A Sense Of Belonging – Episode 28

“Are you sure Maggie doesn’t mind us visiting?” Beryl asked.

“Goodness, no,” Sally said as they walked through the entrance of the care home where Nell and Jean’s step-mother, Margaret McIntosh, resided. “She’s thrilled to bits that you want to meet her. She loves having visitors and it helps that her mind is still as sharp as it is. Mind you, it’s mainly the olden days she likes to blether about, so be prepared for at least an hour or so of her reminiscences.”

“Fine by us,” Susanne replied cheerfully. She cast a quick glance at Beryl as they walked arm in arm. “We enjoy hearing all about the olden days, don’t we, Mum?”

Beryl nodded. The last 10 days had been packed full of the olden times and she could not have been more pleased.

“It’s been fascinating,” she said. “We’ve learned so much. Especially at the Verdant Works museum. You know, Sally, I still can’t get over the fact that children as young as six were employed in the jute mills to clean the dust from underneath those enormous machines.”

Pausing at the reception desk to sign the visitors’ book, Sally cast her a sideways look.

“Aye, and some were killed doing exactly that, of course. Infant and maternal deaths in Dundee were the highest in the whole country. What’s worse, the mill owners rarely paid any compensation to help the families who lost loved ones not even to cover the funeral costs. That’s why Granny Colleen ended up in an unmarked grave. It was a disgrace.”

Beryl tutted.

“It’s so tragic when you think about it.”

“It is indeed,” Sally agreed as they continued along the corridor. “And you know, I’ve always wondered if one of the reasons Grandad Euan sent Mum and Nell to the Orphan Institution was that he didn’t want them to end up in the mill. Maybe going to Glasgow was his way of trying to protect them and get them away from that life.” She let out a sigh. “Of course, as we know, things didn’t turn out the way he hoped.”

“Did Auntie Jean ever ask him directly about why he left them behind when he moved to Glasgow?” Susanne asked. She had been deeply moved by some of what she and her mum had found out about Euan. He was a man neither of them had never met, but in recent days it was as if he had come to life in their minds.

“I’m sure she must have,” Sally replied. “But you know what men can be like.”

Beryl responded to that remark with a faint smile.

“And,” Sally went on, “Grandad’s generation didn’t like to talk too openly about emotional subjects. I gather he always maintained that he’d given Douglas up for adoption and sent Mum and Nell to the home because he needed time to sort himself out. I’ll say this, though, going to Glasgow probably did seem like the right thing to do. You see, by the time Grandad left Dundee, the jute industry was on its knees, but ship-building was booming, and he would have had good reason to think he could make enough money to go back for the girls and start afresh.”

Beryl considered that. Sadly, Ferrybridge Works, the Stobswell Loan tenements and Dundee Orphan Institution had long since been demolished, but exploring some of the cobbled streets and narrow lanes surrounding the untended waste ground where the mill had stood, she had just about managed to get a sense of the despondency Euan must have faced as a heartbroken young widower with three children.

When they reached the end of the corridor, Beryl looked at Sally.

“What about Maggie’s own son? Euan’s step-son. Is he still alive?”

“No,” Sally replied. “He died a long time ago and he never married so there was no family there. My mum looked after Maggie till she fell ill herself and couldn’t be her carer any more. Then, when Mum died, Martin found this place for Maggie. Helen and I were in full agreement with him about her coming here. Maggie is marvellous for her age but she needs round-the-clock nursing care and she’s well looked after here. The staff are brilliant.”

“I can’t imagine being a hundred and two,” Susanne whispered as they made their way into the sitting-room where a number of elderly people were seated in chairs, some engaged in group activities led by carers, some quietly occupying themselves with magazines or their own hobbies.

It was such a remarkable age, Beryl doubted anyone could imagine it before they reached it.

Sally stopped in front of a neatly dressed woman who was busy knitting.

“Maggie,” she said softly, bending as she spoke. She touched the woman’s arm. “Hello.”


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