Saturday, 3 January 2015

Memoir: My Father: Biography of a Gentle Scotsman

James Hall Reid

My Father - A Memoir and a Tribute

When I was set the challenge "The Person You Most Admire" I discarded a lot of people: William Wallace, Mother Theresa, Ghandi, JFK, Martin Luther, Grace Kelly and on and on. But the one person I just could not get out on my mind was my father. Life threw more than its fair share of problems his way but he emerged a gentle, quiet, well educated man that I miss every day of my life. He was my hero.
This is my tribute to him in poetry and prose. Some of the poetry is in the language of my land, Scotland. Old Scots rich in the cadence that is Scotland.


As you can see, the photos are from my family album, duly scanned into digital form. All the pictures and the poetry here are my own.
Please respect my copyright to them and do not copy or reproduce.
Many thanks

Dad with Uncle Bob and 'Meggie' the car

James Hall Reid


Born in Huntly, now Morayshire, Scotland James Hall Reid was the eldest of three. His mother was a nurse at Aberdeen Sick Children's Hospital before she married, and his father had a plumbing business. When Dad was 10, his sister 6 and his brother only 1 year old, their mother died of tuberculous. His father had returned from the Boer War (1902) minus several fingers so found it difficult to work as a plumber. With the death of his wife, he took to drink, lost his business and left most of the care of the children to James, his eldest son. James senior became a postman in Auchinblae a cute little town in The Mearns - now Kincardinshire. I am told he liked that as there were lots of illegal stills in the area who were very generous to their posties. My father never talked about him but my uncle once told me he remembered Hallie (my dad's family name) bringing his father home in a wheelbarrow. What a burden for a child. My father was a confirmed tee-totaller his whole life and I suspect he was afraid he would be like his father if he ever gave into it.
He worked where ever he could to bring some money into the household, and taught himself to read, to do carpentry, plumbing, shoe making, even sewing for his siblings. My uncle spoke often of how Hallie brought him up and despite the constant banter between the pair of them, through all their lives there was a strong bond, immense respect from my uncle to my dad and quiet dignity by my father. My uncle called him The Flower Man because of his love of gardening for Uncle Bob could not see the point in growing anything that couldn't eat.
The photo here is of my father in front with Uncle Bob and 'Meggie' the car.

The Army Life

two Gordon Highlanders

A Highlander in India

It is little wonder that at 15 or 16 he faked his age and joined the Gordon Highlanders to get away. In the army he was a corporal, he played drums in the band, and danced as a Highland dancer at Gatherings. He worked a lot with horses and travelled to Egypt and spent a long time in India. One of my treasures are the photographs he took, processed and printed while he was in India. The backs are a wonderful vignette of life in the army in India in the 1920s. He sent them all back to his father, and still show just how much he loved the man despite all his faults.
Dad left the army in 1930 with an ulcer, a bad chest and a gamey leg from when a horse fell on him.

poetry by AnnMackieMiller

Gordon Highlanders in India
My father was a drummer
in a Highland regiment.
Fancy that, my father!
Strange to think of him marching
and twirling drum sticks,
but I have the photographs to prove it.
He was a Highland dancer too
- and a singer;
I only knew him as my dad;
the soldier in the photo
a stranger with my dad's face.
Mum and Dad on their engagement day
at Turretville Brechin

The Gentle Man

Dad with Micky the dog
Home again in the 1930s Dad worked on various country estates as a gardener. I still love enclosed walled gardens and see him working in them ever time I visit one. He met my mother at Strathcathro Hospital where she was a nurse. She was 18 years younger than him. One tale we heard every time we passed Stracathro was when, while they were courting, Dad threw her lipstick away into the field, saying she didn't need anything like that. I spent years trying to see the lipstick tree.
They moved all over Scotland losing two babies but ending with a family of three, my sister Greta, my brother and me, the after-thought.
Before I was born my mother had tired of the constant moving and they moved into the town of Kirriemuir, a market town in Angus Scotland. He could turn his hand to anything and Dad had a variety of jobs from a cemetery worker, a motor mechanic, a factory jute inspector and finally a boilerman in a jute factory. He hated being indoors and he missed the gardens, so gardening became one of his greatest loves.
His family was the most important thing in his life. He wouldn't have a television in the house until we were quite grown believing it ruined family life. As a family we sang songs round the piano. My mother was a wonderful pianist and Dad a great singer. He used to perform in amateur operas and it was a joy to stand beside him in church, We also played card and board games and made things. We read constantly and listened to the radio - long before modern technology, when I was a teenager he rigged up a speaker in my bedroom to let me listen to Radio Luxemburg, so he could switch it off when he thought I should be asleep.
He loved to tinker with clocks and we had an abundance of them, all lovingly restored. Mum always knew what would come home from a 'roup'. He made rag rugs out of old clothes so the rugs that graced our floors told a story all their own. Dad taught us so many things, it was my dad that taught me to knit (he learned on the ship to India when the sailors taught the army men to pass the time). I was only sorry he didn't teach me the woodworking he taught my brother. On Sundays after church and lunch he and my mother would take us walking, teaching us the names of the trees and flowers. Pity I don't remember them now.
He had the most wonderful child-like love of Christmas perhaps because they had been so few in his own childhood. Some of my most precious memories are of Christmas at home, all celebrated without a drop of alcohol. He would squeeze every present, even those that were not his own and loved squirrelling away little surprises for us all. Many of his presents were hand made or renovated, like the bike he gave me on my 12th birthday. They had had a terrible time keeping me away from his workshop and I can remember sulking when I wasn't allowed near it. The year he won some money on the 'Football Pools' he kept it secret but so proud when he presented us each with a BOUGHT present. My sister got a powder compact, my brother a cigarette lighter and me... a book of course.
He also loved cars. When he got his first car he swelled with pride. 'Meggie' named after my mother is the car shown here. She was dark green - the car not my mother though I suspect mum's love of the colour green had a lot to do with the choice of car.

a poem by annmackiemiller
I hae but twa, maybe three, photos of me and Dad
Ain, snapped in a Dundee street
With me between them, Mum and Dad
But looking back for brither an' sister.
And ain, high in faither's airms
Aged 2 or so I think.
The last?
On my wedding day
still his Bonny Lass
he handed tae anither.
Oh wid I had mair tae mind
his dear face though
it be scoored deep with life's
hard tale and sorrows.

Poetry is copyright to AnnMackieMiller
Mum and Dad on my wedding day

The Funeral by annmackiemiller

Poetry for my father by Ann Miller

I wrote a series of three poems for three funerals, this is my Dad's
I couldn't sing.
Not today, not for my dad.
I wanted him to hear my voice one last time
but the words wouldn't pass choking chords
I tried - and failed
Just as I failed to be there before he died
and now the one thing I wanted to do
I couldn't sing for my daddy.
Perhaps he hears me now.

Poetry is copyright to AnnMackieMiller, please do not copy
his last Christmas

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