December 29, 2012
The plane came to a halt at the small terminal building in Dundee.
“Scotland,” Susanne said simply.
Beryl let out a sigh. She was beyond exhausted. The journey had been long. Cairns to Singapore, then 13 hours in the air to London followed by a bus ride from Heathrow to London City airport in the still-dark hours of a wintry British morning, then so weary she reckoned her limbs might drop off they boarded a 50-seat propeller plane, which bounced like a kangaroo through angry-looking grey clouds for three-quarters of an hour, until it landed at Dundee.
“It makes me think how hard it must have been for Nan, Auntie Jean and all those kiddies who spent weeks aboard the North Star,” Susanne said, unbuckling her seat-belt. “Three months at sea! Can you imagine?”
“No, I can’t,” Beryl said, wondering if they had even understood where they were being shipped to.
A short while later, walking through the arrivals gate in a half-dazed state, Beryl couldn’t believe her eyes when she caught sight of a tall, sandy-haired gentleman about the same age as herself, holding a placard which read, G’day! Beryl and Susanne!
Smiling, he met her eyes.
Quickly she realised it was Martin Kerr, the eldest child of Jean and Robert.
“Martin?” she asked, returning his smile.
“Hello!” he said. “Welcome to Scotland!”
How wonderful, she thought as he greeted her and Susanne with warm embraces, and she knew straight away that every mile travelled had been worthwhile.
Outside, her breath caught, for it was blowing a blizzard and she’d never known such raw air. Everything was white: pavements, roads, cars, houses even the sky. Her first impression of Dundee was that it resembled Antarctica.
“You were lucky there were no delays because of this awful weather,” Martin told them.
“When I e-mailed you with our flight details, I honestly didn’t mean for you to come and collect us,” Susanne said, hurriedly pulling the collar of her coat against her neck. Beryl cast a sideways glance at her and noticed that her lips had turned blue. She found herself having to suppress a laugh. It wasn’t that the temperature was amusing, just that neither of them could possibly have imagined it would be this cold.
“I know you didn’t,” Martin replied with an earnest expression. “But you’ve no idea how excited everyone is about you coming over! I hope you slept on the plane because there’s a family gathering at Donna’s house tonight and you two are the guests of honour!”
Beryl looked at him.
“My niece. Sally’s daughter.”
“Right,” Beryl said. There was a pause. Then she added, “I must try to remember the names.”
“Och, don’t worry,” Martin said. “You’ll soon get to know everyone, and mark my words, by this time tomorrow you’ll both be so full of clootie dumpling and shortbread, you’ll feel as Scottish as
the rest of us!”
Susanne nodded her enthusiasm.
“We’ll give it a go, won’t we, Mum?”
“For sure,” Beryl replied with a grin. Then, when they reached Martin’s car, she looked him in the eye. “I can’t thank you enough for coming to meet us like this. It’s so nice to be met by an actual relative. I’ve always wanted to visit Scotland, but I never dreamed that I had family over here.”
“Well, Mum told us she had a sister out in Oz,” Martin said, lifting the suitcases into the car. “And I know she tried to trace Nell. It wasn’t that she didn’t want to have any contact with her. I remember she said things had been complicated after the war. I don’t know the whole story. It might be better if Sally tells you what she knows. She was very close to Mum.” He turned to face Beryl. “You’ve come a long way. I guess you want to hear the truth.”
How right you are about that, Beryl thought.
She didn’t have long to wait for it because later that same day, after a flash flood of introductions and good-natured hospitality, her cousin Sally took a seat beside her.
“I’d like to think that our mothers are looking down from heaven and seeing this.”
“Yes,” Beryl agreed. “But it’s so sad that they lost contact with each other. Can you tell me what happened?”
“They fell out not long after the war ended. They were still in Melbourne at that time. Mum wanted to come home to Dundee, but Nell didn’t. Mum said that was when she realised Nell didn’t share her determination to be reunited with their dad, or to find Douglas. They parted on unhappy terms, and when Mum tried to contact Nell years later, she had no luck. I think that must have been because your mum had married and moved from Melbourne.”
“Who was Douglas?” Susanne asked.
“Their wee brother.”
Beryl stared blankly.
“That’s an even sadder
story . . .” Sally began.
Rather than the mystery being solved, it had deepened!