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Charlotte's Stories
Edinburgh Remembered


Edinburgh has been my favourite city all my life.

Growing up in Scotland shortly after the end of World War II, I was proud to be born in Dundee, enjoying its fame for "jute, jam, and journalism." This was my hometown. Busy, bustling Glasgow with its shops and air of activity was my mother’s favourite city to visit because, as she said, "the country wasn’t for her." Aberdeen was another day trip for us, where my mother and I would visit the grounds of Heriot’s school for boys and admire this granite city as a center for education and independent thought.

But Edinburgh I loved.

Every year my mother would take me on a day excursion, over the Tay Bridge in the train across Fife and then into Waverly Station by way of Scotland’s other rail bridge over the Forth. I remember wandering through the shops in Princes Street, my mother not spending money on fancy stuff like the tourists were, but purchasing biscuits at Huntley and Palmer’s bakery for the lunch we’d have later near the penguin enclosure at the Zoo. We admired the beauty of the Floral Clock in the Gardens below Scott’s monument, and then we’d climb the brae up to the Castle to annually gaze upon Scotland’s regalia of Crown Jewels, scepter, sword and orb, my mother telling me "They’re far bonnier than the ones in England." Then we’d peer into Queen Margaret’s Chapel before I would be off – climbing over the craggy battlements around the Castle and onto the cannons that once protected the city but were now remembered by the boom of the one o’clock gun, still marking time for the citizens in the streets below.

Our afternoon adventure would have us exploring the Royal Mile. We’d walk past St. Giles’ Cathedral, where my mother would repeat to me my Granny’s story of Jenny Geddes throwing her stool at the minister and shouting, "Wha’ daur preach papism in my lug?" We’d think of the imprisoned and the executed where the Old Tolbooth once stood, and I would imagine the reformist passion and cold Calvinistic determination of John Knox as we stood at the stairs leading up to his house. It was a rare treat when, on our way down the cobbled street to Holyrood House, my mother could pay the admission fee into the Museum of Childhood and I could pretend I was playing with the toys and games that once had belonged to other bairns.

Near Holyrood we’d step into a pub close to where Lord Darnley was murdered and, as part of our lunch time, my mother would ask the publican to show me "Darnley’s Waistcoat." Every year, I would look forward to being absorbed by the tale’s retelling as this man would take my mother and me into the private quarters of his pub and show us, framed in glass, this wastrel’s gold threaded waistcoat, reminding me that it was part of the clothing found neatly folded on the ground in Kirk o’ Fields on the night the fiasco of the plot against the Queen’s cousin-husband unfolded. I believe him then and am still convinced that this was a historic artifact.

When I took three of my children to Edinburgh almost thirty years ago I was disappointed not to be able to find that pub near Holyrood House. Perhaps when I return to Edinburgh with them again, if that pub is still in existence, I will be able to find it and the wee Scots lass who still lives within me will once again go back in time to those Royal Stewart days.

My trips with my mother always included a bus ride to Greyfriar’s Bobby’s monument, across the street from the old kirk yard and cemetery of Edinburgh’s grey friars. How I loved the true story of that little dog. We had our own faithful Bobbie in the United States for fourteen years until her worn out body could no longer carry her welcoming heart to greet my little daughter Elisabeth when she unlocked our front door at the end of her day at school. It was a sadly merciful act to send Bobbie home to God. Today, it’s no cliché when I describe my Skye Terrier, Angus, as my "lad." His world seems to be complete simply to have me in his presence, preferably as nearby as possible, close enough to pet and talk to. He keeps me within his eyesight and earshot every moment I am home. It’s a sad thing to me that every individual capable of meeting the obligations required to care for an animal cannot be blessed with such love and devotion as this "heavenly breed" brings to our homes, families, and lives.

I hope I never forget these annual day trips to Edinburgh with my mother. Soon, this coming Spring, I will be going home for a little while to visit Scotland, first with members of my family and later to be joined by some very dear women friends. My mind turns to that far too long ago visit to Scotland with my children and their day trip to Edinburgh. My grandmother dearly loved my husband, John, perhaps because he, like her husband, was a serving Navy man who had met his bride in Dundee. Sadly, John was unable to come with me when my mother asked us to bring the children back to our home in Symers Street, to meet their great grandmother so she could enjoy their company and perhaps build some memories while her health and memory still permitted. I know my mother was disappointed during that visit when I took six year old Johnny, five year old Tina, and nine month old Stephanie on our day excursion on the train down to Edinburgh without her. I don’t think she understood my great need to have my children follow me as I had followed the footsteps my mother trod in front of me during my childhood.

I spent that day, with my children as my mother had with me, hoping to instil in them a little of the love of the town and her representation of Scotland’s history and heritage. Now, thirty years later, as part of our family’s remembrance and acknowledgement of my mother’s life and love of Scotland, the adult Tina and Stephanie will have another gift from their Grandmother in a return trip to Scotland when they can pass on to their children a memorable day in the Edinburgh my mother gave to me.

For Caroline Bett Thomas (McIntosh) Alvoet
Scotland, 1917-2003


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