I wrote this spontaneously as a response to a call to participate in a fifteen-minute writing exercise suggested by author, Judy Reeves, on the Transformational Writer blog. It was a fun exercise and I plan to do it again, every day or so, even though the results, to me, seem stiff and self-conscious. (This is where being a copywriter is a disadvantage, because you tend to edit-as-you-go even before your fingers hit the keyboard.)
If you’re a writer, visit the blog and try the exercise! (I bet it’s also a great way to get past Writer’s Block…)
Glasgow rain is gentle, invigorating. Splashing in puddles wearing wellington boots. Gabardine macs. I had a green gabardine mac (a raincoat, you say in Canada).
I left her there, splashing in the rain, thinking of the mist on the moors as the drizzle swept in. I was stolen away, not by fairies, but by my parents, sailing down the Clyde on the Empress of Canada, watching the gorse bushes blazing on the hillsides above Gourock where Teresa and I used to lie and watch the boats.
That damn piper on the dock, playing “will ye no come back again” and breaking everybody’s hearts. We knew it was the end of the world, but as soon as Scotland had drifted back into the mist of time, we raced around the boat, exploring. It was an adventure, and we were in the moment.
I was twelve; Teresa eleven. The boat was massive, like a lumbering old duchess—an empress, maybe? No, empresses are too nervous, too weighed down by the cares of state. An elderly duchess who breeds dogs, sets her steely jaws and gets up every day to plow her way through her duty/routine.
The dining room was luxurious. I don’t really remember it, but in my imagination, chandeliers sparkle. I do remember lots of light, pristine white table cloths and perfectly-laid-out dinner services. Long, tiered tables groaning with food.
In Glasgow, the barrow man parked his little hand-barrow on Preston Street, once a week. Oranges, apples, pears, grapes and bananas. That’s what Teresa and I thought fruit was, when we were very little: Oranges, apples and bananas. (Pears and grapes were exotic, and did not appear very often.) And whenever we drew a landscape, there were always mountains, topped with purple for the heather. We thought everywhere in the world had mountains covered in heather.
An orange was a big treat in post-war Glasgow. Now here we were, on the Empress of Canada, looking at tables groaning with pineapple, grapes, melon, grapefruit—grapefruit in Glasgow happened to us once year, a careful half-each on New Year’s morning, cut into segments within its rind and sprinkled with sugar; eaten with mum’s best silver spoons.
My big brother, Stephen, bought a pomegranate once, on a trip down to the Barrows—a flea market in downtown Glasgow. He cut it open in front of us with his penknife, and we marvelled at the tiny, glistening seeds. But when we tried them, they disappointed—sour, pithy and hard to eat. But I still love pomegranates. On principle. (I never buy them.) Say the word “pomegranate”, and a shiver of happiness and excitement washes over me.
There was no rain on that trip, the exodus from our lives to my parents’ promised land. Blue clear skies. Endless ocean. I think we had one grey afternoon and slightly rough night.
My sister got seasick. My father had told us if we ate, we wouldn’t get seasick. I was terrified of vomiting—my brother had collapsed, vomited and died of a brain aneurysm five years before—so I ate religiously on the ship (and gained weight).
My sister did not eat. She became hideously seasick, that rough night.
I left the cabin and found a movie theater on the ship—even now I call it “movie theater” but back then I found the cinema.
I watched my first grown-up movie all alone—my first color movie ever. Gregory Peck and Sophia Loren in “Arabesque”. Exciting. Intrigue and romance. Gentle humor and horrific villains.
When Teresa was better, the next day, we followed a red-haired boy in his teens around the boat, giggling as he tried to flirt with a teenage girl. He must have wanted to murder us. He was going to Nova Scotia, and we got off the ship at Montreal, so we never saw him again.
Mum forced Teresa to enter a children’s fancy dress contest, our last night on the ship. She hated every moment of it—she did not like being conspicuous. Mum wrapped her in a bedsheet and made a funnel-crown out of cardboard, and she went as the Empress of Canada.
Teresa won. She didn’t care about that, but she did like the doll they gave her. She clung to it for days after we landed.
October the sixth. A dazzling Sunday Autumn morning. We cruised down the St. Lawrence river flanked with maples from my mother’s travel books blazing red, crimson, plum, flame, orange and rich, deep gold. White church spires poked rudely up from the leaves and bells pealed from almost every spire. We couldn’t stop marveling at the beauty.
Someone told us it was Quebec.
Since then, nothing has lived up to that first picture-postcard glimpse of Canada (though Algonquin Park, Muskoka and Lake Superior occasionally come close).
My parents are dead now. Teresa joined the navy and became a sailor and a commercial diver.
I miss the Scottish rain.