Dalmore Daytime

Dalmore Daytime
Sandy Beach

Wednesday, 25 June 2008

Peigi Glass. My Lovely,Loving Aunt.

When I was home in Lewis in the 1940s and 1950s,it was noticeable the number of houses(mainly "taigean dubh")that were occupied by unmarried people,the majority of whom were spinster sisters. This was the case in the Carloway district,where one or more of these ladies would be "looking after" a brother and/or an elderly parent. Why this was the case,may lie in the carnage of the World Wars,and the loss of so many fine young men in the trenches and on the cruel seas. The "Iolaire" disaster of 1919,when 205 Lewis boys died within sight of the lights of Stornoway,was more than isles folk could ever have expected,and swept away a whole generation of potential sweethearts and husbands. The nature of crofting law and inheritance was later to be the main reason for some young men leaving the island. I have heard it said that in these wars,and based on the island's population,Lewis lost more people than any other area of Britain.
At that time,in our family home at 5 Dalmore,my grandfather("Glass")was attended on by two of his unmarried daughters,my Aunt Peigi(Margaret)and her younger sister, my Aunt Dollag(Dolly/Dolina/Donaldina). My Uncle Shonnie(John) was, at that time,employed as an able seaman on the River Clyde with the Caledonia Steam Packet Company,but would sometimes get leave to return home for the peats or the harvest,while we were in Dalmore.
My Aunt Peigi was unmarried and in her 40s when I was a small boy. Before Shonnie returned to Lewis for good,Peigi was the engine room of Taigh Glass. She was strong for a lady,and was involved in everything relating to the croft. She was also in a small minority of women at that time who were full time weavers of Harris Tweed. The Hattersley loom,with Peigi in charge,would turn out at least three tweeds a week,all of top quality. The mills would entrust her with new or complicated patterns. She was recognised as a weaver "premier class",and there was nothing about that Yorkshire loom that she didn't know. She was often called upon to sort out the problems encountered by fellow weavers in the district.No,she couldn't fix motorbikes nor cars, but with the Hattersley loom ,she was weaver/mechanic "summa cum laude". My auntie Peigi was a lovely,and better still,a loving person,and she was fun to be with.Each Sunday,with Dollag remaining behind to prepare dinner,Peigi,my brother Donald and I would go "cross country" for the 12.00 o'clock service at the Church of Scotland in Carloway. My brother and I were dressed in kilts and balmorals,which we all wore( including our two younger brothers)every Sunday back in Renfrew. All of us were decked out in MACGREGOR tartan because my mother thought it so nice and bright and red, . Anyway,we looked like little Highland men,and that's what mattered. We each had a different Scottish regimental badge in our hat,mine being the Cabar Feidh of the Seaforths. Shoes and stockings were removed to be carried "air a`mointeach" until we hit the road in Carloway. Our route was the obvious one,out the beinn, past Beinn Iain Ruadh,Cnoc a'Charnan,up to the head of Loch Langavat,skirting Sheaval,and coming out at the doctor's house,where we adjusted our dress and marched proudly to church with Peigi. I always remember Peigi handing each of us a packet of Macintosh Rollo to ease our journey. It made the church service that bit more attractive for us,but I'm sure that was not Peigi's intention.
It must have been 1950,when I was nine,that a picnic was arranged by the "aunties" for Donald and me(the two younger brothers were still in Renfrew with my mother). I can tell you that a picnic, back then, was a very unusual thing on the west side of the island(on any side for that matter). A picnic in the Castle Grounds or the Grimersta Estate for " na daoine gallda",one could understand,but in Dalmore,with our hard working aunts,and straight out of the blue,well----- ?
And so it was that,on a fine warm day,we set out for the Gearraidh with Peigi and Dolly and picnic goodies that equalled the best of Lewis "soirees". On a sward of short green grass,protected from any wind by a massive rock face,my aunts laid the picnic in Cnoc a' Ghearraidh overlooking the allt and the golden sands of that tiny beach at Geodha na Muilne. I can still recall almost every minute of that wonderful day - sunshine,laughter and all blessed with the love of two Christian ladies. There was a slightly sad event when a young rabbit appeared near us,and Donald and I tried to catch it . It eventually ran up this crevice in the rock face,wedging itself well out of our reach,try as we might. The tiny skeleton of this poor creature was perfectly preserved there for years to come.
A bit more serious was what happened down on the tiny beach,when Donald and Peigi were there doing some innocent bathing( not swimming). The viciously strong current swept Donald off his feet and was pulling him away from the shore. Piegi rushed to his aid,holding him firmly by his shirt. No doubt - Piegi saved my brother from drowning on that summer's day. Later,as the picnic was ending,my Aunt Peigi said a very strange thing to Donald and me.She said "This is the last picnic you will have with the aunties". I didn't understand what she meant,because,firstly,we didn't have that many picnics.
Of course,we were not to know that Peigi had been feeling very tired for some time now,and had undertaken all sorts of tests at the hospital. Peigi was diagnosed with leukaemia,which in these days was an illness for which little could be done. Peigi came to the Western Infirmary in Glasgow when the only "treatment" possible was a series of blood transfusions. After each stay in hospital,Peigi would feel well,and during such times she stayed with my Aunt Kate,another of my mother's sisters,in Renfrew. These periods of remission began to shorten, and more and more transfusions were needed.The family employed the services of a "private" physician,a well known consultant,but there was little he could do to halt the progress of her leukaemia. Peigi died in the summer of 1951,her death a blow to all of us who held her dear.

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