Granny didn’t attend Kilmacolm Parish Church regularly, but she always went to Communion. In the interval she would have visits from the Rev. Foster Franklin and her Communion Cards were delivered by her Elder some time before the day. She had a best dress which was black with white touches at the neck. Her coat was also black, as were her stockings and lace-up shoes. Both dress and coat were almost ankle-length. The hat Granny wore was black, a round crown with ribbon round it, black gloves, of course, and her walking umbrella. She was less than five feet tall and well-built. Her country life had made her strong and I doubt if she was acquainted with a doctor. I watched from the gate as she set off to the village one weekday when I was about five, wanting to go with her but not allowed. She would be in her mid-sixties then and thinking of her, and comparing the way my Mum dressed at that age, the change was amazing. When it was my turn, the contrast was even more startling. Old ladies are no longer bound by convention! Until I passed eighty I always classed myself as being in my late middle age.
Granny often was troubled by a painful knee, the result of an accident involving a threshing machine when she was a young woman, but she never let it keep her back. I used to wonder when I was young why she would say, ‘if only I could get a new leg’. Time and experience have enlightened me! With our Mum it was lumbago. Occasionally she would bend down and be unable to straighten up which always made her laugh, funnily enough.
Eventually, Granny gradually stopped letting the hens sit on eggs so no more fluffy wee chicks for us to drool over. The hens were getting older and all ended in the pot. The cockerel was given away and the lovely wee bantams disappeared too. However, once the hen hut had gone, Grandaddy dug the ground over and in the Spring Annabel and I planted seeds. Woolworth’s sold a Children’s Garden packet of seeds, which had a lot of wee packets inside. I remember forget-me-nots, marigolds, cosmos, night-scented stock, all the easy things to grow. One year, and Annabel remembers this, we planted a few sunflower seeds and they did very well. Eventually we had two or three lovely tall flowers which were our pride and joy. However, between one visit and the next the farmer put some cows out in the field and they reached in and ate our sunflowers. Annabel and I were both very annoyed! We loved the cows but we hated them that day. We stuck to low-growing plants after that.
We used to watch Granny make their bed if she happened to be changing it. She had a special walking stick made of very dark wood, with a knob on the end which was part of the tree it came from. It was highly polished. She wasn’t able to get to the side of the bed which was against the wall and the kist was at the end of the bed. She used the stick to smooth the sheets and blankets and top cover and it was amazing how tidy it all was in the end.
Annabel reminded me last week of the day the new linoleum was laid in the kitchen. The same three who put up the aerial were doing the laying. Uncle Bob said he would cut the shape for round the doors and fireplace. The fireplace was easy but when he got to the doors he cut it the wrong way, so instead of fitting around the door it was a mirror image. I have no recollection of it at all. Uncle Bob was a bit accident prone. Once when we were all at Auntie Kate’s house he sat where a chair had just been moved, fell back and hit his head on the cooker. He was alright but had a nasty bruise. Sad to say, everyone one laughed when he fell. Things always seemed to happen to him. One day he and Auntie Annie disappeared for a wee while and then they appeared in the garden, dressed in one another’s clothes. He mostly always wore plus fours. Dad was always ready to use his camera and there was a picture taken. They looked so funny and, although I think the grandparents were a bit scandalised, we all laughed. When Dad and Tom and Bob were together there was always fun; they were young and carefree then.
I can’t remember if I have said the Toll always had a black cat, always called Roguey. The last Roguey is in a photo of me when I was very young. He wasn’t a cuddly cat, being used to roaming the area and keeping the garden and house mouse-free. He never seemed to bother the chickens.
Sometimes the field grew corn, which had dangling ears on the stem. We would pick some of it and take it home. Meantime we had saved silver and coloured foil from sweeties and Easter Eggs. Each ear was wrapped in foil and looked lovely in a vase. I was amazed when John, my husband, said he remembered seeing some when he first came to our house after we started going out together. Annabel had probably done that lot. Another decoration was honesty. When the seeds are ripe, they are in a round, flat case about the size of the old penny, one on each side and a thin transparent skin between them. So at the right time of year Annabel and I and whoever else, went where we knew it grew wild. The outer cover had to be carefully peeled off and the honesty filled another vase for Mum. Autumn saw us roaming around to find a beech tree. Long twigs from it would be put in a pail with water and glycerine and gradually the leaves dried up and didn’t fall off. Spring was bluebell time and we’d bring Mum some even though we knew they wouldn’t last long! We were never bored for want of ideas.
There were times when I got cross with my Grandad! My doll, Belinda, was much-loved and in many photos I was cuddling her or she was in front of me on the tricycle, but only at the Toll. She lived there and was always waiting for me until one day she was missing. I had other dolls by then but I missed her. I never did find out where she went. However some years later, when I was in the third class at school, we were allowed to do sewing of our choice after the specimens of all sorts of stitching were completed. One choice was to dress a doll, for which I opted. I had a 12-inch doll, Jeanie, who needed a new outfit. First I made pants and petticoat. Then, from green felt, I made the dress and shoes. The dress had panels and stuck out nicely, and I embroidered little flowers and leaves all-round the skirt. It was lovely in my eyes. When the holiday started and we could take our projects home, I took it to show Granny. Grandad said Jeanie would keep his feet nice and warm. How green I was! Just before the holidays were over Jeanie flew the coop. This time I was really upset, having spent so much loving care on the clothes for her. My Grandad said another wee girl had liked Jeanie so much he was sure I wouldn’t mind if he gave it to her. The other wee girl was one of Uncle John’s grandchildren. I remember Mum consoling me and saying the child had probably made such a fuss that he had given it to her to quieten her. I never forgot but I did forgive.
I was probably ten when I was told a secret about Santa Claus by a school-mate and I asked Mum and she confirmed it. I wasn’t too bothered as we still had Annabel and the pillow cases still arrived. In 1939, lots of things were in short supply and cash was tight also. Mum asked if I would mind if I had fewer gifts to allow more for Annabel who was only six. I was thirteen, and quite sensible, and thought it was only fair. My main gift was a mascot doll dressed as a sailor. One of our cousins, Tommy Metcalfe, had joined the Navy so I called my mascot Tommy. I planned to have it sitting on my pillow keeping an eye on things. I said I was quite sensible but alas, not sensible enough to keep a firm clutch on Tommy. As usual we took our presents to show the grandparents and, incredibly, I ended up again leaving the doll to keep Grandaddy company! You would have thought I’d have had more sense but he could have charmed the birds off the trees. It was Belinda and Jeanie all over again. Another wee girl had just loved the sailor, he said, so I said it was my special Christmas present and it was mine. He had always called me his wee tulip, too, so how could he do it? Mum told me when we got home that she was sad about it, gave me a cuddle and said it was just the way he was, acting without thinking of the consequences. I think Mum must have told him off, because Annabel never lost any of her toys. Anyway, in spite of these disappointments I still loved him and Granny and was always happy to be at the Toll. My regret in later years was that I never told them that I loved them but I think they must have known.