GRANDPARENTS

My Grandmother was born Catherine Thompson, and strangely, my Father's mother, who died when I was three months old, was born Sarah Thompson. Catherine Thompson married John Scott Merrilees. Sometime in the 1860-70 period, they had two sons and four daughters: John, the eldest son, went to New Zealand at the turn of the century; Robert married Mary (maiden name unknown); Mary (Molly), Annie, Catherine, who died at 17; and my mother, Margaret Alice Merrilees. Robert had no children, Annie and Molly never married, but John in New Zealand had four or five of a family.

My Grandparents lived in Birkenshaw Street, which went off Cumbernauld Road below Appin Road and then paralleled Cumbernauld Road. My Grandfather, tall and handsome, with a full white beard and hair, was a retired coachman and stud-groom for a well-known Scottish family -- the Colvilles -- who were owners of the biggest steel-mill in the UK. In retirement, he worked part-time for a wholesale fruit and vegetable distributor and also supervised the stabling of the work-horses and took care of feeding and watering them on weekends. The stables were on the street where he lived and he had a little area nearby where he kept a few chickens. In the early 1920's, some of the horses were veterans of World War I. One of the horses, Blackie, had been retired and was kept in a loose-box, which allowed it freedom to roam around the grounds and stable-yard. Blackie was jet black and had a long, sweeping tail down to the ground. He followed my Grandfather around like a dog, and it was funny to see them always together. I don't know what year Blackie died, but he was 34 years old at the time of my remembrances of him.

My Grandparents died within a year of each other in 1924 and 1925. Their "connections" really paid off in the Summer of 1921. That year, we had a two-week holiday at Largs, and although my Dad stayed home, my Mother, Kit, Alec (who had been in hospital), Peggy and myself all spent a great time there. My Dad came for weekends. The snag hit when it was time to go home and we found there was a transport strike on, with trains and buses off on strike. Peter Ballingall, who lived on Aberfeldy Street and was a driver and a friend of my dad, had a horse & trap, and my grandfather pressed him into helping us get home. We took one of the "toast-rack" charabancs from Largs to Port Glasgow where Peter met us with his trap, which was a two-wheeled vehicle with a small door at the back and six seats around the inside. It had no cover of any kind, and we were fortunate to have clear weather. We set out for Glasgow, which was a good 25-30 miles away. I don't really remember too many details of the journey except that at one place, we all got out to walk up a rather steep hill to make it easier for the horse.

We stopped another time for a meal at a hotel or restaurant and we ate poached eggs on toast! I know from hearing the story in later years that we got home around 3:30 a.m. and my Grandfather was waiting up to put the horse to bed!

As a rule, we led a fairly predictable life. On Sundays, we attended morning church with our parents and also went to Sunday school in the afternoon. My Father wore his black-frocked coat suit with silk lapels, silk hat and kid gloves. My Mother wore large hats, fur or feather boas, gloves, umbrella, etc. It was my lot to wear an Eton collar, bow tie and three-piece suit. I am sure we were an imposing sight on those Sunday mornings in the 20's. These were carefree days for us kids, which is as it should be when you are six years old. Unfortunately, tragedy was not far away.

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