40801: A Grandmother’s Tale: life in Gravir (II)

Growing up in Gravir, by Margaret Ann Macaskill

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As I mentioned before, most of the boys learned to swim but the girls never went near the water. Even though we lived so close to the shore, I don't remember too many accidents involving children. There was one time though, when an eight-year-old boy went missing. The whole village was out looking for him all over the hills with lanterns. Then someone remembered having seen him earlier in the day with his little four-year old cousin. They got the four-year old out of bed to ask him about the older boy. He was able to tell them that they had been playing on an abandoned boat at the shore, "then I didn't see him any more and I came home". On searching there, they found that the child had fallen through the rotting boards and had drowned under the boat.

My father was very strict with us and often acted impulsively in his anger, only to regret his actions later on. My parents were, of course, always very concerned about the dangers that were present. One day when my two little brothers Angus and John wandered out of sight for too long, my father found them playing on the shore. He sneaked up behind them and threw them both into the water, to impress upon them the fact that they were never to go there again.

Another incident that I can remember only too well, concerned me. My father had told me to bring the cow home at suppertime. I became involved playing with my friends and forgot. My father came striding over the hill and spanked me in front of all my friends. I was so humiliated. The very next morning, I got up early in the morning to light the kitchen fire (this was my job at that time). I went into the kitchen in bare feet, but unknown to me, during the night, the cat had knocked over and broken a bottle. I stepped on the broken glass and was very badly cut. My father said that had he known how badly injured I was going to be, he would never have spanked me. My cut was bleeding very badly and he took a bottle of whiskey and poured it on the injury. The pain was terrible, but by the time the doctor saw it, he said the whiskey had been a good disinfectant and had helped stop the bleeding. My cut was never stitched and took a long time to heal – I couldn't walk for about six weeks. Weeks after the accident, a piece of glass worked itself out in the area of my anklebone.

Because I had three older sisters, I wore a lot of hand-me-downs. But I can remember one tweed dress that my mother made for me. It was very scratchy. It seemed to last forever and I just hated it. We used to wear white embroidered pinafores (pinnies) over our dresses on Sundays. Each fall, my father would go to town to buy shoes for the family. We wouldn't go along to try them on – he would just buy us one size larger than we had the year before. If they didn't fit, that was just too bad, we had to wear them anyway. In my school days, there was no such thing as 'overshoes' and I can remember long walks to school through the rain and then sitting all day in school with the water bubbling up through my shoe laces.

We did make the trip to town occasionally. Sometimes we would sail all the way. That was the easiest way to go but I always got seasick. If we didn't go by boat, we had to take the ferry across Loch Erisort and then walk the rest of the way – about 10 miles. Sometimes we could rent a horse and gig. I remember one time when about four or five of us were in a gig, but the horse was very slow. Every time we came to a hill, we would have to get out and walk.

When we reached Stornoway, we would stay overnight at my Uncle John's house. (My Uncle John and his family originally lived in Gravir, but they did not have much land and were not getting along too well. My father sold one of his steers and gave my Uncle the money, so that he could move his family to town. He was able to find a job there working on the pier and this is where his family grew up.) I remember one trip to town when I was about 15 or 16. My sister Isabella and her baby were both sick and my father took me into town to look after them for several days.

Isabella had married George Jacobson in Stornoway early in the war. It had been quite a small, quiet wedding with not too many of the family present – Allan was in the navy, Donald was in Glasgow and Effie and Jessie were working on the mainland. I was Isabella's bridesmaid and my parents were there, of course, along with my two younger brothers, John and Angus. Towards the end of the war, there was a nasty outbreak of a disease called the Spanish Flu and many people died of it. It wasn't too bad in the country, but there was much sickness in the towns and cities. Isabella and her six months old baby boy both came down with the flu and the baby died. Her little girl, Ellen had the whooping cough at the same time. I did not take the flu, but I did catch the whooping cough so it was not a very happy household. My sister Effie took very ill in Glasgow around the same time – maybe in the beginning she had the Spanish flue but in the end, she had rheumatic fever. She recovered, but was left with a permanently very badly damaged heart.

In the spring of 1919, I had my first trip to the mainland and to Glasgow. My brother Donald had been home on holiday from his job in Glasgow and when he returned, I went with him. First of all we travelled to Stornoway, then across the Minch by boat and then by train to Glasgow. This was my first train trip. I did not like Glasgow at first. I thought it was too noisy and dirty, but I was excited by all the buses and the automobiles. The streets were all gas lit and every lamp had to be lighted as dusk by a lamp lighter. Lighting in the houses was gas too.

My sister Jessie was married and living in a small apartment in Glasgow then. Her husband was away at sea and I stayed with her until I found a job. I registered with an agency and they found me a job as Under-House Parlour Maid with a very wealthy family called Anderson. They lived in an apartment in Glasgow, but they had a very large house on the coast where they spent the summer. They had a very large staff there and I waited on the table in the dining room that summer. They would have kept me on when they returned to Glasgow in the fall but I decided to look for something else.

I found a job with a Mr & Mrs Campbell. He was the manager of his family-owned foundry. They had one little girl about 7 or 8 and they were very good to me. Mrs Campbell taught me to cook, but when she came out to the kitchen, she would do so much talking, that we didn't get very much done. They had a car and would sometimes take me for a drive with them on the weekends. I was the only live-in help they had. A woman came in once every two weeks to do all the laundry and another woman came once a week to the housecleaning. They lived in a large apartment. After I had been there about two years, Mrs Campbell went to hospital when her son was born and I was able to run things at home while she was away. I had to be hospitalised myself a couple of times during my time in Glasgow. Once I caught the measles from the Campbell's little girl and it made me very ill. I ended up with pneumonia. The next time was the result of an accident. I was alone in the apartment. I can't remember now exactly what I was doing, either hanging curtains or washing the ceiling, at any rate, I stood on the very top of a stepladder and reached for something and fell. The family found me unconscious on the floor when they returned. I had concussion and had another short hospital stay. I was still working for the Campbells when I left for Canada. She gave me a good reference, a nice present and wrote to me often.

I was able to get home and visit my parents occasionally and I can remember going back for my brother Allan's wedding. This took place shortly after he was discharged from the navy at the war's end. His bride came from a large family and they had a big wedding at her home in Kershader. The whole neighbourhood was invited and the party was held in the house and in the barn. Thee was a melodeon (accordion) playing for dancing in the house and bagpipes outside. (Editor's note – when the Wills family was in Scotland in 1977, we visited Allan MacInnes – age 85 at that time – and a brother of Aunt Jessie in Goderich. He was Allan MacAskill's age and the night we visited him, he was reminiscing about the great party they had had at Allan's wedding.)

In 1923, Marion Nicholson and I decided we would go and try our luck in Canada for a year or two. The Canadian government was offering to loan the passage money to any young person who wanted to immigrate. We sailed on the SS Athenia, almost a spanking new ship then. This is the same ship that the German submarine sank on the first day of World War II, September 3, 1939.

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