The Girl Who Made Good in America

BOOK: The Girl Who Made Good in America
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The Girl Who Made Good in America

The Girl
Who Made
Good in
America

JAMES G DOW

Copyright © 2014 James G Dow

All rights are reserved. The material contained within this book is protected by copyright law, no part may be copied, reproduced, presented, stored, communicated or transmitted in any form by any means without prior written permission.

Cover Design and typeset by BookPOD

Printed and bound in Australia by BookPOD

Cover images (girl and skyline) iStockphoto

Cover image (mountain) Shutterstock

A Catalogue-in-Publication is available from the National Library of Australia.

ISBN: 978-0-9923435-4-5 (pbk)

eISBN: 978-0-9923435-5-2

On the bonnie, bonnie banks o’ Loch Lomond

I
t was a glorious day in the summer of 1949 but Martin McCann was not happy. He’d finished his shift at the Priory Colliery and was losing his hard-earned money at the two-up school at the pithead. He was down to his last few shillings and had to make a decision. Should he go for broke and invest what was left or should he cut his losses and go down to the pub for a few pints of McEwans ale? The vision of a creamy head atop a fine Scottish beer settled the matter. The coal dust was at the back of his throat and his thirst had to be slaked. As he trudged over the moor, the bluebells were in full bloom but Martin was oblivious to their beauty. He was seething about being drawn into the payday gambling school.

At the Lochside Inn he ordered a pint and drank it straight down. That hit the spot. He bought another and joined Charlie Feeney in one of the booths where a game of dominoes was in progress. They watched for a while but Martin was restless, still angry about losing at the two-up. “How are things wi’ you, Charlie?”

“Not too bad, Martin – I won quite a few quid today on the Hamilton races. Drink up, I’ll shout you a beer on the strength of it.”

“That’s the best news I’ve heard all day. I’ve just lost most of my pay packet at the two-up.”

“Cripes, Martin, Mary won’t be too pleased about that. I’ll tell you what. Here’s a couple of quid. That might keep you out of trouble from that Irish temper of hers.”

“Thanks, Charlie. I’ll pay you back next Friday. No more two-up for me.”

“I saw Father Gallagher at the betting shop today,” said Charlie. “He wasn’t doing too well either. I wonder if he’ll confess that to the bishop.”

“Don’t be daft, Charlie. Gambling itself isn’t a sin. It’s only immoral if you lose more than you can afford and cause grief to others. The good Father has plenty money of his own. He has nothing to confess.”

Martin’s own statement suddenly hit him like a thunderbolt. He had plenty to confess. He felt shame for his gambling weakness and the effect it could have on his wife and children. For a long time now he had been shortchanging Mary instead of handing over an unopened pay packet like most of the other men. His eldest child, Theresa, 16 years old, worked in the office at Duff’s Haulage, and handed her wages to her mother every week. If it weren’t for Theresa, the family would be struggling to make ends meet.

Martin was what was known as ‘a staunch Catholic.’ His parents, now deceased, had been born in Ireland and, like many others, had been forced to leave their native land to earn a living on foreign shores. Martin never missed Sunday morning mass and was one of the Knights of Saint Columba, an organisation devoted to advancing the tenets of the church. He was, in fact, Father Gallagher’s right-hand man and could always be relied upon to volunteer for duties connected with Saint Patrick’s Primary School. In most evenings of these summer months, he was helping to build the new sports ground for the kids, no matter how fatigued he felt after his shift in the pit. He was a member of the Anti-Partition League of Ireland, although the chances of a united Ireland ruled from Dublin were slim. His two sons, Kevin, 14, and Joe, 12, were playing football in the street when he got home. Inside, his younger daughter Megan, 11, was helping her mother set the table for tea.

“You look all in, Martin,” said his wife. “Sit down, your tea’s ready. Megan, fetch the boys.”

The family sat down to the staple diet of tatties and mince. “Where’s Theresa?” said Martin.

“She’s working late. She won’t be home till 8. I’ll keep her tea warm for her. She’s a good girl. Mr Duff thinks the world of her, thank goodness. God knows we can use the extra money.”

“Aye, she’s done well getting that office job,” said Martin. “Most Protestant bosses usually advertise that Catholics need not apply.”

“Mr Duff’s not a Prod, Martin. He’s a lapsed Catholic, turned atheist.”

“Is that right? I never knew that. I think I might get Father Gallagher to go and see him. Cripes, I don’t know which is worse, Protestant or heathen!”

“You’d be wasting your time, Martin. Father Gallagher plays golf with Mr Duff every Thursday afternoon. I’m sure he knows the situation.”

“How do you know all this, Mary?”

“Theresa told me. She holds the fort for Mr Duff every Thursday.”

Mary McCann [née Malone] was from County Down in Ireland. She was aware of Martin’s gambling weakness but kept her mouth shut. He was a good man in many ways. He liked a drink but was not a drunk and was fiercely protective of his children. “Why don’t you put your feet up tonight for a change, Martin?” said Mary.

“I can’t, Mary. I promised I’d go down the sports field tonight. It’s got to be ready for the opening on Sunday afternoon.”

“Sure now, that Father Gallagher could get you to do anything, Martin.”

“Well, he’s a good man, Mary, the best priest we’ve had in Lochside. He’s got lots of energy and it’s all for our community.”

When Martin left, Mary poured herself a cup of tea and reflected on her life. She had been married at 16 and had 4 children before she was 23. Her last child had nearly been the death of her. Complications in late pregnancy had landed her in the Cottage Hospital for a difficult birth. Dr Young had advised her that her child-bearing days were over. 3 years later, Father O’Neil had visited her one morning, reeking of whisky. Mary recalled the occasion vividly. “Isn’t it about time you had another child, Mary McCann? You’re 25, in the prime of life. What’s the trouble? Is that man of yours not up to it? Perhaps I can be of some help there.”

“There’s nothing wrong with Martin, Father. It’s me. I can’t have any more children. The last one almost killed me.”

“I hope you’re not using contraceptives. I’m sure you realise that would be a mortal sin.”

“No, Father, I’m a good Catholic. Maybe you should go and see Dr Young. He’d be able to tell you the technical details of my problem. I don’t understand it. Sure now, I’m just a pig-ignorant colleen from the bogs of Ireland.”

Mary had been uneasy about that visit, in fact, downright angry. She’d been brought up to believe that priests could do no wrong. However, she did not tell Martin about it and Father O’Neil did not call again. It seems he had gone to see Dr Young but the good doctor, not being of the faith, had sent him away with a flea in his ear, claiming doctor/patient confidentiality. Shortly after, Father O’Neil was transferred. That was 9 years ago. Mary was now 34, still a fine looking woman but, after the birth of Megan and the post-natal depression, had lost all interest in the physical side of marriage. She never denied Martin his conjugal rights as that would have contravened the counselling given during the pre-nuptial course she had attended in the church. Secretly, she was relieved to be finished with child-bearing and felt that she had done her bit for Mother Church. She did not share Martin’s abhorrence of Protestants. In County Down, the vast majority of the population were Catholics. The Prods posed no threat and consequently there was no religious prejudice. However, in Scotland, there had been a mass influx of Irish immigrants and now one person in four was of Irish Catholic origin. They represented a considerable threat in competition for jobs and rental housing and there had been barriers placed in their path by some employers. However, Mary was grateful that Scotland had taken them in and she subscribed to the theory, “Never bite the hand that feeds you.”

Theresa was just finishing her extra stint in the office. “That’s the books up to date, Mr Duff. I’ll be getting away home now.”

“Thanks, Theresa. You’re a grand girl. I don’t know what I’d do without you. You have a gift for the bookkeeping. Have you thought of going a bit further, perhaps, and maybe studying accountancy?”

“Oh no, Mr Duff – our family’s not too well off. What with helping my mother out at home and everything, I’ve never thought about that sort of thing. I’ve just picked up the bookkeeping here, with a wee bit of help from the town library. I like it and I’m quite happy doing that.”

“Ah, well, we’ll talk about it some other time, perhaps. In the meantime, I can see young Callum Rutherford chompin’ at the bit outside in the yard. I fancy he’s waiting for you – would I be right, Theresa?”

“Callum’s walked me home a few times. I like him. He makes me laugh and we never seem to run out of things to talk about.”

“He’s my best driver, Theresa, although he’s only been in Lochside a few months, since he came back from America with his parents. All right, off ye go then. I’ll see you in the morning, bright and early.”

Theresa McCann was a demure, slim lass, 16 years old. She had inherited her mother’s beautiful Irish colleen looks and, when she smiled at you, the world seemed a better place. Her hair was a luxuriant chestnut colour, cascading down her back in the ponytail fashion. Her mother was pleased that Theresa looked after her hair so well, constantly complimenting her on her ‘crowning glory’.

She had been brought up in a strict Catholic environment and was an active member of the Children of Mary, an organisation for young Catholic ladies. Every month she made her confession, occasionally more often, if she deemed that she had been particularly sinful. She knew that she wouldn’t be able to sleep without priestly absolution and her subsequent penance.

Nevertheless, she regarded her faith as a personal matter and did not judge people of other religious persuasions. She liked and admired her boss, Mr Duff, although he was a non-believer. He was kind and easy-going and she was grateful for that. She recalled the day when she happened to be passing his office as he was putting a notice in the window, calling for applications for an office girl. She had walked straight in and was granted an interview on the spot. A few minutes later, Mr Duff had taken down the notice and asked when she could start. Since then, she had worked hard on improving her skills to hold down the job. She was very happy with her life.

As she left the office, she said, “Hello, Callum. What are you up to?”

“Hi, Theresa – I thought you were never going to come out. Was Mr Duff bending your ear?”

“Bending my ear? What a funny thing to say. No, he was just talking about my future.”

“Did you ask him for a pay rise? God knows you’ve earned one. You practically run that office.”

“Oh, Callum, away with you – he pays me overtime and I’m lucky to have the job.”

“Fair enough – listen, it’s a lovely evening. What do you say to walking home by the long way through the glen? We might hear the stockdove’s call echoing off the hills and listen to the blackbirds singing.”

“My, you’re a real nature lover, Callum. Are ye sure that’s all ye want to do?”

“Oh, we might have a little kiss and cuddle too. Who knows?”

Theresa laughed, “Aye, and we might get eaten alive by the midges as well. They’re terrible in the summer evenings. Oh well, come on then. I can’t stay out too long, though. My mother will be keeping my tea warm.”

As they wandered through the glen, the pastel colours of the heather and the gorse delighted Theresa. “My, this is a lovely place. When I die and go to Heaven I hope it’s as nice as this.”

“Have a look at those sheep grazing away up there on the top of the hill, Theresa. Their fleece is touching the ground. You know, the shepherd stays up there all summer with them, sleeping in a little bothy. He brings them down when the weather gets too cold – some life, eh?”

“Here am I enjoying the glen but you’re always looking farther afield, Callum. Can ye not just live for the moment?”

BOOK: The Girl Who Made Good in America
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