Margaret Mc Donald Welsh 1884 -1951
Remembered by her grand daughter, Helen van Pletzen nee Begg.
I remember Granny as always being a busy lady. Three generations of us lived together on the farm, Riggfoot in New Cumnock, Ayrshire, Scotland. She did all the cooking for the large family. There was Granny and Daddy Mackie, Mam and Daddy and us three lassies. Our cousin, Tom Cairney, stayed with us when he was small and there was always a farm worker. There were lots of visitors and often we would have two sittings for mealtimes.
Granny was responsible for the hens and she did fuss over them like an old mother hen. Each year she would raise some turkeys for Christmas. They were very difficult things to rear and she often lost some little turkey pullets. When they looked a bit off colour she would bring them indoors by the fire and often dosed them with a few drops of whisky. Sometimes, to revive them, she would blow gently into their gasping, open mouths.
Granny was never without an apron. In fact she wore more than one at the same time. On top of her dress she wore a pretty, flowered overall. Then, to keep that clean, she would wear an apron with a bib and tied around the waist and then, to keep that clean, if she was washing floors or doing some dirty work, she would wear a coarse apron made out of a sack and tied around her waist.
Granny’s apron was such a handy thing. She could carry things in it like sick animals or chickens or straw for bedding. She could wrap little children’s legs in it when she was nursing them or she could quickly wipe a dirty face with it before the child could run away from her. She used it to lift the lids off pots and to hold hot handles when cooking over the big, open fire. She used it to fan her face when she was feeling too hot in summer. She used it to quickly dry her hands when she was in a hurry. She flapped it to shoo away naughty cats or other animals and, when she was overexerting herself, she would use it to wipe the perspiration from her face.
Strangely, I do not remember granny talking about her youth. She was one of a very large family.
Granny was a real home body and such a dear, motherly lady. Even though she was short, only 5 ft., she had grace and bearing. Her husband, Daddy Mackie, was a tall 6 ft, 2 ins. but she could twist him round her little finger. They loved each other very much and, if granny ever went to town, then Daddy Mackie would be away to meet her from the bus. It was a good half hour’s walk through the farm road and fields to catch the bus.
Granny was a great champion for us children. She always did her best to protect us from getting a row or a flighting. She didn’t spoil us though and encouraged us always to be honest and do our best. She would be disappointed if we tried to do something slovenly telling us, “If a thing is worth doing then it is worth doing well.”
She had a good dress sense and could look like a million dollars with very little. She had a black straw hat which she trimmed differently for each occasion making it look like new. Once she put an ostrich feather around it and then, the next time, a pretty embroidered ribbon. She had a fox fur which fastened around her shoulders and I always thought how pretty she looked when she took off her aprons and dressed up.
Most days she baked girdle scones and pancakes. In our part of Scotland the ladies did not bake bread and made girdle scones instead. I was for ever hungry as a child and granny would give me a whole scone, hot from the girdle and dripping with syrup. Scotch pancakes are made from a thick batter and she would make us pancake cats with curling tails and never seemed to get fed up with weans hanging around her skirts. She often made oatcakes. They were first baked on the girdle and then toasted in front of the fire until they curled around. They were so good spread thickly with butter. Granny liked butter and when she bit into anything with butter spread on it you could see her teeth marks.
She made delicious pot roasts and another treat she gave weans when they were hungry was a piece of bread dipped into the juices of the roast. She would tilt the pot up until the fat ran off and dip the bread into the dark juices left behind – divine.
Granny and Daddy Mackie’s wedding anniversary was on hogmanay (New Year’s Eve) – they married in 1908 – and each year there was a party at Riggfoot. Fires were lit in all the rooms and the house was full of people. Very often we were snowed in and guests had to walk through the snow to get to us. Most of them stayed overnight. Being a dairy farm meant there was never a day off from the milking and the cows had to be milked regardless of whether there was a party the night before or not.
Granny Mackie never smoked but one night she attended the Gaiety Theatre in Ayr and she was so absorbed in the show when the man sitting next to her offered her a cigarette and she took it unthinkingly and then didn’t know what to do with it afterwards. Another time a visitor to the farm offered her a cigarette and she took it and said she would keep it and smoke it later and she left it on the mantelpiece. She saved it for Jean who had no cigarettes and was dying for one. She was always thinking of other people.
During the war there were a lot of prisoners of war came to work on the farm. She made it clear to everyone that they must be treated well. She said they were some mothers’ sons and, if it was a son of hers in Germany or Italy, she would hope that another mother there would treat him well.
I remember overhearing someone talking kindly about her and how she was always looking after other people’s children.
Granny and Daddy Mackie did not have any sons of their own and had three daughters. Margaret (Peg), Helen (Nell) and Henrietta (Bunt). Wee Nell was born with a hunched shoulder. I heard two reasons for this and don’t know which is true. One, that granny fell downstairs during pregnancy and the other that it was caused by measles. Granny made Aunt Nell dresses with cape collars to hide the deformed shoulder.
Granny made jam each year and would have all us weans go out with her to pick the wild fruit. She found out where the raspberries were growing and off we would go with our pails and pick as many as we could. These were nade into jam. She had a big, copper jelly pan and this would boil the fruit until it was ready to jell and the sterilised jars were waiting to be filled. Then, another day, we would go off and pick black currants. These granny would make into jelly. When they had boiled enough then she would strain them through butter muslin overnight and the jelly would be reboiled and bottled the next day. She also made jam from rhubarb growing in the garden. She would cut up the rhubarb and leave it in a big basin with the sugar. The sugar would melt into the juices and every time I passed it I would stick my finger in and have a lick or I would pinch a bit of the rhubarb which was so lovely and sweet from soaking in the sugar. This she also made into jam and it was especially nice when she added ginger to it.
Each year we slaughtered a pig and granny just knew how to cure the hams and she made sausages and from the bones we had the most delicious stews. Occasionally a male calf was also slaughtered and granny made wonderful brawn. She also made curds and whey sometimes and that was so good with cream poured over. She nade ginger wine for the weans each year for the hogmanay party. She really knew how to feed people and keep them happy.
My cousin Nancy and I were tall and she would not allow us to stoop. She told us to walk tall and be proud of our height.
She was a good woman and has been an influence for good in many lives.
I loved to watch her getting ready for bed and, when the corsets were loosened off, she would have a good old scratch and rub the corsets across her back. Why did the ladies subject themselves to such torture in those days?
Before the bathroom was built in the farmhouse the weans were all taken and bathed in a tin bath in one of the outhouses using hot water from a big boiler that was heated from a fire underneath. I don’t remember this but Jean told me. When our cousin Andrew was born, we lassies all crowded around the bath to see what a boy looked like. Jean said she also remembers Granny having special whist evenings at the farm.
She loved drinking tea and liked it so strong that the teaspoon could almost stand up in the cup by itself. If she could see the bottom of the cup then the tea was too weak. She drank black tea. She and mam liked their tea out of a nice china cup. I thought grown ups drank their tea black and started to drink my tea without milk too.
Jean says that when they put in the bathroom in the big farmhouse that the garden was all dug up and granny said she would never have another garden.
She must have changed her mind for each spring she would get into the garden and we dug up plants and weeded and planted and prepared and there were lovely annuals that came up each year all in their own season. Granny was honest and would never break the law, but she had one strange habit – she liked to collect plant cuttings and, for some reason, she said they would not grow unless she pinched them.
She taught me how to churn the butter. In winter when the milk was pale she would add carrot juice to the butter to make it a richer yellow. In summer when the cows were outside eating the rich, green grass this gave the butter a more yellow colour.
Granny was very kind and generous to visitors. Riggfoot was a stopping off place for all the travellers and delivery vans. The kettle was always on the boil and everyone was made welcome. Visitors rarely left empty handed and it was Granny who set this standard of hospitality.
Granny was nice and cuddly. She was very short with a little dumpy figure, She wore glasses and had false teeth. I remember her dropping her teeth into the sink one day as she was cleaning them and being most upset that she might have broken them. What would she have done? Her glasses were bifocal She had a sweet, kind face with plump little cheeks.
During the war the ladies wore their hair tucked around into a ribbon. The ribbon was tied around the head and then the hair tucked over and into the ribbon all around the head. Granny discovered that a strip cut from the top of an old stocking was nice and stretchy and fitted tight over the head and held her hair nicely in place.
I was visiting my friend, Margaret Gallocher, and her mother was having a hard time putting her hair up and I told her what my granny used and this was just what she did and was so impressed that she told all her friends this good idea.
Granny was trying to crotchet something once and could not work out how to turn the corner. Daddy Mackie tried to help her and he worked out the pattern for her. He could never stand to see her upset and was ever her companion and helpmeet.
We had people staying in the farm cottage by the name of Collier and their son Ralph went to school with me and this little spoiled brat gave me a hard time and I got fed up with him. His father came to the farm house to complain and he was in such a rage and we were all sitting having supper when he came raging in. Granny Mackie got him sitting at the table and soothed him down in no time and when he started to eat some food his rage died down. Granny could soothe people down like a little clucking hen and was a great peacemaker.
For some odd reason she never liked a clock to be on time and she kept the grandfather clock in our sitting room half an hour and ten minutes fast. I found it difficult as a child to work out the time going back half an hour and then ten minutes.
Once we had a little black kitten born during winter. Willie Blackwood, one of our many visitors, argued with Jean and I that it would not live long. He said winter kittens had no chance. he was right – the wee thing died. This was one of the few times I was cross with Granny. She took the little dead kitten and threw ir into the boiler fire and I thought she was so cruel. Now, ofcourse, I realise it was a sensible thing to do.
Granny loved to read her two weekly magazines, “My Weekly” and the “Peoples Friend”. They had short stories and serials and were mostly sweet love stories. She did not often read a book but, when she did, she would read the ending first and if it was a sad ending she would not read it.
Granny had a sweet singing voice and when we had get togethers in the farmhouse she was usually asked to sing a song. She sang the lovely Scottish airs. One of these was “Dark Lochnagar”. She asked me what colour the water is in Lochnagar and I said, “Blue, I suppose”. “Och no, hen”, said she, “There’s nae watter in Lochnagar fur its a mountain!”
Each year she would pluck and dress turkeys and hens and give them for presents to all her friends. She would get me to help her to pluck them and clean them. To pluck them we dipped them into a bucket of boiling water and then the feathers pulled out easily. Then she would set some meths alight in a saucer and singe off any feathers or hairs that were left. The next step was to clean out the insides which was a smelly operation and I wasn’t too fond of this part. Then she mixed up a huge basin of stuffing using sausage meat and bread crumbs. The birds were all stuffed and sewn neatly ready for the pot.
She had a lovely sense of humour and fair enjoyed a joke against herself. She had a good nature and was gentle and loving. She boasted that she could stand on her hands. She did,too. She bent down and put her hands under her feet and stood on them!
When Granny was 67, a month before her 68th birthday, she had a serious stroke and was just left at home in bed as nothing could be done for her then. She could barely speak and could not see. She asked for her “Friend” but could not see her wee magazine and it lay on her pillow. Daddy Mackie sat by the window and each time she tried to speak he would be there but he was quite deaf and could not make out what she was saying. He was just so helpless. He so wanted to talk to her and do everything for her. I was then 15 and would tell him what Granny was trying to say. She could only mumble and was very indistinct.
Aunt Bunt came to help and she and mam nursed her. They sat up with her through the nights and it must have been a heavy task for them for granny was not able to get out of bed. Granny died on 9th March1951 and she was sorely missed in our household.
Her body was kept at the farm and there was a special little ceremony called “The Kisting” when the undertaker came and she was placed in her coffin. The coffin was then left in the downstairs spare room and the lid was loose and we were able to go and see her lying there. We were a little fearful but Jean was very brave and went in and shone up the the brass nameplate and the handles. The night before the funeral, the lid of the coffin was screwed down.
The funeral arrangements were all made even before granny died and this upset us lassies. The funeral service was held at the farm. There was a big crowd and a long funeral cortege. It was the Scottish custom then that only the menfolk go to the gravesite. We watched from the farm and it was most impressive to see the long line of cars winding up the little farm road.
Granny was laid to rest in the same grave as Aunt Nell who had died fourteen years earlier.
Daddy Mackie had lost his beloved companion and was just heartbroken. We all missed this wonderful lady.