I turn the page of the calendar and reveal yet another of Monet’s delights… I write ‘9.15 – Glasgow’ underneath October 5th. We are to attend a ‘promotional talk’ by a celebrated motivational speaker……..he’s going to have to be good…
…….and he is. So good in fact that we book ourselves three places on the weekend course scheduled to take place the following month…..a quick (and costly) decision but I am exhilarated. I have taken a positive step ……well done ! Well done indeed ! Oh no…… hold on a minute …… perhaps I’ve just been done ……well and truly done …..I am awash with doubt…..perhaps he’s a charlatan ( I can practically hear Hugh saying it !)….we should never have come…….it’s too soon……..we’re too raw…….too vulnerable……..we’re clutching at straws….. another straw………how many ‘last straws’ are there anyway…..is it too late to change my mind……?
‘I’m really looking forward to it,’ I overhear Anne say to Pauline.‘Me too.’
Pauline sounds quietly optimistic. I can feel them watching me ……watching and waiting for a reaction. I have a choice to make. I could choose to ruin this whole project with a slump of the shoulders, a quiver of the lips. I could turn on the waterworks. I could spew out my nasty suspicions and infect them with my despair and dread. I could easily exact their pity, draw on their ready sympathy, bring them back, pull them down, snuff out their little candles of hope with yet another outpouring of hopelessness and fear. I could do this…..or not…..I look at the eager faces and mirror their expressions.
‘Dates for my calendar then. Something to look forward to,’ I say with manufactured enthusiasm and yet I am aware of a little stirring of something within.
‘It’s only four weeks away,’ Anne confirms. Only four weeks. ….four days…..four hours……four minutes…….the wink of an eye………..
‘Benny! Michael! Peter! John!’ ……the Reid Brothers
In descending order these were the names of the family who lived directly opposite to us more than half a century ago. Their mother’s resonant tones would call them home from whichever corner of their little universe they had set up play school, her voice echoing over the Clyde Valley and beyond. Everyone was alerted and the search was on to scan the horizon for the ‘lost boys.’ She herself was tied to the house with toddlers Ronnie, Alice and baby Edward so she would chant the litany of her little saints at full throttle, until the miniature gang of four would appear safe and sound from yet another adventure. When the toddlers eventually made their escape over the securely tied’ garden gate the litany lengthened accordingly. They, like us, were not supposed to go further than the crossroads (four houses north) or the bottom of the road (eight houses south). Those were the limits.
‘Sheila! Martha! Maureen! Patsy! Elizabeth! Marie Jo!’
My mother would sometimes run through the whole list of names before plucking out the one she wanted…….to go for a loaf perhaps or a pint of milk or cigarettes for daddy (no laws then!) She didn’t have to shout for long though, nor did she ever have to look very far to find us (awful things happened when you didn’t do as you were told !) so we were always around the door or up some neighbour’s ‘back’. The Reid boys on the other hand paid no heed to boundaries…….they were younger, quite fearless and had obviously all been born under the same wandering star. She was a loving and caring mother but they did lead her a merry dance. Their escapades gave us many a laugh.
The lot of going for messages always fell either to myself or Patsy or Elizabeth. Sheila was the eldest so she had the power of veto! Martha was seldom around as her friends stayed further afield and Marie Jo, well, she was the baby.
I never liked going anywhere by myself. It meant crossing the boundaries.Gallagher’s little wooden cabin of a shop was only a ten minutes walk away but a main road had to be crossed twice each way and you never knew who you would meet………Of course you didn’t voice your real fear you just ‘screwed up your face’, took the accusation of being a ‘sulk’ on the chin and forfeited your right to a reward……. ‘You will be getting no penny caramel for that look !’
Fresh milk was bought from the farm adjacent to the little shop. The milking parlour was right next door to the farmhouse kitchen and, if Hannah wasn’t already at work in the parlour, you had to knock on the kitchen door for service. I still remember the glimpses of gingham tablecloths weighed down with huge loaves of home made bread and plates of hot scones. The smell would stay with me all the way home………. lasting nearly as long as the taste of a penny caramel.
One summer’s afternoon, having again been specially chosen as the message goer (marginally better than scraping hundreds of New Ayrshire Potatoes!)and still feeling aggrieved on the return journey, I decided to be quietly defiant and take the forbidden shortcut down the lane which ran parallel to our street. Holding onto my nerve and two bottles of milk I committed myself to the unfamiliar path. It was deserted………or so I thought.
Suddenly, there was a mighty rustling in the bushes and someone jumped on my back while another leapt out screaming in front of me barring my way.They were whooping and yelling and pushing and prodding. I will always remember them as two of the ugliest boys I had ever seen. I knew them by reputation. Everyone in our district feared them and now I knew why. How long my ordeal lasted I do not know. I just remember exiting the dark, leafy lane through the hole in the fence and stepping back into sunshine and normality. I didn’t dare tell my mother, or anyone, what had happened. It was my fault. I had been disobedient, sulky and resentful.
‘I thought you’d got lost! What kept you?’ Mum was upset.
‘Nothing.’ I thought my heart would burst out of my chest.
‘Have you been running? What have I told you about running with glass bottles!!
I put the two bottles of milk on the table. They were both intact. My mission was accomplished so I said no more. Well, there’s no use crying (aloud) over ‘unspilt’ milk…..is there? There were few boundaries I crossed after that.
My mother used to tell the tale of how, when I was a toddler, I really had got lost. We stayed in a tenement building at the time and apparently I had toddled through the ‘close’ to the main street. By the time it was discovered that I was missing and the whole building turned out to look for me, I was already in police custody and under interrogation.
When my frantic mother and father arrived at the local police station (only a stone’s throw from our home) to report their trauma, I was allegedly sitting on the counter top entertaining the troops….well all two of them.
‘You must be Mr.and Mrs. Bane then,’said the desk sergeant, referring grandly to his notebook…… ‘this being little Baldy!!’
Mr.Craigie, our lovely neighbour, had taught me to answer ‘Baldy Bane’ to the question ‘What’s your name?’ and so I had done as instructed while being detained at His Majesty’s Pleasure.
I have to try to imagine just how overcome with emotion my parents were in recovering me safe and sound for that was never spoken of. My mother did, however, make a great deal of the fact that they had to stump up one shilling in bail money in order to secure my release. In subsequent years and at difficult times she would say wearily to me that it was the worst shilling she’d ever spent! ……
I lift the page of my calendar from October to November to write in our appointment for the sixteenth and seventeenth and in the blink of an eye I remember October 17th, Mum’s birthday; November 6th, Dad’s…….. dates never celebrated since 1992 and 1975 respectively.
On Dad’s birthday there was nearly always a dumpling……..a spicy, fruity, steaming dumpling drying off by the fire as we came rushing home from school through the foggy November dusk. We could look forward to it hot with custard, cold with tea and fried next day with bacon and egg…………
As I savoured the memory of happier times I wasn’t to know that November 6th would also mark the burial of the first of Allan’s girls……Having endured the crippling and harrowing pain of arthritis over much of her life, Martha was called to rest on November 3rd .The sequence was broken.
For five days I retraced my steps through the painfully familiar corridors and wards of the hospital, watching and waiting as yet another dear life unbelievably slipped away……but there was one difference …….. one tremendous, bitter sweet difference………..Martha and I were able to speak to each other before she died….but God, did it have to be so soon…….only five months and two days after Hugh…….perhaps…. she had something she desperately needed to tell him………..
…. to be continued….