I lived in Bury in England on a small dairy farm with my parents and younger sister. Life was blissful on our farm in the late 1950s. My job was to look after the chickens and then collect and clean their eggs. As a family, we all worked together to keep the farm running. Mum and dad had a daughter before me who drowned, which made my mom very protective of me and my younger sister. My dad on the other hand had a more lenient parenting style. He treated me like a boy, taking me everywhere with him to do his work, even if it was going to the slaughterhouse. My mum always protested, but my dad would always shrug and say, “She’s alright.” Though their parenting styles contrasted, what they both did well was show complete support in anything I wanted to do (as long as it didn’t affect my studies).
I had many interests as a kid, but field hockey and horse riding were the most prominent. I was part of a pony club and through it, my parents took me around the country to compete. Through high school I fell more in love with riding horses. I wanted to become a professional show jumper, but my parents wanted me to go to university. I had an opportunity fall into my lap at 16 where an Olympic jumper’s family wanted to hire me as a stable jockey. I wanted so badly to go, but my dad insisted that I finish my education first. The chance passed me by, and I chose to stay in school, later attending university at 18 for Psychology. Without any time to ride horses as often or at the level I wanted, I had to abandon that dream.
After finishing my degree, I decided not to pursue anything with it because I knew I wouldn’t be happy in an office job. Searching for direction, I went to the careers office. Through it, at 22, I decided to join the police force. My mother was mortified that I had picked such a dangerous profession, but it was what I wanted, and I didn’t let her shock stop me. Training for the police was like training for the armed forces. We lived in old barracks surrounded by fields. I absolutely loved the discipline from the 10-week program. We marched as a collective unit everywhere; to breakfast, to swim, and to bed.
I joined the force just as they were allowing women to be out in the field instead of just stuck in offices. This brought prejudice from older officers. Many of them doubted that I could handle the job. To test my resilience, they played all sorts of pranks on me. If I put my stuff down on the table, they’d hide it somewhere or they’d leave me behind on a mission. Some of the breaks were very crude. I was once called out to a park where I saw a figure hanging from a noose on the bridge, but it turned out to just be a dummy. They found a dead cat and put it in my locker.
I didn’t let the cruelty of these pranks bother me. Instead, I saw that as a challenge to prove myself. Thanks to my dad, I grew up with thick skin and a quick wit. To show my capability, I started pranking them back. It was all in good fun, and once they realized I wasn’t going anywhere, they grew to respect me. My assertive personality helped me thrive on the force. I learned a lot about myself and people through the job. I tried to be polite and respectful to anyone I came across whether they were a regular citizen or a criminal. Through it all, I became even stronger and a more decisive person.
In 1987, one of my friends invited me out on a skiing holiday that her boyfriend’s friend had organized. I didn’t like skiing, so I told her I wasn’t interested, but she wouldn’t leave it alone. The organizer ended up ringing me to say he heard I might be interested. I insisted that he was mistaken. Then he said, “Your friend said you might be a bit of a coward.” I did not like being called a coward, and I surely was not, so I fell for her trick and agreed to come on the trip.
Through it, I met a guy named Richard who tried pursuing me the whole trip. He was loud, very in-your-face, and loved being the center of attention. I wasn’t like that at all, and I found him very off-putting. However, my friends encouraged me to give him a chance, so I gave him my number in the end. I’m glad I did. As we got to know each other, I saw that he was also a very positive, loyal person, always willing to help those in need. His good qualities overshadowed the bad, and we fell in love and got married in 1988.
We moved to a small community in Lancashire, England where Richard had been living. I joined the police force there. We built a happy life together and brought our first and only child, Neil, into the world in 1990. Neil was a hyperactive wild child. From the moment he could use his feet, he ran everywhere, basically skipped the walking stage. He was hard to keep up with and I had to sign the accident regiment every week, but we loved him and his adventurous spirit. I noticed that in his early years, I parented him like my father. As he got older, I became more and more like my mother, especially when he grew up and told us he wanted to go to college in America. The idea of him being thousands of miles away worried me, but I still chose to support his dream, because the most important thing to me was that he was happy.
In 2006, I was unexpectedly diagnosed with bowel cancer. I wasn’t really worried when I received the news. I just wanted to know what needed to be done to get rid of it. My father had instilled a toughness in me that helped me fight through the treatments. While I was going through the procedures, I remember my mom asking me, “Is all of this worth it if it might not even work?” I didn’t think like that. I didn’t want to. I wanted to believe it would all work out. I had to endure intense surgeries and chemotherapy. They had told me I was young and able to endure heavier doses of the chemotherapy which helped get rid of the cancer but in turn led to nerve damage. I don’t have feeling at the ends of fingers and parts of my legs and feet are still numb today. Though I could do without the nerve damage, I’ll take it over not being alive today. Having that brush with death gave me a greater appreciation for life.
Around 2008, Neil went to America for college and later got a coaching job at the college he attended in Ohio. After my cancer scare, I felt less afraid to let him go. I had an opportunity to pursue something closer to my heart around his age and I let it pass me by. I didn’t want my son to follow the same path. I’ve realized from my life that if you want to do something, do it. Don’t have regrets. I couldn’t let my worries of having my son miles away keep him from making the best of his life and pursuing his dreams. I miss him terribly, but I’m 100% supportive of what he’s doing.
I’m proud of the life I created. Thanks to my parents’ support, I have grown into a strong, independent woman. I’m glad that I was tough enough to become a police officer despite the discrimination I faced, marry a man who is completely opposite of me, battle cancer, and let my son leave the nest and follow his dreams. I never backed down from an obstacle in my path because I was raised to find the strength to overcome them. Life is short, and getting cancer made me realize that I had to keep enjoying each moment I had. When something old leaves, something new often emerges. Life expands to fill the gaps, and you just have to grab it.
This is the story of Janette Harries
Janette lives in Lancashire, England with her husband. Since retirement in 2009, she spends time with her springer spaniel dog or volunteering at the local soccer club that she’s been working with since 2006. When Janette was 59, she decided to get a tattoo in the wake of the Manchester bombings. Many people were getting the Manchester bee tattoo to show solidarity against the terrorism that took place, and she decided to be a part of it. Just a few months ago, her son Neil got married and she went the United States to attend the wedding and meet his daughter-in-law’s family. She is thrilled to see her son so happy.
Life Log #135
This story first touched our hearts on August 16, 2018.
Read the story on our website: https://ourlifelogs.com/2018/08/24/life-expands-to-fill-in-the-gaps/