, Paul. Paul was from New Zealand and was very positive about life. He suggested that I visit New Zealand as I could get a working holiday visa for a year or two and he said it would be easy for me to find farm work or a fruit picking job. My dream was about to come true?
I was excited. New Zealand looked like a beautiful place, and there was the opportunity to have an adventure I had always wanted, trying out lots of new things like kayaking and white-water rafting. But deep in my heart, I was still nervous about the prospect of leaving everything behind. I was especially worried about going by myself.
And then, what about Floss? I considered only going for six months and then I looked into getting a pet passport and taking her with me. It would have cost me a fortune and my parents said it was the most ridiculous idea they’d ever heard. Out of fear, I let myself believe them. I let myself put back the distance between me and my dream. So much so, that even when my brother promised to look after Floss while I was away, I dismissed the idea.
Eventually, I settled back into life. I started a relationship with Paul and I was happy. I worked on the farm and in the café, and Floss continued to go to work with my brother when I wasn’t using her. This reality seemed good enough.
At the beginning of 2001, I had some terrible news.
I had got home from work at the café and was waiting for my brother to get home with Floss. I wandered around, doing chores like feeding the chickens, and wondered where they had got to.
I watched as his old Land Rover trundled up the track and pulled up beside the house. And I saw that Floss wasn’t sitting in the passenger seat as she usually was. My brother got out of the car and as soon as I saw his face, I knew that something was wrong.
“Floss,” I said.
He nodded. He didn’t have to say another word. I knew that she was gone. He opened the back of the Land Rover and there she was, limp in the back, wrapped in an old sheet. I reached out and touched her coarse fur as the tears streamed down my face. I pulled her body close to me and held her.
I was devastated, Floss had been my constant companion for the past five years. I laid her back down and pulled back the sheet that covered her. She had a large open wound across her side where she had been hit by a car.
In the weeks that followed I grieved Floss’ death. I didn’t realize it was possible to feel so bad or to miss a dog so much. We had lost sheepdogs before and it had never hurt this much. She was not only my friend but part of my livelihood and without her life on the farm was harder.
The sorrow made me look at my life again. What was I doing? A dream is a dream and is meant to be chased. Right there, I made the decision to go to New Zealand. No more excuses. No more waiting around. No more fear. I applied for a visa and booked a flight.
In 2002, I finally made it to New Zealand, where I stayed for a year. I worked various jobs, including picking fruit , cleaning hostels, and working as a nanny. One of the best jobs I had was picking tomatoes in a greenhouse. It was hard work and was always hot, but I had so much fun living and working with people from all over the world. There were always parties at the weekend and we often went to a local bar where live music was played on a Wednesday. I met a boy called Dan who was a kayaking instructor and had a holiday romance with him that lasted about two months. It was one of the best times of my life.
I finally saw my dream come true.
After returning to Ireland, I settled down once more, this time feeling satisfied. I worked part-time on my family farm while doing other jobs such as working in a shop, café, and office. Although losing Floss had broken my heart, the loss gave me the courage to go after the adventure I had always dreamed about. I’ve learned that in life there may never be a perfect time to leave. All you need is to follow your heart and be brave.
This is the story of Mary Mac Cába
Mary was born in Northern Ireland in 1980 and grew up on a farm with her parents and five brothers and sisters. Mary grew up with a dream to travel, but it never seemed to come true. While she waited for the perfect moment to leave, life stepped in her way. Eventually, Mary accepted this destiny and settled into a life on her family farm. It wasn’t until the death of her best friend, her dog named Floss, that she made the decision to take the risk and go to another country. Mary now lives in Ireland where she breeds and trains sheepdogs and compete in the National sheepdog trials as well as helping to run the family farm with two of her brothers.
This story first touched our hearts on June 27th, 2019.
| Writer: Abi Latham | Editor: Colleen Walker |