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Ireland to U.S.
As a little girl growing up in Ireland, McCabe had plenty of reasons to want her own space seeing as how she was sharing hers with three younger brothers.
“I was such a tomboy growing up, so being in a household with all boys didn’t bother me in the least. I could hold my own,” she said laughing.
According to McCabe, her designs on venturing across the Atlantic Ocean were fueled by the adventuresome spirit she read about in books and watched on the silver screen.
She possessed a love of westerns and John Wayne was one of her idols.
“When I was a little girl and I would watch those movies, I wanted to live that life, it was all I thought about. I wanted to live on a ranch and I wanted to marry a cowboy,” she said.
She celebrated her 20th wedding anniversary this past June with her cowboy, and they have one son, a freshman in high school.
It all started in Carrigaline, Ireland, a one street town approximately ten miles outside of Cork City. It’s where McCabe was first introduced to what her future was going to look like. She was working in a restaurant when someone broached the subject of coming to America. It seemed there was a family in New York City that was looking for an Au Pair. So it was in the spring of 1987 McCabe found herself in the Big Apple living the dream. Or at least, meeting it for the first time.
“Here I was 22 years old and living in New York City . . . it was like ‘Wow!’ I loved the town and I loved the people. I walked everywhere with the twins, who were in my care,” she said.
After arriving in America, the family she worked for sponsored her so she could obtain a green card. She still stays in contact with the twins, they are 26 now, and she affectionately refers to them as ‘her girls.’
Inside her American journey, she has worn many hats, from nanny, to receptionist, to day care worker. She has worked in the Akron School District for the past six years and has spent the last two years at Clay School as a cafeteria worker.
She has seen a great deal of America, that’s for sure.
“My husband is a truck driver and he tells me I’ve been to more places than he has,” she said.
She has lived in Philadelphia, as well as San Francisco, and she fell in love with those places just the same; even if she did find it a little easier to leave her heart in San Francisco after experiencing the Northridge earthquake.
“I said the rosary like a good Irish girl, and then I began thinking that maybe I wanted to live in a place where the ground didn’t shake quite so much,” she said.
Her travels would eventually lead her to Lancaster County. With its rolling green countryside and quaint small towns, she says it reminds her very much of Ireland. “It felt like my home from the first time I visited, it really did.”
The details that came part and parcel with her dreams haven’t always worked out the way she hoped. She played the lottery (for citizenship) but didn’t make it. Four weeks before her wedding, she had to go back to Ireland where she underwent a rigorous battery of tests in order to renew her green card. In the end, she was back in the states and getting married in a Protestant church; a bright red Cadillac delivering Sandra Cecilia Maye McCabe to her beloved.
McCabe is the only one of her four siblings to emigrate. “We always said Mom’s apron strings were tight because all the boys were hanging onto them,” she said.
McCabe said her siblings do come to visit when they can. Her parents used to visit frequently, coming in the summer months.
“They would get all their Christmas shopping done. My father worked for a company that was a subsidiary of Aer Lingus and they were able to purchase discount airfare,” she said.
As for the citizenship test, McCabe says the information she was to be quizzed on is the equivalent of a civics course. There are myriad questions regarding amendments, U.S. presidents and wars fought. She studied furiously; her preparation leading up to the day was meticulous.
She remembered the prevailing thought that moved through her head as she traveled to the Immigration building in Philadelphia with her husband, her son and his friend. “Oh my God, this is my whole life!” she thought.
As if the buildup to this life changing moment wasn’t enough, there was the little matter of a government shutdown that was busy playing havoc with a lot of the basic every day functions. There had been a misspelling of her name, which had to be corrected as well.
“I needed every legal paper that had my name on it, from my birth certificate to copies of my husband’s divorce papers, our marriage license, my current green card.” she said.
There had been a mad scramble in the days before, because her green card was up for renewal and you cannot apply for citizenship if you have less than two months remaining on it. Thankfully, all the paper work made it through the necessary channels.
As for that test, “It was over just like that. The young man who administered the quiz for me was very pleasant, he worked with me and I was out of there in 20 minutes. The only bummer was that my certificate had to be mailed to me (as a result of the shutdown), but I was finally an American citizen.”
She recently spoke to students at Clay Elementary who were doing a book study on immigration about the process of becoming a U.S. citizen.
“Kids always ask the funniest things. One time, a boy asked me if I was the lady who had received a deed to America. And my son used to tell his friends I was an alien, that was interesting,” she said.
For McCabe, hers was a dream worth chasing. “I wanted to come here for me because I always felt like this country would be my home. I knew that if I could dream it that it could happen. And really, that’s the way I feel about life. If you believe in something, really believe in something, you can do it,” she said.
Score one for the home team.