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Charlotte Juarez's Going Home
Monday, March 10


Monday, March 10, 2003

Oh, my, what a day.

I have so many thoughts and impressions, but the most important is, Dundee hasn’t changed in the last 37 years, no matter that it has a new road bridge, motorways, roundabouts and "flyovers."

The Caird Hall still imposes over the City Square although the Overgate is a modern shopping center and no longer a dark walkway up towards the barra boys were; Marks and Spencers and Etam still stand in the same spots in the Murraygate, with the alley of Peter Street leading a shortcut way down to the Seagate; the Alexander’s Bluebird bus station is still a terminus, although for privatized city transit; the Wishart Arch commemorating George Wishart preaching during the plague of 1544 is still in one piece up in the Cowgate, but easier to find; Admiral Adam Duncan now has a statue, but it’s near the "house in the Seagate" where my granny’s granny was told by her granny (Jean Duncan Benvie Morrison) about "going to visit Old Uncle Adam, the sea captain, who had a house in the Seagate"; William Wallace’s schooldays and "striking the first blow for Scottish independence" is now memorialized by a plaque I never saw in my childhood, but I remember my granny telling me what happened at that spot and it’s not too far from the building, still standing in Commercial Street, where I worked as a secretary at Beveridge Travel helping arrange travel for jute industry managers to India, Pakistan and Singapore before I married my US serviceman and moved to America.

Joy and I took our girls all over downtown Dundee, discovering for ourselves and pointing out to the girls remaining landmarks and the few places that were no longer there, and every landmark had a story we could tell.

We stopped in the Post Office where my Granny, the girls’ great and great grandmother, would take me on special Mondays (special because my granny would take me out of school to spend a day together) to get her pension then we would walk around the Wellgate and the Nethergate and the High Street to get her messages – groceries not telephone calls – and sometimes even take a run in the bus out to the Ferry.

Joy and I got caught in a Dundee cloudburst downpour as we crossed the Nethergate to get to Fisher and Donaldson to buy the same sweet treats my mother and granny would buy for me – cream puffs of light pastry filled with fresh dairy cream, shortbread, marzipan fruits, slices of wedding cake with that solid white icing over marzipan topped dark, rich fruitcake, Belgian biscuits and other delights. Wallace’s Pie Shop still show pies and bridies, onion and plain in their window, and the pies are plain or covered with tatties and beans if that is your fancy; Dudhope Castle still stands, although the DRI (Dundee Royal Infirmary is being converted into luxury "flats" – what we used to call "houses" in our tenement lined street. View of the Tay and Law are everywhere – and the walk up the Conshie Brae is still taxing. The Stobbie ponds, Joy tells me, still have fish in them although the nearby Morgan Academy is being restored following a devastating fire and the students are being housed at the Rockie annexe. Clepington Road still leads to Old Glamis Road, where I used to go to Church, and down to the Kingsway where daffodils still bloom. The sycamores and chestnut trees still stand in tall stately lines in Camperdown Park, but the Cressy (keeping the seafaring line of thought) is now known as the Unicorn and she has a companion in Scott’s research ship, Discovery. The Dock Street bus station is still in operation, the clock is still telling time on the wall of David Winter and Son’s publishing house, and I heard a Dundee mother tell her son in the Tesco supermarket, "John, eh want a Tully. Go get’s ane." I heard Lochee people say "youse" once more as a plural for "you"’ the tram lines were restored to the Murraygate, waiting completion of a plan for a tourist experience, and some of the Wellgate steps still standing, although Kidds there was torn down for the new shopping center – but the McGill’s building round the corner in Victoria Road still stands.

This is still "meh Dundee."

And that’s what I told the girls – this is where DMBrown’s stood where their great granny and great granny respectively worked in the basement as a clerk, emptying and filling tubes of cash with change and receipts and sending them up to the salesfloor; here’s where Smith’s was that once had a great fire and my mum took me shopping at the fire sale and the place still smelled of smoke and fire extinguishing water; this is where GL Wilson’s stood and I always wanted my mum to buy underwear for me, a "liberty bodice" for winter perhaps, so I could ride the rocking horse in the children’s department and pretend I was a cowgirl in America; here’s where I bought my wedding dress and let’s walk in here under the well known boy meeting girl clock into H. Samuel’s where John bought our wedding rings; here’s where the Hub was where you could buy your newspaper, or a Judy, or a Bunty, or a Mandy, or a Beano, or a Dandy, or a People’s Friend, or a Scots Magazine or any other DC Thompson publication – and, look, there’s Desperate Dan and Minnie the Minx string down the street in front of us. And up the road is where the Palace Theater was and I went to work with my granny in the Box Office and was allowed to go in the back and onto the stage as a bairn to dance with the chorus girls, or listen to Dennis Clancy sing, or even help the cleaning ladies scrub the floors where the audience sat.

I knew Dundee hadn’t changed as much as I had feared when my daughter said to me, "Mom, I can tell you’re really happy." I knew I hadn’t changed when someone beeped at Joy as she was parking her cards and words I hadn’t uttered in years flowed out of my previously Americanized mouth, "Ach, the same to you wi’ knobs on!"

Today was a day for laughing, crying, reminiscing and having the joy of knowing I have two generations behind me who will never forget this day in Dundee.

We began by finalizing burial arrangements for my mother and being so very kindly treated by Kathie and the staff of Dundee City Parks and Leisure department. I wondered if, as the day progressed and I showed Adriana and Xylem the Dundee my mother took me around – Ward Road Children’s Library where I won a first prize book in 1956 for writing an essay about "My Favourite Character in Books" which is still in perfect condition and I’ve given to Stephanie, another of my daughters; West Bell Street where I attended Miss Cita Angus elocution classes in the Dundee School of Music on a reduced rate because Miss Angus believed in me and my mother couldn’t afford the regular price of private lessons; the bank on the High Street, close to Caird Hall where my mum would collect the twice yearly Morgan Trust bursary which helped buy me school clothes to keep at the Harris for two more years into fourth and fifth years; Victoria Road where my mum sent me for private shorthand lessons so I could leave school with 120 wpm shorthand skills and get a good job at the North of Scotland Hydro Electric Board, where the Lord Provost Mr. McManus also worked – the same provost who has the Museum and Art Galleries named after him.

I wondered if I wasn’t feeling my mum’s presence with us, enjoying herself as much as I was and I gave a passing thought to maybe it might not have been a bad idea to pack her little casket into my back pack and take her around us with today like the characters in the Michael Caine, Bob Hoskins, Terence Stamp movie I just watched called "Last Orders." But then I realized that wasn’t necessary, because my mum was truly with us in her spirit.

I work in the health care industry and have experience with hospice patients. We talk about dying a "good death." If today is anything to judge by with the happiness and memories of life with my mother that we had – my daughter and her niece laughing and enjoying an adventure together and my friend from dear days past in primary school and I linking arms and running through the rain – then my mother did have such a "good death."

The Caird Hall, City Square, Dundee
The Caird Hall, City Square, Dundee


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