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Graham Donachie's Stories
A Winter Tale


This is a Christmas Tale....and so for me... it has to be a sad one... for were this Christmas Tale not a sad one.....then I should never have known the feeling of being haunted by my deed ....the callous act.. which plagues the festive feeling...and causes me.. the pain of  sorrow and regret.........

A Melodrama for the Festive Season.........

Dedicated to Marjie Moore ......

Based on an idea by Me...........

Written with the thought of Marjie Moore in Gum boots in the Garden.....

Taken from an incident in the back yard of a garden in Dundee in 1975...

From a chance remark from Majie, the Œwellie bootedš ladye from Seattle...


The Tale O the Daft Gardener..........

The year of 1974 was a turning point in my life....My wyfe and I, with two young sons in tow, took possession of our first bought house.... Standing on the eastern boundary of Dundee.. in a small cozy cul-de-sac..where the Arbroath Road leaves the city limits...It was our first brush with ownership.... I had  avidly watched, in that Spring and Summer, the builders erecting the foundations.. the shell..the roof...and before the Dundee Trades holiday fortnight.....they completed....the building of my Castle.....

So as the womenfolk will do.. she planned the furnishings...the colour schemes...new furniture to be bought and the old to be sold.. where this would go and where that would not.....and my lads...each to their own room....their own bit oš privacy.... I thought on this....I never in my life..had a space to call my own.....

But tymes change...and the world was becoming smaller and the dreams of simple folk were enlarged...the horizons broader than ever known before ....

And so ..when wyfe and sons were inside....planning the inside plans.....

I gazed outside....at the bit oš land that surrounded my new abode......

And I saw.... through that summer haze... the way I would shape it...in what I would plant within it...and the bounty that would grace the next years harvest table.....the celebration of my earthly labours.....

So I bought myself some simple garden tools...

Thick with the clay soil my garden was.....So ...with Irish pick..I broke asunder the clods of that red pigmented soil....and adding bags of garden sand and a slight sprinkling of the lime......I broke the cloying mass....And the tons of the dark loamy topsoil.....and the mixing of the ancient peat from Angus bogs....and the honest shite of lowly cattle.......Sweating in Autumns rimy mire...I mixed the earthly sod..... Come November in eastern Scotland...the clear night shines wi' the starry sky and the cold twinkling of diamond points onto frosty earth..... And when the moon was full..and all were abed.......Would I go out into my small field....look up into the heavenly black..and call to the old ones of the fertile fields....to bless my offering.........

So the Winter came and clothed my humble bit with snow...And the freezing of the land , and the cold biting Easters from the sea, would come ripping in and all would be bare and barren....And the frost and ice would have their tyme to make sport with us mere mortals...

But as the circle of lyfe goes round.....The easing of the hard cold grip on the land..and the promise of Spring....and the rains ..but still the biting wynds..... The Œidesš came ..and the land stirred...and my first planted daffies poked their green noses from the soil...and I  laughed unto myself at this wonder....

In that faraway Springtyme....the yellow in my garden was first in the street...They grew around the stones I had harvested from the old forgotten farmyard which had  once been the site of our home.....I had struggled and dug them from the earth ...and raised them...to stand on end....Sandstone they were.........I have a thing about stones that  stand.....

But the back garden was in need of attention.... And so began my labour of love.....I went to the digging of it as a man possessed... Wiša sharp tined fork, for the depth and width o' the dig....the earth opened up to my coaxing, as it always had.. to its many lovers....And I  as a young strong lad.. responded to its promise...and the fun of the foreplay...and the serious ploughing and seeding of it...and the love tween man and land was consummated ..on that special Springtyme tyme.......

Like a love struck swain, I stood in the shivery darkness o' an April night ..and thought love thoughts.. to my dark  earthy mistress.........

But gardening is a logical pursuit...so Išm told...and I  was eager to look for..and purchase .. The Garden Shed....

And so I ordered a Kit..and the cedar load was delivered to my doorstep.... I never was a technical, or mechanical kind o lad...and the great mysteries of Allen keys as opposed to Phillips, as to the normal screwdriver.........Jesu !!..I was in a quandry....Lovemaking ..I know a thing or two.....
Erecting Garden sheds...is another matter...

But to give myself credit...I managed to ...fix the base....and erect the four walls....the north facing wall.. by moon-light....and ..with the  help of my stalwart son Graham..we put the roof on..but did not affix it.....That would wait until the morrow....

I well remember that Sunday....I opened the back door..and with toast in hand, looked upon my bit...Something in my  minds eye..told me ..all was not well..and that something was amiss...But the clarity of being wide awake, had not yet surfaced..and I was still all adreary with last nights dram...

And then the mist cleared from my eyes...and there before me.... The shed with no roof ??.....

The wynds of last night must have scampered away with it.....So I quickly dressed and with two eager boys laughing in tow...until I silenced them with a glare...we set out in search of the errant roof... Well...all along that old Arbroath road we went ...asked people all around this new estate.....No roof.....Across the road and into the farmers fields...along the banks o the Dichty Burn..in spate now ..and dangerous in the fastness o it...I  took the hands oš my lads in a vice grip  here...all manner of waste passed us ..the burn was a virtual sewer pipe...spewing itšs distaste into the River Tay...Many a body has been trapped in  this stretch....

But no roof....So it is now home for us..The boys charging ahead...Išm seething in my own stupidity...for not putting a few fastening nails into the supports.....How do I  order a new Roof ?? .... When I got home, climbing through the fence of my back garden.....I was met with three smiling.. knowing.......hearty laughter at my expense. Sniggers....Shouting comments from my lads..˛ Dadšs so mad hešll hit the roof˛... all the ha hašing ..whilst I stood apart and took their teasings......

The common sense..no nonsense...logical thinking wyfe says...Have a look in the shed Graham....and looking through the gaping hole where the door would eventually be.....An inverted shed roof !!.... OOps.....The wynd must have lifted the roof ..and just planked it..upside down...it sort of collapsed a
bit and settled into the body of the shed....I never bothered to look properly.......  Gales of laughter from my lads as I chased them in an effort to kick their arses, for getting one up on me......

So the roof was extricated from the shed with much difficulty. Then right side up..fastened to its rightful position...The door next...The window panes in...And the tools stacked..And the shelves put up....And I was ready to Go Forth and Garden .... The early tatties first...Row upon row , North to South mind you..equal sun they must have , for the best crop..  A few weeks later the Main crop.. Oh.. the varieties...Kerrs Pinks..King Edwards..Golden Wonders.... A man once said to me..Graham..A tattie is jist a tattie.....That man was a Cretin....

The rhubarb stools planted..they would not grow much in the first year.. Give another season.. they would grow tall and tart and the taste on the table...I just LOVE rhubarb.... The onions.....Ailsa Craig..need I say more...lovely sweet nippy buggers these...a guid greet would you have...before they were in the pot... Carrots...did not do well in my spot...too stony...In Carnoustie , they do very well...the loam is very sandy,and therefore they grow well...no stones in their passage of growth...They grow long and succulent.. Brussels sprouts...Oh miš gosh....Wee cabbages...boiled ...salted and peppery wi; a guid dab oš salted butter....mashed or unmashed.....The taste wad crawl roond miš heart like a hairy worm... And neeps.. for the compliment  oš the haggis..... And Cos lettuce....for the crispness oš a summer sandwich..wiš cheese and Branson pickle...On the far North hills ..my boys and I feasted on such snacks...

So on that first summer..when all us folks met, in this new cocoon of cul-de-sac friendship.. We tattled over niceties we did not feel ..and tittled over the scant bikini glances we occasionally were privy to, from over nice civilised cedar fences ........ And when all were abed..    in the morning hours just about daybreak tyme....I would go out in the back garden...and see my crops grow...With the majick scent of the earth pressed to my nostrils......and the snores of the unaware.. far away from this beauty... too elemental..to know the true loveliness of lyfe....

And the weeding of the crops...bare topped now..in the scant heat of an east coast sun..I would spread my legs wide apart...and shimmy down the tattie dreels..a-weedinš oot the weeds..And my nose..barely a foot distance from the earth..turning up the soil..and I ..a witness to the black-blue sunny beetles, wha rumbled in their panic...from the prongs o my tool....but they should noš fear the likes oš me...for they were in their journey across this earth...as I surely was..

And the grass did grow....And the shaping oš the clothes line area...And the area for the garage...And the play area... And where .......??   if there was an area left..??    ..would the new fangled barbecue go.... In the year of 1975...I asked...what's a barbecue..

And the path from.. Here, to There, to You .... And all the while...For my midnight prayers to the Pre Christ Gods..... Tall grew my crop...The land gave itšs succour..and I ..the son..worshipped in the wonder of it...

So the Summer hot heat, gave way to the cooling and the mild misty morns of the gentle Autumn Goddess......And the green bowed out, to the yellow and the reddening and the  ripening... of the awaiting Harvest Moon....

And so the days came , when the tatties had to be lifted and lots there was that harvest...I built special grading shelves for my crop....Top shelf...would go the largest for baking and boiling..next would be the perfect size for fritters and chips....then came the in-between for the roasting...and then next were the tenders for the boiling in skins.....and the last and bottom shelve.......would go the seed tatties for the next year......

Onions ..to be cried over these....lovely big fat succulent nippy juicy ones...eating raw..was my pleasure...with cheese...or the frying in the pan ...mountains of onions with liver and mashed potatoes...and the sweet taste of plump peas....

Neeps for the boiling and then the chappin and the adding of butter..with the seasoning of salt and pepper all mashed now...in the ashet and baked in the oven ..until a sliver of charred butter appeared on the surface.....and the taste...

Likewise ..the cabbage was dealt with in the same manner.... And so the bounty of my simple back garden played a big part in the growing of my two fine boys..........

But....a strange thing happened.....Something that I could never imagine....a simple stupid act..but something to be always remembered by us in years to come....

Twas the night before Christmas.......... And all around.. in our cozy wee house..things were a brimming with the promise of the next days celebrations....

I had the turkey already to be stuffed on the day, with my own secret ingredient, stuffing...I had made my world famous trifle....to die for....

Everything was in the final stages of preparation for the Lord's Birthday....

The Mass at Midnight was attended...and us four of a family, made our way home under a cloudless sky....with a big moon and the endless twinkling of stars....and footsteps crunching on the carpet of reflecting crispy cold frost...the boys running ahead in wrestling laughter..all slipping and jostling and smoky like winter breaths....

And so.. midst this swaddling blanket of love we arrived home...... The hot milk was drank and fruit pies went down a treat...and then we prepared for bed......but ..I had a last chore to do before tomorrow's
celebrations.... Tatties were needed for the dinner..and also some brussels sprouts...... The boys brought the flashlights..and we went into the back garden....In the steely cold of that night..I snapped the brussels from off the stalks.....You can leave brussels staked out in the cold frost nights....they deal with the freezing temperatures no bother.....It's just a natural way of refrigeration...... So the next thing was the tatties......

Under the light from the moon and the beams from  torches of two shivering boys..I opened the door of the shed.... The tatties were there.. dried and protected from the light and frost....So I would have a few of the boiling variety....and some for the roasting.....And the boys begged me to hurry....for their teeth were dancing in the cold night....

I looked at my choice of tattie.......something was amiss......I had noticed this on previous occasions.......I hoped it was not a blight of some sort...but there were lots of pitted holes of sorts on them....almost like tiny bite marks.....I showed them to the boys......No interest there.... So I selected a few more ..and then prepared to go.....when my foot collided with a small wooden box that lay in one corner of the floor.....Having the boys play their beams on the box.....It was filled with a mushy papery looking substance....Bending down...lifting it.......I felt the scampering within...and in an inst... knew the reason for my imperfect- skinned tatties.......

I felt a bit o' rage now ..and I carried the box to the shed step....Spilling the contents out.. brought the sounds of panicked squeakings to the  ear...and from the inside of that box...fell small, long tailed, father, mother and the brood of near naked.. tiny field rodents...The culprits of the spoiling of my tattie crop.....

I can still see them now...in their small tiny panic...in their haste to escape my anger.......

I looked up in satisfaction into the eyes of my boys....

Jonathan the Younger.....bonnie bonnie... in his blondness and his big blues popping and swelling with the brimming tears.... Graham the Elder.....the lovely dark of his serious eyes under the thick hood of  chestnut locks.... Both with the same brotherly look of silent horror.....at the deed of the father...

They looked from my eyes.... to the now empty box...each in his own thoughts.... The scene needed no words......

From my impulsive and cruel action.....I had become Herod....

Christmas Day came....the feast was celebrated...and Comfort and Joy was the order of the day....But on that feast weary night..when tucking my lads to bed...they both asked...........Why... had I thrown the family of  innocent creatures out into the cold freezing...for the spoiling of a few tatties ?

That incident has long gone......

In my eagerness for the reaping ...from the ever generous earth....I missed an obvious... simple rule....

I could never OWN the land....Quite the reverse...IT owned me..... I was only given...for a short number of years...the guardianship of a small stamp of an earth plot.....to seed and enjoy the results of the seeding...........and to share what I  reaped..with others.....and that included....the animals who shared my space.....

Išve since come to realise, that the same rule applies to everyone that Išve ever loved and enjoyed ...... especially..my two boys..... Who taught me ..on that cold December night.....with only the look of their innocent eyes into mine...... Everything .....I now hold so dear....


Read other stories from Graham Donachie