Sunday, September 8, 2013

Valerie


“Now here's a lass I haven't seen in years,” the plump-old-women said as she grabbed my hands and pulled me towards her on the main street of Bonar Bridge. She was commenting to a man in a car.

I started to laugh out loud and returned the firm hand hold.

“Haven't you?” I asked.

“Now, remind me of your name, dear,” she implored.

“I'm not sure you've met me before,” I said, searching for my American accent that had been berried after days of being surrounded by thick-Scottish drawls.

“I haven't seen you since you were a wee one, though,” she insisted.

“No, I'm not so sure you have,” I said, starting to laugh even harder. “Unless you were in Seattle when I was growing up.”

By then she had picked up on my accent.

“I'm from America.”

Still holding onto my hands, she started to laugh, as did the man.

“My name's Margaret,” I told her.

And from that moment on, Valerie and I were friends.


She never did let go of my hands until she had pulled me into her home and had me settled in a chair.

She was prepared to talk someone's ears off and I was prepared to listen. We made a fine pair.
She was eager for company or someone to visit her and I was eager to be welcomed into a home.

Despite staying in a home in Scotland, at that time, I never felt a real part of that household. I was eager to feel a connection.

She started to weave together stories of her past and shared with me the history of the town.

Mid-story, I remembered that I needed to go buy tickets for the dance that night. She found a good pause-pointy and then I set out to buy them for 7 pounds, immediately I returned and we resumed right where we had left off.

Then, I realized I would need to get something in my stomach. I was about to set out to the store when she invited me to join her for soup and bread. I immediately accepted her invitation and we started to explore the oesophagus of her home.

Valerie is currently living on her own in what was originally meant to be two homes and a shop. She's got more than enough room to house her library's worth of books, CD's, and mementos.

As the thick vegetable soup warmed us from the inside out, I started to learn more of her history. She had married an older man who already had a few children, some nearly as old as she was. The children don't really consider her to be her own so she's pretty much on her own.

We quickly decided that she would be my Scottish Grandmother and I would be her Granddaughter. I lost both of my grandmothers this year and have been feeling a bit of a gap there.

Eventually, it was time for the dance to start. She gave me one of those hugs that you normally only get from relatives or lifelong friends. I felt loved. I felt peace. She invited me back that evening if at any point I was bored.

After an hour at the dance, I went back to Valerie's and knocked at the door. I was quickly welcomed in, even though it was 10 PM, and I curled up on her couch and we watched the Proms together. The Proms is a United Kingdom series of concerts that have been going on for decades. It's excellent, excellent music and this was the final series of the year.

I headed back to the dance when the show wrapped up, promising I would visit her again that week.

The next day was Sunday. I slept in a bit too late, missed church, and decided to visit Valerie.


The farm-bike was pulled out from the shed and I started out on the road from Invershin to Ardgay to Bonar Bridge. It was the sort of day that makes you want to gallop and hoot a bit, if you have those impulses like I do.

My coat layer was soon shed and the everything was brilliant.


I coasted to a halt in front of her house where she was just, just leaving.

“Valerie! I came like I said I would!” I said to her.

She was just about to leave for a church service out in Croick. She was getting a ride from the man who would be playing the Harmonium for us.

Booya.

I'd been wanting to check out the Croick Church but hadn't found a way to get there for an afternoon – it's in a pretty remote area. What's cool about the Croick Church is it was a refuge for folks during the Clearing. The Clearing happened back in the 1840s when sheep were really valuable – more valuable than people. So all the folks living in their crofts around Northern Scotland were kicked out. That's how my ancestors ended up in Canada. They were kicked out to make room for sheep.

Croick was a refuge place and you can still see the names of the refuges carved in the window panes from their stay there. It was really neat. Sad, but neat.



The road was windy, like driving along a piece of limp spaghetti that had been haphazardly sprawled out around the Highlands by a drunken Scotsman who declared, “This is the road. Enjoy.”

There were around 8 of us in the congregation that day. I was the only person under the age of 40. I was the only American. I was not the only lady.

The service was about forgiveness. I took notes. I'm working on that one.

We drove back.

Back home, Valerie and I listened to music.

I biked back to the farm.
I haven't seen Valerie again since, but I know I will next time I come back to Scotland.

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