Today, November 22nd, is my mother’s birthday. She died in 1999, just over a week after her 70th birthday, and a month before the advent of a new millennium. My sister has pointed out to me that the date has significance in the literary world also. Aldous Huxley and C. S. Lewis both died on this day in 1963. However, news of their deaths was eclipsed by the assassination of President John F Kennedy on the very same day.
Thoughts of my mum, took my mind back to what, I believe, was my very first walk of any significance, a solitary walk that caused her a great deal of alarm and distress.
I would be about 5 years of age and, as was her habit on a Saturday morning, she took me with her on the bus into Greenock town centre to do some shopping, and if things went in my favor, buy me a wee toy in Woolworth’s. I loved when she shopped there, and I got the chance to spend time at the toy counter, or even better the model counter where, among other things, the Airfix models of World War 2 fighter planes and battleships were on display.
Things were going as I’d hoped they would. There I was in Woolworth’s, at eye level with that enchanted toy counter, mesmerized by the array of colorful plastic delights on display. I turned to talk to my mum, most likely to say, “Will you buy me that, mum?” But she had disappeared from view. I walked around the shop for a bit, looking for her, but she was nowhere to be found. My meager 5 year old brain told me, “Oh well. If mum’s not here in the shop and I don’t know where she is, I might as well go home and she’ll see me when she gets there!” And so I left “Woolies,” as it was more commonly known, and headed for home.
No bus for me. It was easier to walk, and anyway I had no money for the fare. At the time I would hardly know the name of the streets I walked through, but I now see them in my mind’s eye. Along Cathcart Street to Rue End Street, the continuation of the busy “main road,” on the left Victoria Harbour crammed with tug boats, on the right the Fire Brigade. Then a turn up Cartsburn Street and left onto Arthur Street past Kincaid’s Foundry, through the sooty black stoned railway bridge and onto St. Lawrence Street, up the Bally Brae (that was probably the only street I knew the name of). Next along Morton Terrace, past the Victoria Bowling Club, onto East Crawford Street, all the way to the end, and finally left onto Grosvenor Road and home. Number 17. One of the old steel houses, no longer standing.
I tried the door but it was locked. No one home. My dad, a joiner in the building trade, was no doubt working overtime, money being tight. Mr. Strang, the friendly old man who was our downstairs neighbor, as usual was working in the front garden, tending to his rhubarb or potato plots. To pass the time I went to talk to him. Just as I was explaining to him that I walked home from the town because I lost my mum in Woolies (I wonder what he thought of that), who should come running frantically into the garden but my distraught mother! With a mixture of fury, relief and delight she enfolded me in her arms.
“Where the hell did you get to? How did you get here?” she yelled.
“I walked home,” I said, now completely confused by the distress I had apparently caused her.
“You what???” She said incredulously.
I have no clear recollection of what happened afterwards. In fact I can’t say with confidence the events of the day unfolded exactly as I have described. The passage of time does distort memory. But that’s how I recall them now, and the emotions invoked are genuine, authentic and precious. A loving mother reunited with her lost, oblivious child. Only now as a parent myself, do I have a full understanding of what she must have gone through, along with a deep appreciation of the depth of her maternal love.
So there we have it. My first serious walk. A distance just short of 2 miles. Not bad for a 5 year old! You should be proud mum. Maybe you were…