Bessie Bray stood on the
sea wall leaning against the whitewashed lighthouse. The sun was rising
behind her back as she waved goodbye to her papa, Robert. He sailed out of
the harbor in his fishing boat heading towards the Firth of Forth. He was
dressed in his creamy-colored, wool, Arran sweater. His cocoa brown hair
was plastered against his head from the spray of the sea as the boat
plunged into the waves. "Cheerio, Papa," she called to him, waving her
When his boat was no longer
in sight, she walked cautiously along the narrow sea wall until she was
safely back on the dock. The aroma from the fish market sat heavily in the
air and in a few hours, after the return of the many fishing boats, it
would be even worse. Mackerel, cod, haddock, oysters and many more
treasures from the sea, would soon be spilling across the cold stone
floors of the fish market. People were already busy, stacking boxes of ice
for the fish to be placed in. Soon the building would be buzzing with men
and women coming to get the freshest fish.
Bessie turned and walked up
the steep hill towards Main Street. She climbed the steep wooden stairs
and went into her house. "Mum, Iím home. Papa is on his way. I hope he
brings a load of fish home tonight," she called.
Her mum, Christina, was
dressing in her fisher-wife clothes. When the boats came in, sheíd be
allowed the first selection of the fish from her husbandís boat. Sheíd
fill her creel and wander the streets calling, "Whoíll buy my herring?"
"Iíll need you to watch the
wee ones when your Papa comes back, lass. Iíve got to sell some fish
today," her mum said.
"Yes, Mum. I know," she
sighed, looking at her younger brothers, Liston and Noble. "Mum? When will
I be able to sell fish? I want a costume like yours. Itís colorful, Mum,
with the dark blue and yellow and white stripes. You look like a yellow
"Oh, Bessie, donít hurry
into it. Itís hard work. The creel is heavy. Why, if I didnít have all
those layers on my dress to help hold it, my back would be broken by now.
Enjoy being young child," her mum urged.
As the afternoon came, the
fishing boats arrived back into the harbor. "Iím off, lass. Thank you for
your help. Iíll bring home a big bit of haddock for us tonight." Her Mum
kissed her on the cheek, grabbed her creel and headed down to the harbor.
Jumping off the boat,
Robert started filling boxes with the fish heíd caught that morning.
Seagulls flew above, hovering, waiting for an opportunity to steal a fish.
Christina wandered up to him. "Any luck today, Robert?" she asked. Robert
looked up at his wife. Her hair was pulled back into a bun and her
complexion ruddy and weather-beaten.
"Aye. Got a full catch this
morning," he replied.
"Iíll take some then for my
creel and be off. I can finish wee Listonís jumper as I walk," she said,
pulling the knitting needles, wool, and half finished jumper from a fold
in her outfit. She bent over and selected a few large herring, some
haddock and cod. "See you at home, Robert," she said and walked away.
Without further delay, Robert filled the crates with fish.
Christina walked the
streets for four hours, calling, "Whoíll buy my fish? Whoíll buy my
herring?" Sheíd go from door to door selling, or stand on the street
corners. After selling all but one haddock, she headed home. It was dark.
Robert was home, busy playing with the wee ladies. Bessie was peeling
potatoes and onions.
"Mumís home," Bessie
Christina put the fish on
the table and quickly filleted it. She washed her hands and gave the boys
and Bessie a big hug. "Who wants haddock?" she asked. "Thank you for
peeling the tatties, Bessie. Weíll have a feast tonight." She and Bessie
prepared the meal and the family sat down. "Since its Sunday tomorrow, the
other fisher-wives and I will be putting on a performance down at the town
hall. Will you come and hear us sing?" she asked her family as the food
was passed around the table.
"Iíll come, Mum," assured
Bessie. "I want to sing with the Yellow Butterflies when Iím big enough."
"Iíll come too, Mum," said
Noble. "I like to hear you sing.
"Me come," chuckled wee
"Well that does it.
Everyone will come. You will too, wonít you Robert?" she asked her
"Of course. I wouldnít miss
it. Weíll all be there," he said.
That night they sang songs
and then the wee ones went to bed. Christina stayed up and finished
knitting wee Listonís jumper. It was brown with a Fair Isle design of tan
and white woven through it. Robert read a book and smoked his pipe.
The next day the family
dressed in their Sunday best and headed to the town hall. The whole stage
was covered with women all dressed in their clean fisher-wife costumes.
They sang songs for their families and neighbors. The children sat quietly
and listened to their mothers. It was a grand performance.
When they were finished and
it was time to go home, rain began pouring down. Everyone ran to their
houses. "Itíll be a bad morning for fishing tomorrow," Christina said.
"The seaís rough and the wind is howling, Robert. Will you no stay home
tomorrow?" she begged.
"You know I have to go out,
no matter what the weather. Weíve got a family to take care of. Iíve seen
worse weather. Iíll be fine," he assured his wife. The wind blew all
night. The rain poured down on the village.
The next morning, when
Bessie got up, she found her mum in the kitchen crying. "Whatís the
matter, Mum?" she asked.
"Your Papa had to go out on
the boat. The Firth of Forth is horribly rough. Imagine the North Sea? Iím
just worried lass," she cried.
"Oh, Mum. Papaís been out
in this many times before. Heíll be fine," she calmly whispered. "Papaís a
great seaman. So are all the other men in the village. Theyíll all come
back safely, Mum. Donít worry."
Christina looked at her
daughter and smiled. "Yes, he will. Now, I need your help bathing the
They spent the day cleaning
the house and baking scones and bannocks. In the afternoon Christina
bundled the wee ones up in heavy jumpers and rubber boots and they walked
down to the harbor. Just as they reached it, the clouds broke and the rain
stopped. "Thereís Papaís boat," called Noble. Christina sighed with
"I told you heíd be fine,"
Bessie assured her.
"Iíve been thinking,"
Christina said, taking Bessieís hand, "itís about time for you to get your
Yellow Butterfly costume and join us. I hadnít realized what a big lass
youíre getting to be." She squeezed her daughterís hand.
When Robert came off the
boat, Bessie ran up to him, excited and happy. "Iím a Yellow Butterfly
now, Papa. Mumís making me a costume, just like hers and I get to help her
sell fish too."
Robert smiled and hugged
his daughter. "Iím proud of you, lass. Will you help me with the fish?" he
As the family worked
unloading the fish, the sun came out. A rainbow spilled across the sky,
shining with reds, blues, greens, purples, oranges, and yellow. It turned
out to be a wonderful day after all.
Newhaven: A Fishing Village