This post was already in preparation when my Dad, Chris’s beloved husband, died unexpectedly. We’re publishing it now in memory of John Mitchell, 03/07/1929 – 31/05/2015.
I missed my bicycle when we moved to Greenock. We lived on the second floor and, as Mum pointed out, it was impractical to carry it up and down and there was not much room in the hall for it. So Dad sold it to a workmate for what he’d paid for it. I was quite indignant as it was as good as new and cycles were like gold dust, very scarce! I had cleaned it every week. However, nobody else seemed to have a bike so I got over it.
I was part of the RFA Circle (Ready for Anything), as the youth club was called, and now had all the names in my head. Among them was Annie Mitchell who was training to be a nurse. Her brother, John, was Missionary Secretary at Roxburgh Street Church and had sat beside me at the committee once. He was a nice boy, like all the others, and was just over two years younger than me. He was friends with Sheina and Lily and walked with them when the young folk from the youth club went out for walks after Church on Sunday evenings. Favourites were over the Lyle Hill (on top of which is the Free French Memorial) to Gourock then home via the Esplanade, or the Cut which was an uphill walk into the country behind Greenock, just right for a summer evening. We were an energetic lot and had a lot of fun.
On an evening in late 1949 the youth club ended with musical games, some with kissing involved. For the final game we were all in a large circle, boys and girls alternately. Girls had even numbers, boys had uneven numbers and a volunteer went into the middle and called out a number when the music stopped. The last call for the game was John Mitchell and he called the number which was mine. Other kisses had been humdrum but this one left me quite dazed and confused. It was love at first kiss! I looked at John Mitchell with new eyes and told Sheina and Lily that if he didn’t marry me I’d never marry at all. We started ‘walking out’, getting to know one another, and before long we knew we had a lifetime commitment.
John was an apprentice engineer. He had also qualified as a Local Preacher and was a candidate for the Methodist Ministry. He got through all the tests and interviews, and was accepted. By this stage, I knew that our courtship would be a long one as Probationer Ministers were not allowed to marry until after Ordination. He was to train at Wesley College in Headingly, Leeds. There was a joint Valedictory Service for him and Olive Osborn who was going to Nigeria to teach in a Methodist School there. Many years later, one of her students stayed with us for a year in Sunderland. John left home in September 1950 to spend three years in Leeds. We looked forward to the vacations and wrote several letters every week. There were a lot of letters kept but eventually, on one of our moves to a new Circuit, we decided to burn them all.
When college was over, we hoped John would get a Probationer’s appointment in Scotland. He did, but it was as far away as Leeds and an even longer journey. He became Minister at Findochty with charge of Cullen, both fishing villages on the Moray Firth. It’s still a lovely unspoilt area and we enjoyed several great holidays there after we retired. So now we only met when he came south for Synod or some other meeting, for a few days at Christmas, on his annual holiday and when I went up for my winter week’s holiday from the Bank. We got three weeks off but one had to be in winter. It had to coincide with half-term because the room I had in John’s digs was occupied by a school teacher in term time. I got a train to Glasgow from Greenock, then Glasgow to Aberdeen, then 3 hours on a slow train along the coast to Findochty – in all about six and a half hours. Once I went overnight and was surprised at how busy the main stations still were: Post Office workers loading lots of bags of mail onto the train, cleaners working, and passengers of course.
John met me early in the morning. It was the Women’s Guild day which he had to address every week, so I went too. All the women were knitting ‘ganzies’ (Guernseys – warm navy wool jumpers with patterns particular to a family or area) or seamen’s long socks, knitted with oiled wool to be water-tight and warm. Having been awake all night, the clicking of the needles almost sent me to sleep. John was given a ganzie and it lasted for many years. They were all friendly people and made me very welcome. I could have happily lived there but I had to go home when the week was up.
You can now see why I said in an earlier episode that my sister Annabel had changed the course of my life by dragging me to the Methodist Church! My plan, once I was a few years older, had been to get a loan from the Bank, which was especially for staff and had low interest, to buy a wee bungalow for Mum and Dad and probably me too, if not Annabel. So much for plans – life has its own way of leading you down other paths! As Robert Burns said, ‘The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men gang aft agley’.