All of the animals who came to Oddsborough Farm came there because they were different. Sometimes, this could cause problems. One day, Mary Mu-Kau and Sue R. Rat went to visit a new arrival from all the way over in Ireland.
“He’s a Galway ram,” Mary said, looking up at Sue who was riding between her two short horns, “Galway is on the western side of Ireland. There are many claims that these sheep are the only breed to come out of Ireland, but there is a lot of discussion on the topic.”
“Very interesting,” Sue replied, “Do you think he’ll speak with an Irish brogue?”
“I don’t doubt it,” Mary smiled her little cow smile as the truck pulled up. That smile soon disappeared, however, when Shaymus Woolworthy stepped out.
“Oh my…” Sue gasped.
Galway sheep are almost always white, but Shaymus wasn’t, not at all. Shaymus had dyed his wool bright blue, and both of his spotted ears were full of piercings. He had dark circles under his eyes, a scowl on his muzzle, and he looked at everyone like they had just said something very nasty about him.
“Which one of you is in charge?” he said in a deep and very gruff voice.
“Well, we both are,” Mary tried her best to be cheerful, “and we’d both like to welcome to Oddsborough Farm, Shaymus!”
“Huh, I guess.”
He started walking away, and both Mary and Sue tried to keep up.
“Aren’t you going to say something?” Mary whispered to Sue.
“I don’t know what to say, Mary!” Sue whispered back.
“This place… Huh. Not much to look at, is it?” Shaymus said as they approached one of the barns, “kinda small, a little dirty…”
“Well, um… we think it’s very nice,” Mary said.
Mary and Sue tried showing Shaymus the cafeteria, the beds, and even the performance space where the animals would sing and dance and tell jokes on Saturday nights, but all Shaymus would say was:
Finally, Sue found the courage to say something.
“Can I say something?”
“Aren’t you already?”
“Oh, um… well, are you unhappy?”
“I’m not really anything.”
“You sound unhappy.”
“Everyone says you should be happy, but I don’t get it. I’d rather just be… me.”
“Oh, I know how that goes,” Sue replied with a squeaky laugh, “If you can believe it, I own this farm, and–”
“I know all about you,” Shaymus said tiredly, “You’re a sewer rat from the city who owns a business.”
“Why, yes!” Sue puffed up a little with pride, “I see you’ve heard of my unique situation!”
“It’s not that unique,” Shaymus shot back, “Lots of rats live out in the fields, or forests, and make their own way without scavenging. It’s nothing different, what you, really.”
Sue deflated like a balloon someone had sat on.
“I, uh… I need to go check on my remittances.”
And with that, she scampered down Mary’s front leg and shot off for the farmhouse like a bullet. Mary took an uneasy breath as Shaymus spoke again.
“I know I can upset people, but I just have to say what I’m feeling. I don’t ever let anything stand in the way of being myself.”
“Well, this is definitely the place for that to happen!” Mary piped up. Maybe this is my chance, she thought to show him how great this place is!
It didn’t go well.
“This is Percy. He’s our team lead for farm labor projects.”
“Nice to meet you, Shaymus!” Percy smiled a big, horsey smile.
“Percy is actually quite unique for a Percheron stallion,” Mary said proudly, “He’s an accomplished dancer and dressage performer!”
“It’s true!” Percy said, showing off a few moves for the new arrival.
“Huh,” Shaymus replied, “A dancing horse isn’t all that different. You’re just bigger.”
Percy could only stand there, flat-hooved, as Mary lead Shaymus away quickly, and quite embarrassed. But, she was determined to find something to impress the cantankerous ram.
“This is Henny,” Mary tried again, “Unlike our other chickens, Henny is very shy and quiet. She’s coming into her own as a poet, though!”
“I’ve seen shy chickens before,” Shaymus muttered, “What makes you so special?”
Henny could only stammer quietly in response.
“Huh,” Shaymus scoffed, and began to walk away. Mary apologized furiously to Henny, and then struggled to keep up.
“So!” she began, “you sure like to tell it like it is, huh?”
“I’m truly different,” Shaymus said with a small amount of pride, “Most of the time, when someone says they’re being different, it’s just for show. They don’t have what it takes to be like me. I don’t care if that upsets people, that’s just the way it is.”
He stopped in his tracks and caught Mary by surprise. Then, he stared her down with his intense, dark eyes.
“Have you ever seen other sheep? All white and fluffy, and they’ll do anything anyone tells them to do. Us Galways, we’re expected to be the best of the best, but I don’t follow along with the crowd. I got sent here because no farm in Ireland could handle me… and I bet this one can’t, either.”
“Hmmm,” Mary thought for a moment, “well, what if I could introduce you to an animal that really was different, as you say? Would that convince you Oddsborough is the place for you”
“That’d be pretty tough,” Shaymus snorted, “I’m a realist.”
He sure likes to talk about himself, Mary thought, but I bet I can prove something to him with Patience!
“Oh. A skinny pig. Well, yeah… are you a mixed breed, then?”
“Yes I am!” Patience was stunned, “How did you know that?”
“You’re probably mixed with a non-commercial breed. It makes you smaller. That’s all. No big deal.”
Patience wrinkled her snout at the comment.
“Well,” she said, “I wouldn’t say being classified by the ALBC as ‘critically rare’ is no big deal…”
“But that’s only part of you, right?”
“Well, yes, but…”
“So I’m 100% Galway ram, Ireland’s only recognized native sheep. You’re just mixed. You’re not so special.”
“Okay!” Mary interrupted quickly, “let’s go see if your room is set up, Shaymus!”
She knew she had to get him out of there, and fast. Patience looked like she wanted to make a bright blue sweater out of him.
“Huh,” Shaymus sighed, “Whatever.”
By the end of the day, Mary was so frustrated she was ready to pickle her own tongue. She met with Sue at the farmhouse that night for two big mugs of apple cider.
“I can’t do it, Sue!” Mary wailed, “He’s going to drive us all batty!”
She turned to one of the bats perched on the windowsill outside.
“No offense, Clarence.”
“None taken,” said the bat.
“I don’t know how you did it, Mary,” Sue said with a sigh, “after five minutes with him, I couldn’t tell if I wanted to run away and cry or stew him into mutton. It reminds me of how rude those rats used to be to me back in the city.”
“But we made a promise, didn’t we Sue?” Mary asked, “No matter who, any animal who didn’t fit in was welcome here at Oddsborough Farm. I can’t give up on Shaymus, even if he is annoying every other beast and bird out there.”
“Yeah, did you hear what he said to the other sheep? He said his wool was better because Galways are usually bred for meat, but his wool is still good enough to be woven, so that makes his even more unique. Can you believe it?”
“There’s got to be a reason, Sue,” Mary said in a tone that surprised her, “I’m not ready to get tipped yet.”
Mary stayed up all night trying to think of some way to help Shaymus. She looked through every book in both her and Sue’s collection (and that was a lot!) until she finally found one called “Reverse Psychology.” Mary remembered how the other cows back in Warroad got angry at her for being so smart, and maybe if…
“That’s it!” Mary shouted triumphantly. Unfortunately, she shouted a little too loud scared Clarence right off his windowsill.
The next morning, Mary came by after breakfast to see how Shaymus was doing. Shaymus, of course, decided not to eat breakfast with everyone else.
“How was your night, Shaymus?”
“You know what? You’re absolutely right. Turns out the barometric pressure was a little off last night, so it did feel a little strange. You’re so smart to recognize that!”
Shaymus blinked and, for the first time, was speechless.
And all through the day, Mary persisted, being as nice to Shaymus as she possibly could, even when he didn’t deserve it… which was often. Mary was a smart little heifer and knew all sorts of fascinating facts for each thing Shaymus said or did, it seemed. Strangely enough, the more Mary was nice, the more it made Shaymus upset. Finally, while Mary was congratulating him on choosing broccoli for dinner, Shaymus blew up.
“WHAT?!” he bellowed, staring at Mary. This time, his eyes weren’t dark and intense, but wild and confused.
“I don’t believe I said anything,” Mary said with a sweet smile.
“Why do you keep saying I’m right all the time?”
“Because you are.”
“No, I’m not!” Shaymus shouted, his voice starting to squeak, “I’m rude! I’m mean! I’m a jerk! I say things that make people mad! Nobody likes me!”
“I think you’re just wonderful, Shaymus.”
“NO YOU DON’T!”
“You have a very strong voice, Shaymus,” Mary smiled her little cow smile, “You must be very proud of it.”
“Stop saying good things about me! I’m supposed to be a bad guy!”
As soon as he said supposed, Mary knew she had him.
“Why?” she asked.
Shaymus stopped dead in his tracks, his broccoli completely forgotten. He knew he couldn’t say what came into his head: about how he was so scared of being a mindless sheep that did whatever he was told, he went out of his way to upset things to prove he was unique. He knew it he started, he’d get upset, and he might even cry, and he might say something about how nice Mary was being, and people aren’t usually nice to him, and, and…
And just like that, Shaymus took off like a shot for his room. Mary settled into her dinner (and Shaymus’ broccoli) knowing that this would only be the first time they would lock horns. She knew Shaymus would come back tomorrow, even more determined to be the black sheep, and she would have to be ready for it with even more kindness.
Eventually she knew, just like all the animals at Oddsborough knew, that kindness would win the day.