Our last night with Joy in Birkie.
We slept late this morning. I didn’t get up until half
past eight – the sun was shining, beautiful white clouds in the sky and a
nice wind, not a breeze – a wind – blowing. From my bedroom window I could
see all the way over to Auchterhouse. I wondered in which direction lay
the dragon stone at Baldragon.
When I woke the girls up, Joy and I talked about our
plans for today’s adventures. Our thoughts were to finalize our travel
arrangements with Steve Mackie of Rowan Executive Travel in Auchterhouse
for the funeral transport and the family touring then the Girls Road Trip
fun and games, do a load or two of wash, and then see where the day, and
our feet led us.
Joy had made us another lovely breakfast. This time
there were lovely brown boiled eggs in their cups at our places. I thought
nothing of letting an old habit take over and, after tapping the egg on
the top – (Why do we do that? Reminds me of the American joke of the bride
cutting and discarding the end of her hams before putting them in the over
and telling her husband she did nit because her mother did and when he
asked his mother-in-law why she cut the ends of her hams and discarded
them the answer was "because my oven’s too small!.") – so, after tapping I
set to, enjoying my lovely morning egg. However, when I glanced over at 11
year old Xylia, there she was, struggling to peel her medium soft egg
while politely endeavouring to keep it steady in its eggcup!
Another cultural encounter regarding Scottish meals
took place as we laughed and showed her why egg cups were invented.
Steve Mackie, the owner of Rowan Travel (The Rowans,
Bonnyton Road, Auchterhouse, Dundee) came over from Auchterhouse shortly
after breakfast and we laughed about the travails of my pending travels
through Scotland. I’ve been organizing this trip since my mother died in
October so we could take care of bringing her home to Dundee honorably and
so I could show her grandchildren and great grandchildren the Dundee and
Scotland I know she would have wished them to see and learn to love. Steve
said almost 6 months of emails have narrowed my fantasy into a fairly
manageable reality. And I happily pointed out that almost every landmark
and memory of my mother, my granny, and me is just about recreated in our
itinerary for the family tour and the Girls Road Trip when my dear friends
join me when the family leaves. He just gave a little "We’ll see" smile.
I can’t praise Steve enough for the kindness and
patience has shown me from my first contact with him. When I asked him for
the charge for the transport to my mum’s graveside service then back for a
meal he told me it was "on the house." There goes a gem and a gentleman.
We’d pretty well killed the morning by this time, so we
decided to each some lunch before getting on our way.
My mother’s death notice was in the Courier, just as I
had dictated it yesterday. Nicely written, even though I do say so myself,
honoring her as Victor’s (my brother) and my mother, grandmother of nine,
and a loving great grandmother. The notice states the time and date of
graveside services at the Eastern Cemetery’s McIntosh family lair and
welcomes all who wish to join charlotte Alvoet Bleh and family from the
United States. It doesn’t matter if anyone reads this or joins us – what
matters is my mother’s life was recorded in her home town and her home
town newspaper as someone worthy of recognition/
Today became our Hilltown day. We started at Joy’s
mum’s house to say hello again and to park Joy’s car. Naturally, we were
offered something to eat. We declined that, but I did ask her a favour.
Joy and I had talked about our old memories of washday when we were doing
the laundry in her "all mod cons" kitchen and this morning – we laughed
and chuckled about helping our grannies in our tenement wash houses, "bilin'’
the claes" and pounding them down with the long pole when we were old
enough, scrubbing shirt collars on the washboards until then, and finally
graduating to being old enough to use the "mangles" or wringers on both
soapy and rinsed clothes and linens. We both remembered hanging the
laundry up on the drying green lines and propping them high up with the
greeny pole, or pinning them to the pulley lines strung from our houses to
other tenements across from our "pletty." Joy was shocked to the core when
we were hanging out our laundry this morning to learn that I didn’t hang
my laundry out to dry in America. "With all that sunshine in Arizona," she
exclaimed, "you mean to say you stick it in the tumble dry?" Thank
goodness our friendship is strong enough for her to be able to handle my
We’d also remembered together many rainy days when the
elements made a washing day simply that with the rain and damp or the
frost being too much to be able to dry the clothes so laboriously taken
care of in the washhouse or the "steamie" in Caldrum Street.
That was when we would use the "horse". While we were
at Joy’s mum’s I asked her to show my girls the "horse she kept in her
kitchen." And so Mrs. Alexander kindly gave the girls a little more
insight on how not too very far back wet laundry was taken care of in a
tenement house by hanging it up on a three barred and roped clothes line,
pulleyed up and down from the ceiling. And if I remember right, it was a
sign of a good housewife to be able to balance your drying so none of it
fell off during the ups and downs of washday.
Mrs. Alexander became my road map today, giving us
directions on how to get to locations and streets I had forgotten so I
could show the girls where our "folk" and their ancestors back to 1830 or
so had been born, married, lived and died in the Hilltown. We were able to
find either address or where the sites had been that were recorded on the
registration notices, parish records, and censuses I have found for our
family history – Hill Street, of course; Hilltown addresses at 37
Bucklemaker Wynd in 1864, 29 Hospital Park in 1874, St Mary’s Terrace in
1864, 177 Hilltown in 1875, Mains Road in 1864, Clepington Parish Church
in 1892, 41 Watson’s Lane in 1875, 171 Hilltown in 1871, 18 North Church
Street in 1890, 68 James Street in 1881, St Salvador’s Church in
Wellington Street in 1892, 7 Main Street in 1892.
These two girls wee so game and cheery and cooperative
as we explored the Hilltown finding these addresses and discovering how
closely the McIntosh family, the Beats, and the Edwards had lived together
through their lives. The thought my picture taking might have been more
eccentric than eclectic – the beautiful façade of St Salvador’s Church,
the entrance to a close, an old tenement pletty without a washing line, a
green space that was once the Caldrum Street washhouse and baths, a chip
shop on the Hilltown, a corner where the Plaza cinema once stood and a
local worthy sold penny bags of whelks to the crowds of Hilltown folk
going "doon the toon" to the shops, and what were once the Wellgate steps
from what I think was a location near the site of Norrie’s Pend.
Our adventure, a walking tour of "meh Dundee" extended
up the Nethergate by way of the Murraygate, through what once was
Keiller’s factory where my granny was a chocolate packer, into the Dundee
Museum (still fronted by statues of Rabbie Burns and Queen Victoria, but
with the contents of the reference library and main library now moved to
other locales) and through the Howff back down to the Overgate.
I was thrilled to see Adriana pull out her camera in
the Howff to take photographs for a school project – the family history
bug is taking root – and especially delighted when Xylia called, "Granma,
come see this" and she excitedly showed me the headstone of John Chalmers,
developer of the adhesive postage stamp.
Heading through modern life, the girls preferred to see
the back view of the City churches and the Old Steeple from the glass
front of the Overgate shopping center. "I’m not going out there," said
Adriana. "My nose is frozen!"
So, I walked with them and who should come down the
shops towards us but a lovely redheaded teenager wearing the uniform of my
old school, Harris Academy. You’re from the Harris, aren’t you?" I asked.
"Yes," she cautiously replied. "I left there almost 40 years ago, and
moved to America," I explained. "Can I take your picture?" This sweet
young this is probably still bemused at why this strange woman was so
excited to see an ordinary schoolgirl heading from. But she had been to me
another memory revived.
She didn’t know she was the second person on my "take
your picture" request today. When we were in the Murraygate, I had told
the girls how said I was that the paper men were gone. I remembered on
Sunday mornings running to the bank on the corner on the Hilltown, where,
on cold or wintry rainy days the paper man would huddle to sell his
papers, held steady from the wind by a rock. Now they had little booths in
the Murraygate and no longer called out the headlines or the Telegraph’s
name, "Tulleeeeeee!! Get yer Tully heeeeere!" from street corners. Today,
standing outside the Courier building near the Post Office, a paper man
was selling papers and he had kindly allowed me to take his photo to add
to my memories.
I didn’t tell you I had strayed away from Joy and the
girls into the Dundee Museum and they had to come looking for me,
wondering if I had lost myself. But I knew exactly where I was, thank you
very much. So they had to try to guess where I might be and they did pick
the correct, logical place – something or somewhere to do with history and
memories. Upon finding me, and threatening to find a nice, long, leash for
me, Adriana told me she had seen a paper man like the ones I had
described. She said he was "up by the Post Office." I hurried in that
direction and fund under the shelter of the Courier Building, sure enough,
a "Tully" paper man, and he was the gentleman kind enough to let me
remember my memories.
So, through the Howff and up the Nethergate we went,
passing the Church of the Spirit which prompted me to tell more stories to
the girls about my mum and I going to "spookies' meetings," singing "The
Old Wooden Cross," "Count Your Blessings," "Jerusalem," etc., to prompt
the mediums and their spirit guides to connect, getting messages from "the
other side" sometimes, and having a "nice cup of tea" after all was said
and done, with lots of condensed milk and sugar. And all this before I was
thirteen years old.
I dragged them up past Green’s the picture house where
they had had the "chummy" seats and the infamous balconies in my Harris
Days – but Adriana doesn’t need to know about that! I told them that
Louis’ shop in Rosebank Street was my favourite chipper, but that the Deep
Sea was all right, and led reluctant followers up South Tay Street to
stand in front of the Palais de Dance (now offices) and to take a picture
of the front door and doorbell of a solicitor’s office that had been the
surgery of our family doctor from at least the 1930’s until after I left
Scotland, Dr. Elizabeth MacVicar. I still remember this great woman – she
took care of me from my birth until my 18th year when she gave
me my smallpox to be able to get in to America; I remember her wearing
tweed suits and heavy brown golf type shoes and how they clicked so loudly
on her tile as she walked from waiting room to surgery. And she had the
same housekeeper who always answered the door when we went to see the
doctor – I think this woman was mute; she always had a pleasant smile, but
never said a word. Dr. MacVicar had to be beyond her 60’s when I left
Scotland. I wish I had understood then what a pioneer she must have been
as a woman physician in those days. And, writing this, I realize that I
had so many Dundee women as heroes – Dr. MacVicar, Miss Angus who was my
elocution teacher, and Mary Slessor, the Dundee missionary whose stained
glass windows can still be seen in the Dundee Museum.
Moving up South Tay Street, Joy and I showed the girls
where the PDSA surgery was and we remembered together collecting aluminium
foil, bottle caps, cereal bags, sweetie and chocolate wrappers to donate
to help meet the costs of caring for sick animals for people like me whose
funds were limited. I forgot to tell them, as part of this story moment,
that the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and other
acts of Parliament on animal behalf were organized and passed before
similar acts were protecting children – I’ll bet Nan would have found that
We next went down to where the Queen’s Hotel still
stands in the Nethergate near South Tay Street, and where the Palace
Theater was where my Granny worked in the box office and I played among
the cleaners and chorus girls, but is no longer there. I took a picture of
the Queen’s and enjoyed a memory of those long gone whom my Granny knew as
friends in her autograph book – Harry Lauder, Will Fyffe, Flora Robson,
Alec Munro, Johnny Beattie, Lex McLean, Dennis Clancy, Sophie Tucker and
others. My mother donated this album twenty years or so ago to Brigham
Young University. We thought the archives department would honor this as a
valuable piece of history and would keep it safe, but when I recently
called BYU to request copies of some of the entries I was distressed when
the librarian told me, "Oh, yes, we have the receipt for your donation,
but we have no idea where the book is."
I hope they find it some day, and let me know.
By now it was time to head back up the Hilltown to
retrieve Joy’s car. Joy and I learned we had both had our hair done on our
wedding days at what was then Aileen’s, next to the Green’s now the Mecca.
We made Adriana take our picture together in front of the pizza shop that
now stands there.
There are so many shops still standing and open for
business round and near Dundee’s gates, ports, the City Churches and the
Mercat Cross – Sutherlands, Goodfellow and Stevens, Braithwaites, Gows,
among many. Many Dundonians had told me I’d see a lot of changes in
Dundee, but instead, I saw a lot of what is still there and will hopefully
We ended our day in Dundee riding the Number 22 back up
the Hilltown, and then driving to Joy’s home via Loons Road and Lochee.
The girls can now recognize the Law and Cox’s Stack – they’re almost
Dundonians, I think. Adriana said she finds herself wanting to say "Mum"
instead of calling me "Mom. I’d like that if she would. And she told me
she likes the "wee" shops on the Hilltown and in the Wellgate and
Nethergate more than in the new mall shopping centers. The girl has a
sense of history.
Joy had made reservations for a meal at 5:30 at the
Birkie Inn and we made it right on time. I was delighted to learn they
were serving "High Tea" and it was not yet the dinner hour. Xylia was very
happy to have the opportunity of enjoying "tea the meal" and did amazing
justice to her toast, her salad, her Scottish steak and chips, and simply
cleaned up with her scone and her cream puff. What a little trouper to so
wholeheartedly become a Dundee lass in so many ways in such a short time.
But maybe hiking with her granny all day long had an
impact on her appetite.
Both girls enjoyed their day. As UI walked behind them
on our way home from "doon the toon" I noticed them 18 year old and her 11
year old niece, holding hands and linking arms like I used to with my
girlfriends, like Joy, going home or off to town on the Hilltown streets.
I told the girls it made me happy to see them so fully being loving to one
another. "Oh, it’s not just that, Mum," said Nan. "We’re also freezing!"
And it wasn’t cold today at all.
This lovely day ended with a word from Xylia to Joy and
me when she went off to bed. "Thank you, Joy, for a great day," she said,
"Granma, I love you." With a kiss to us both she was gone.
I’m sure my mother was pleased.