Total Pageviews

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Heritage - Born an Isles in Scotland

Heritage 1
Born an Isles in Scotland

“Well, my dear, it was a day not unlike this.”  The children had crowed around the fireplace, roasting marshmallows for S’Mores.  Lighting more than a few on fire to watch the sugary confection first turn brown then black and melt onto the logs or be eaten completely by the flames.  Sticky, gooey marshmallow oozed from the sides of the fireplace where someone’s spear got too close and the mass globbed off the spear tip and onto the side of the fireplace.

Four generations had gathered together.  We were there for the holiday weekend.  It turned out to be rather coolish and drizzly.  Uncomfortable to be outside and cramped with people inside.  With two more days of the holiday weekend to go. 

“We were bored, it was cold and rainy, too many kids around to actually clean, and the snacks were nearly gone.  My younger brother asked a question, I don’t recall exactly what it was at this moment, but it got all the adults trading stories.  We children learned a lot that day.  Quite a bit about our history, why we are all here and hopes for the future.”  I folded my weathered hands on my lap and smiled at the youngster asking questions.  At the moment, I honestly couldn’t remember who’s kid she was.  She was a pretty young teen though and the earnest plea in her eyes told me she wouldn’t go back to play until she had heard at least one story.

“They came from entirely different backgrounds, as most star crossed lovers do.  During the “Great Scottish Exodus”.  Scotland’s government had backed the removal of individuals from Scotland in an effort to reduce the population and avoid mass starvation.  Initially the whole process behind the relocation of Scotland’s population was indeed to help the populous.  However the gangs scouring the countryside with bully clubs to forcefully remove family members were not looked upon favorably by the highlanders.  The highlanders were naturally sought out first, as they tended to be the hardiest of the countrymen.  Or at least it was their hardiness which was touted, it was also because of their inherent ability to rouse people to a cause.  Rabble-rouser was a word oft used to describe those first chosen to leave the country.

John Isles had only eyes for his childhood sweet-heart.  Hiring himself out to anyone who would pay for his strong arms and solid back; he picked rocks from fields adding to the stone fences of the crofts and creating new, sheered flocks and flocks of sheep, felled and hauled the few sparse trees left on the land, and he even toted shale for the artisans.  No task too difficult or too lowly, for he was saving to wed the love of his life one Miss Moira Edward. 

Once a month, he would wash his face don a clean shirt and walk the miles to the home of Miss Moira Edward.  All the while whistling a fancy uplifting song to travel by.  He envisioned the smile on her lips as she watched him swagger the last few hundred yards to her stoop.  He could see the laughter in her eyes as he presented her with flowers he had picked along the way.  He could smell the lavender she dabbed behind her ears.  She was shapely in a time when there was little to eat.  Her healthy body quickly turned all food into clear skin and wavy raven hair. Her quick wit and easy laughter endeared her to him. 

You can imagine his shock upon learning the gangs men had been to their village impounding personnel into passage to Canada.  Moira was gone.  The small hut they called home was empty.  Remnants of the small morning fire, for brewing what passed for tea, was smoldering on the hearth. Cups were broken, chairs tipped over and the night’s bedding was strewn across the floor.  Moira and her parents had put up a struggle but obviously were overwhelmed.  Falling to his knees, he cried out to the heavens above.  He ran searching every out building.  He ran to the neighbor’s, who knew nothing.  He ran to their secret spot, hoping she had found her way to where she would know he would find her.  Only emptiness greeted him. 

It was later, upon his trudge homeward that he learned the truth.  She and her family were gone.  The ship had sailed that very day. The gangs-men had captured them.  They had been sent to “emigration”.  Letters of inquiry were quickly written.  Investigation into the family’s destination was begun.

More determined than ever, John set his cap at earning money enough to travel to Canada and purchase land once he found his Moira.  Laboring from dawn to dusk seven days a week.  Finally, months later, the letter arrived!

News! News of their passage and where they had landed.  His beloved Moira’s family had landed safely in Canada after sailing through the dreaded St Lawrence, entering Canada through the New York region. However, and his heart dropped.  However, and he couldn't breathe.  However, Moira did not survive the passage.  His world stopped spinning.

Dipping into the cups, John’s life whirled out of control.  He got into fights at the pub.  He didn't show up for work he had promised to complete.  He was lost without the hope in his heart.  His long red hair, normally tied neatly behind his head, was scraggly and filled with dirt.  His finest kilt, worn with pride on his walks to meet with Moira, was now tattered and frayed. Often to be found laying in the street or in the blacksmiths hayloft.  

Tsking loudly, she stood over him with hands on her hips.  Scolding him with her tongue, wagging a blame-filled finger at him, she stood with her back to the sun so he could only see the outline of her.  He felt as though he had been struck by lightning.  While his vision may have been blurred with ale, she was a pinpoint of clarity.  The sharp contrast making her stand out from the rest of the world.  This must be an angel, was his thought. "Months of inebriation and I've actually been allowed into Heaven." His thoughts darted in every direction possible. 

He didn't hear a word she said.  He could only watch as her beautiful red lips mouthed words at him.  Those flashing eyes held is inner being. Her hair must be spun gold, he thought.  For a moment, he thought he had died, then realized the rest of the village looked the same.  Barbara Small stood on the rock pathway chastising the handsome man who had obviously had too many pints.  Hadn't anyone ever told him to mind his p’s and q’s?   

She knew who he was, his reputation both before and after the sailing of the ship.  It was a smallish town and gossip flowed over tea and ale as easily and quickly as the wind blew.  Why she stopped to speak to him, she wasn't quite certain.  She only knew that their meeting was destiny.  She could feel it in her very bones.

With a hitch in his step and a whistle on his lips, John knew he was one of the fortunate ones.  He had been smiled upon twice in his life, and was smart enough to be grateful. Bending his back into the task at hand, he and his bride tried to coax more from the lackluster ground.  Even his lovely Barbara was beginning to show the early signs of starvation. The blight was beginning to take it's toll, even in the hearty High Lands.  They had been blessed with three healthy children, but with no rain, and little water, who knew how long the little ones could last.  Onion soup (most days minus the onions) was not a diet made for growing children.

John and Barbara had been saving as much money as they could. But, trying to sell to people who had no money either was a nearly futile endeavor. What little money they did have, mostly went to pay rents and sustain their lives.  

James, the eldest child, was nearly a grown man and needed to eat like one.  He literally pulled a plow for his lordship on more than one occasion.  The horses and mules, like the people, had been to starving too.  Many animals had simply died in their harness in the middle of the field.  Most were dressed, by the butcher, where they lay. The meat, however, was not distributed among the hands. It was taken directly to the Lordship's larder. 

Bearing children and breast feeding had taken a toll on Barbara’s health.  Most of her teeth had long ago fallen out.  Her eyes still sparkled when she looked at her family, but the hard years of highland life were acutely visible.  Where she was once round and curvaceous, she was now angular and sharp.  Still quick to smile, her once full lips were now a jagged slash across her face.  Too often she had to squint into the sun while hanging the lordship’s wash on the line creating a permanent furrow between her brows. 

For the sake of their children and any future generations of their family, they agreed they would forgo waiting to have enough funds to purchase passage to America.  They reached out to a Salvation Army post.  They had been stationed to assist those emigrants to Canada.  The Canadian government was subsidizing passage and granting land in the great prairie lands of Canada. Understanding there would be no berth, they would share the hold with perhaps a thousand others, they determined to cast off the shackles of abject poverty for the promise of the New World.   The ship would sail in three months time.

Three months was not enough time for lovely Barbara.  She was never to see the New World.  She was never to see her beautiful children grown.  Consumption ran rampant among the emaciated highlanders.  Nearly half the village was taken that winter.  Nearly a third of the nation’s remaining population.  John could not leave his beloved Barbara.  He could not leave Scotland. 

James Scott Isles was determined not to live the life his father had.  With an eye to the New World and the promise of the government, he was not going to allow Scotland to take his life as it had so many around him.  He would take his wife, Mary Ann Allison, and their six children to carve a better place.  They would harvest the dream his parents had planted.   Mary Ann’s sister worked in the kitchen for his lordship.  Smuggling food from her sister, James and Mary Ann’s children never had the glass eyed, pot bellies of the starving. 

The two sisters had experienced more than one close call.  His lordship’s man kept a watchful eye out for all the clothing Mary Ann hung out after washing, and the head cook kept a keen eye out for any scraps of food.  It was dangerous, but then living had become dangerous.” 

No comments:

Post a Comment