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Graham Donachie's Stories
A Dundee Tale


Once upon a tyme, in my distant childhood, a lovely girl came into my lyfe.

I remember the first glance I had of her. She was tall and slender. She had the biggest, brownest eyes I had ever seen. Her skin was olive of hue and she had an abundance of luxurious black, waist length hair... Her likes had never been seen in our street. Not to my knowledge anyway.

Growing up in Dundee just after the war, there was not much that happened in our street that you could have called exciting..unless, fat Mrs Fraser falling down the outside stair on saturday evening after having too much in the Clep Bar...or the tyme the police sneaked up on the big lads gambling at the cards in Mrs Nelson╣s back yard...that was really funny...for wee Tam next door saw them before the lads did..and managed to scream out..▓CCRB▓..which was a secret code in our street which meant..▓Cops Comin╣ Run Boys▓....Well the big lads just took off, but they had no idea from what direction the bobbies were coming from..so there was pandemonium and panic as they hastily tryed to make their escape...

All this drama amidst delighted cheers from us bairns and the auld folk hanging out their windows, teary eyed in the mirth of it.

The occasional hen fight in the back green between mothers over errant bairns, was another good spectator sport for us in these far away days.

We had it good then.We were not so poor, but money was short for my parents..At least we had a bath and an inside toilet. Lots of lads who I was at school with, lived in old nineteenth century tenements. They had no bath and had to be washed in a big galvanized washing tub in the front room.They had to share an outside toilet, on the stair, with maybe about six other families..

It was from a tenement like this, that the new folk came to stay, just two closes away from us..

They were not a complete family however..There was no Man of the House.

Just a Woman and her Daughter

.............................................

The Mother... must have been in her forties at the tyme.
As I cast my mind back to then, I realise that she was quite a stunner. She had the look of the Romany People about her..She was so different from the usual run of the mill-folk..in our street...
Her dark and flashing looks must have turned a few male heads. She would almost certainly have  stirred up the lads. But as often happens when a new face.. and especially a bonnie new face, appears in a neighbourhood, an instant dislike and mistrust of her was formed... But a friendship developed between her and my Ma...
My Ma was the only woman in the back land washing green that would engage her in conversation. On Sunday╣s, after the task of washing and hanging out the clothes, she would come along to our steps and sit and blether wi╣ my Ma.
On the occasions when I would sit at Ma╣s feet on these summer days, the woman would smile at me and ruffle my hair and she had a strange effect on me which, back then, I could not understand..She had a wild look to her. She was all spilling hair and dangling gold ear rings and that wide smile with the white white  teeth..
It was obvious to us bairns, that my Da did not like her. For some reason, he would not talk to the woman, nor the daughter. He would scold my Ma for this friendship, but Ma would only look at him, and say nothing, and his words would fall on deaf ears....

Although she was aware of what certain neighbours were thinking, Ma never had any truck with the general gossip about the woman. And no one better comment about the Mother within earshot of my Ma...
My Ma was wee, but she had a big heart, and I never heard her speak ill of any man, woman or bairn..

...................................................

The Daughter.....  must have been in her late teens or early twenties.....
She was blessed with the same beauty as her mother......
I was only primary school age, but I was struck with a longing and tender feeling every tyme I thought, or looked upon her....

The lads o╣ the street fairly congregated round our back green. My older brother being one of them..We smaller lads could not get peace to play our games without being interupted by the constant swaggering of these fools...
I╣m sure they all made their play for the smile o╣ that lass..but she never gave them so much as a kind look....
There was certain unkind talk circulating in our street...How someone saw her at night, naked, standing at the kitchen window, drying her hair...and not bothering if anyone should see.... Putrid imaginations ran riot.....That story and others, only served to fuel the spite and the jealousy of vindictiveness....
So they moved across the street, and now lived on the second floor...Away from the lying of tongues and the slyness of envious eyes......
My older sister at one tyme struck up a friendship with the Daughter...But the wrath of my Da and the severity of his slaps, soon put a stop to it..He would have no daughter of his in companionship with one of her kind.....

She was awfu╣ bonnie though.....

One tyme when I was playing in the street, she passed me by, and smiled and called me by name...I was dumbstruck....I don╣t recall what she said, but she looked down at me and I grinned a foolish grin, with hot red cheeks and stuttering voice ..and she all lovely with ruby lips for the kissing ...and now nearer she was and smelling sweet and so dark and gypsy like......
That was the only tyme I ever remember her speaking to me........
I had her smile and the smell of her nearness all locked away inside me... which none of the neighbourhood lads had...
It was as if she were shrouded in a cocoon of mystery..where naught, nor no one could reach her.......

In the mid fifties, there was no one in our street who owned a car...In fact there was no one in our street who could drive a car....
There was never a parked car to be seen ......but that changed......and caused a ceaseless wagging of tongues......

Because of her beauty, I suppose she had the pick of the handsome men...Indeed, one day a rather large fancy shiny motor car drove into our street and stopped at No 5...  A bunch of flowers had this one..very nicely dressed too..expensive clothes..fancy car..and hair slicked back like a London spiv...And so she appeared at the close end and walked slowly down the stairs to meet him....It was like a scene in the movies...She was like a film star....She was just the most gorgeous girl I ever saw.......But she obviously preferred him to me...I hated him instantly.....
I watched them drive away...she all wrapped up in some fluffy furry number and he all laughing loud and smoking his daft head off, as he drove off in his fancy vulgar vehicle......I was hoping he would get a puncture..that would put paid to his showing off......
I was not the only one to observe all this...I think every window was choked with peering faces.
But this was not the only Dundee Dandy to court her.....
There soon was a constant stream of fancy cars all come for the courting of the lovely Daughter...............
And the lurid stories were told and retold..and added, was the filth of likewise imaginations.....And Judgment was handed down from the Good Living folk on our street. Although nothing was ever proved that could tarnish the honour of the Daughter, the fact that she was a special beauty gave vent to their hateful and spiteful slander....
But the Daughter was made of stern stuff, and she managed to hold her head high and glide through the mire that pervaded in our street...

A few years passed.....and I entered Secondary school...and then passed into the realms of the Working Man....And my lyfe took a new road...and I left behind my parents and siblings and our street, to go seek a future elsewhere......

I never did see that lovely face again...

.............................................

Many years later, I was sitting on the porch of my nephews farmhouse, just north of Creston BC..I had spent the last three months working as a farmhand for them...They were my sister╣s boys and I had not seen them for many years, so we had lots of catching up to do....The next day being my day of rest, I had no work to do, so I had a few beers in me and was doing the old nostalgic bit with my sis...
We spoke of our Ma and our Da and all sorts of things that went on when we were a-growing...

The face of the Daughter loomed out of my past ...and I asked my Sis....  ▓Whatever happened to.....▓
My sister looked at me sadly and her eyes filled a bit with the tears of her memory.....

..........................

She told me the story............
The daughter remained as lovely as she always was...She may have met the man who was to be special in her lyfe......She looked happier than ever before....

On a night.. she was alone in the house and preparing for bed....She took her bath and combed her hair and dressed in her flimsy night gown and house coat and did the nails, and all the feminine things that women do......
She went into the front room for a last look at herself in the mirror above the fireplace......Every house in our street had coal fires....this one was no exception.....In the slight breeze caused by her movement....a tiny flame tickled the hem of her nightdress.....Within seconds...she was engulfed in flames .......

Nothing could save her.....God rest her lovely soul.......

.........................

When my sister finished telling me this ..I too was brimming with the hotness of tears............

I wondered if the Mother remained in that house, on that unfriendly old street of ours.........
I often wonder what the folk who made the judgments on the Two, felt like, after that terrible night......

Read other stories from Graham Donachie