Monday, December 26, 2005

Memoirs of a Fisherman's Son - Part 1 Chapter 7

Chapter VII

Home Life : Christian Influences

The one who had the greatest influence on me during all my formative years was my dear mother - Maggie Jane to all her friends, neighbours and relations. She it was who brought me safely through all the trials and tribulations of my young life. Undoubtedly she suffered more than I did because of my bronchial asthma and there was never a time when I was without her loving care and attention. But I needed her and relied on her. If an attack of asthma occurred during the night she was there beside me with a spoonful of cough mixture, cod liver oil emulsion (which I loved!) or the relief giving smoking mixture. At times when the doctor confined me to bed she was always near at hand to attend to my every need. During one prologued spell in bed she taught me how to knit! She herself was an expert with the knitting needles - her fingers moved so swiftly that a sock would be knitted in one evening. She used to receive a large parcel of wool from a friend of hers in Bressay, Shetland, once a year. The lady's name was, I think, Jessie Linklater. From this wool were knitted jumpers, cardigans, skirts even dresses, and shawls. The latter were made for use by very young children usually given as a present to the baby for its baptism - and by very old Ladies who were of particular concern to my mother.

Of my own efforts all I can claim is that I managed to make a few scarves (all in plain and purl) of various colours and a pair of mittens which Mum had to finish off. All attempts to make fingers on a glove met with failure so far as I was concerned but the gloves were completed by Mum.

From my earliest days I was aware of my Mother's profound Christian faith and she ensured that my sister and I had a sound grounding in that faith. We were taken to morning services each Sunday morning in the United Free Church in the village green. There was always an interesting address for children and if the sermon proper was boring we were kept awake with sweets from our mother and grandfather. I always enjoyed hearing my Mother sing and she did so in a fine sweet treble voice. At home I used to love to hear her sing the old Sankie and Moody hymns which were so popular among fishing folk and were used at all their Missions services when away from Home. Hymns like 'Count your blessings', 'Throw out the life line.... someone is drifting away', 'Hold the fort for I am coming', and many others with good going tunes were all well loved and often sung in our home.

Mother's Christianity was not confined to her home and family or to attendances at Church. By no means; it was evident in her care of and for others. If anyone within her ken fell ill then she was to give whatever help was required. Sometimes a person was so ill that constant attention at the bedside was needed. In that case Maggie Jane would be the one who would sit through the night, she seemed to require very little sleep. I have seen her leave the house at 10 o clock, at night saying she was going to sit with a certain person so that the family could get their sleep : and then next morning at 6.30 am she would be back to see to her own household.

My dad was of a quiet gentle disposition. Never once did I hear him raise his voice in anger. I understand that before he fell in love with Maggie Jane he had been a 'fairly normal sort of chap' who liked a dram and a smoke. But Maggie Jane changed all that and by the time I became aware of things he was a convinced Christian devoted to his dear Maggie Jane, his children and his church.

Undoubtedly he had a very hard life as a fisherman and money was scarce but, we never regarded ourselves as being poor and were never 'in debt'. I have never known my father to smoke or to drink alcohol except perhaps a small sherry at Christmas or New Year.

The two of them were obviously devoted to one another and radiated happiness. When dad was away from home at the fishing, they wrote to one another every week. I might add here that this custom continued so far as I was concerned when I had to leave home to become a student and then a soldier! Every week saw a letter from one or other of them with all the news of home. Naturally I responded with my weekly letter. Remember there was no such thing as a phone in 113. But to revert to our Sunday activities : At three o'clock in the afternoon each Sunday we attended Sunday School: as did all the village children. The Superintendent was Mr James MacPherson, a local Grocer (his shop was really a delicatessen) who was much loved by all who knew him, was an elder of the Church and all the years I was at Sunday School he was our leader. For many years too, my teacher was a Mrs Mitchell, a retired school teacher who had taught my father when he was at Torbreck school (near Gollanfield). She was a sweet old lady and used to get me to go to her home in order to learn poems to be recited at the annual soiree.

This took place in December of each year at first in the Church itself but later in the War Memorial Hall. It was a really, happy occasion with all sorts of children's games including musical chairs, blind man's buff, pass the parcel and 'A Tisket a tasket I lost my yellow basket' as well as some form of dancing such as the Grand Old Duke of York. There were songs by individuals, classes of children and even adults. Parents were of course present. Then, as far as 'Joe Soap' is concerned, the inevitable poems (recitations they were called). Mrs Mitchell saw to it that I always knew three, one as an introduction and two in case an encore was called for, as it usually was. Even if I had been off school in the preceding weeks, I always seemed to be sufficiently recovered to attend the soiree (pronounced by us as small children as 'soo-a-ree'). This was followed by lemonade, tea, cakes of every kind and a chocolate biscuit. At the close of the evening all the children present were handed a 'baggie' to take home. This contained, sweets, a few cakes of different kinds, an apple and orange : and if Mr MacPherson had a 'good' year we might expect to find a penny in the baggie!

At the end of June when the Sunday school closed for the Summer we had a Picnic! Yes, it was one of the most exciting and important events in the Sunday School year. We all foregathered outwith the church on the village green when we would be lined up in ten or twelve farm carts provided by local farmers who were members of the church. The horses were all decorated with ribbons as they are nowadays at Highland Shows while the carts had gaily coloured bunting tied around them. Children, and their parents who attended together with teachers, superintendent and Minister piled aboard the carts. The leading cart had on board a piper who played suitable joyful/stirring music. We were conveyed to a farm at the carse - 3 whole miles away. There the farmer had erected swings, long and short, on which we could play. There were all sorts of out-door games and then 'the races!'. The latter were run by age groups - 'all the 7 year olds etc' I suppose we had to run about 100 yards. There were also sack races, three legged races, egg and spoon races, long jump and high jump.

The prizes were always the same 3p for 1st, 2p for 2nd and 1p for 3rd. Might, I add, as an aside, that we had not yet experienced inflation in this country and so, however long one was at Sunday School the prize money remained the same each year.

Moreover I do not remember us ever having rain for our picnic. But I do remember one year our picnic was held at Cawdor Castle, beforehand we were told all about Macbeth. Yes, for me Sunday School was just one of the many pleasures of my childhood. Certainly it was there, as well as at my Mother's knee, that my Christian faith was founded.

It was customary for adults to attend the evening service at 6pm but in 113 not obligatory on my sister or myself. However there were times when one felt that Mum needed a companion especially during Dad's absence from home and if the 'old boy' decided as he often did to stay at home. Sunday was mainly regarded as a day of rest from work and in some families this was taken to the extreme - i.e. no work of any kind on the Sabbath and 'work' included walking other than to church as well as cooking meals. Gladly my parents were liberally minded! Unlike our Davidson cousins who were under the discipline of their father a Free Church elder, we had freedom to go out for walks after Sunday School or all afternoon during holiday time. On many Sundays, always when the weather was fine, we 'went out for a walk' as a family to Gollanfield station, the Deacon's wood on the road to Nairn, Cromal Hill or even as far as the Crow Woodie down on the Carse below the Parish Church Manse. My father was a keen cyclist and many a happy Saturday or Sunday afternoon we spent together on his bike. I sat on the carrier behind the seat with my feet on the 'back steps'.

These were cylindrical steel extensions to the rear wheel nuts, each about 3 ins long. They made excellent rests for one's feet. During these journeys Dad would tell me stories of the days when he was a boy : I was fascinated: I once asked why he had gone to Torbreck school which is on the Gollanfield Road over a mile from the village. Apparently he and his brother, Uncle Donnie, had started off at the village school but their father had a quarrel with the Headmaster and took his two sons away from that school. They had to walk to and from Torbreck every day: but they were only doing what all country children did even in my days at school when cycles were a rarity and motor vehicles owned only by the rich. Dad had been top of his class and the Torbreck Head wanted him to go on to higher education. However money was scarce so at the age of 14 he left and got himself a job on a farm - Budgate, near Cawdor. He was paid £6 in the half year and during his two years on the farm lived in a 'chalmers' when, with other lads, he was fed on a daily diet of porridge or gruel, oat cakes with butter, broth, potatoes and salt herring. Every farmer's wife had a barrel of salt herring one of the staple foods in those days. No wonder he was glad to get away to sea at 16.

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