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A Dundee Lass
Our Family History

Royal Infirmary, Dundee

I’ve used the Dundee Royal Infirmary and the Howff as illustrations for this section, along with an old favorite nursery rhyme of mine, because they seem to represent the span of life in Dundee.

Solomon Grundy was
Born on a Monday,
Christened on Tuesday,
Married on Wednesday.
Took ill on Thursday,
Worse on Friday.
Died on Saturday,
Buried on Sunday.
And that was the end
Of Solomon Grundy!

I doubt if anybody in our family other than my brother was born at the DRI, but I remember going there on three occasions. One was as a little girl, maybe about 9 or so, when I had tonsillitis. I was so excited because Dr. Elizabeth McVicar, who’d been our family doctor since before I was born and had her "surgery" in Tay Street, had sent me over for an assessment to have my tonsils pulled. I was so excited because I knew this meant as much ice cream and jelly as I wanted to eat. Now, you need to understand that ice cream and jelly (not jam, but "jello") was a real treat for children like me because we had no refrigerators in our homes. I could hardly wait! I remember my mother taking me to the hospital. I remember my happy skips and hops as we rode the bus down there. And I also remember my wails of anguish when the doctor decided I no longer had tonsillitis and no need for an operation. I never got my loads and loads of ice cream and jelly. And I still have my tonsils!

Another trip was to get my head bandaged, just like a wounded soldier, round my face, chin to crown. My mother and Granny had some serious fights all through my growing up years. I remember a couple of occasions when I was young and my mother packed up my brother and me, put our belongings in my old pram, and we moved into "lodgings" for a while. But those never lasted very long, and pretty soon we'd be back at Hill Street. I think I must have been about five on this particular occasion. We were in lodgings: I don't remember much about inside the house except that it only seemed to have a few rooms, but I do remember the "back green." My brother and I were out playing in the backies with a couple of other kids. Someone had taken some corrugated iron, like you sometimes see on shed roofs, and leaned it against some bricks to make a kind of a slide. And, there we were, sliding up and down. I had my turn, and my brother wanted to slide an old heavy flat iron down it and he told me to move. I could be contrary as a little girl - some of my friends might say I haven't changed too much in 50 years or so - and I told him I wasn't going to. My brother again told me to move or he'd slide the iron down on me. I said I wasn't going to. And so he did slide the iron down on me. Right on to my head. I remember blood pouring down my face. I don't remember how we got to DRI, or how quickly we got there, but I do remember getting bandaged up as I said, chin to crown. I remember liking the dramatic effect of the bandage but not liking it being around my chin because I couldn't open my mouth very far to talk. Would it surprise you to know that shortly after that we were back living with my Granny in Hill Street?

The last trip I remember to the DRI was when, as a young teenage girl, a few of us were coming home from Church - the young folks meeting was called Mutual Improvement Association then - and we were playing hide and seek in the tenement closes on the way home. Can you imagine, teenagers and still acting like children and having fun! I can picture Xochitl and Adriana doing something like this. Anyhow, I ran up this lovely dark close, planning to scare my friends - it was probably Mary Snee, Pam Fiskin, or Kathleen Roy. But I tripped at the end of the close, in the dark, remember. After I limped home, my granny told my mother to take me to the DRI. Sure enough, not broken, but a sprain bad enough to warrant a ride home in the ambulance afterwards. But it still didn’t make up for the ice cream I never got!

As far as the Howff is concerned, I believe we have family members buried there. I had my wedding reception lunch in the Breadalbane Arms across the street. I wish now I’d spent some time at the Howff, looking up names, but this may be something I might be able to do still, thanks to genealogy resources on the Internet. The Howff is one of the oldest cemeteries in Dundee, with a history dating from when Mary, Queen of Scots gave it to Dundee in 1564 from land of the Greyfriars Monastery which was founded by John Balliol’s mother. The Howff was closed for burials in 1857 and is the last resting place of many famous Dundonians, including the last man buried there, a George Duncan who was the town’s MP from 1841-1867.

I remember in the early 1960’s when the cemetery to the North of the Howff, known as the "New Howff" was ploughed up and turned into a car park. The bodies were removed and placed in mass burials somewhere else in Dundee. My granny was really upset at that, because we had "people" there. But I suppose that’s progress when the dead make way for the living. And as I write this, I realize more and more how much "alive" those ancestors were to my Granny, and I feel fortunate that she made them also "alive" and real to me. As a genealogist I certainly hope my children and their children keep some space in their lives and memories for the dead.

As part of our search for ancestors, I must look up the City Archives and try to find out the burial listings, not only for the Howff, but for the Eastern Cemetery and the Mains Cemetery. My Uncle Eric, who died when he was a young boy of a kind of a polio related muscular disease, was buried in the Eastern Cemetery on his sixteenth birthday, a few days after his death. I remember my mother taking

me out there regularly to lay flowers on his grave. It seems such a long way away from Hill Street. I remember my mother telling me there were others in that grave, but I can't remember who they were. I know we’ve also got some people in the Mains Cemetery - and I need to find were that is. My granny had a photograph of Jessie Hacket Beat McIntosh's headstone with family names on it. Somewhere, somehow, that photo was lost, but at least I kept my notes.

And as I talk of memories fading, photos lost, and cemeteries concreted over and turned into parking lots, I hope you, my children and my readers, understand that this and the other books I’m trying to write for you is to keep our family history alive and a part of us in some kind of contact with each other down through the generations of time.

I wonder which child of a child will find, or even read, this volume after my death - which is, hopefully, many years away - and wonder who this woman Charlotte Marie Alvoet was. If you do, maybe you’ll find me within these pages. Who knows, maybe I’m looking over your shoulder as you read this and trying to touch your spirit to understand that although I will probably never know you in this life I do love you and want all good things to come your way.

Did you know that "howff" also means "dump"? – Scary thought, eh?
"Midden" is a kind of dump, too – but that’s not to mean that a
funeral procession is the same as the "hens mad march to the midden."
And if, by all of this, you are totally confused, find a Scot to explain the above to you.



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