Memoirs of a nonagenarian – For her children – Janet Somerville Brown

This may seem a very pretentious title to my story, as it is usually very famous people who write their memoirs. However, it is not my intention to impress anyone, as I am really a very ordinary person. I give this title only because of not knowing what else to call it!

My children have asked me from time to time for some information as to my growing up days, and of the days before they knew me, so that is what has prompted me to write the following: –

As the well-known poem begins, “I remember, I remember the place where I was born”, so do I well remember mine too. It was in a very small country town called Bonnyrigg, located six miles from Edinburgh, the capital of Scotland. I am very proud of my Scottish heritage! I was brought up very strictly by my Scottish parents, who, although very kind to their children, always led us to understand that whatever they told us to do, they meant what they said! They were strict Presbyterians, and we children were brought up in the faith – Church every Sunday (twice) with Sunday School in between was the programme of the day, and whether snow or sleet, hail or shower, we were sure to be in our pew.

I was the youngest of a family of six, four daughters and two sons, and I continued to be the baby of the family for nine years, when a little brother came along. The sister above me was eight years older so therefore I had no sister near my age to play with, and I had to seek playmates outside of the family. This was not so easy, as our home was situated quite a distance from others. However, when I was old enough to go to school, I soon found companions. I had plenty of them then as there were three acres of ground went with our property, and on part of that ground there were many fruit trees, pears, apples, plums, cherries and many gooseberry and raspberry bushes. Someone who cultivated and sold the fruit had at one time owned this large piece of ground. The children I met in school loved to come there to play with me and get a share of the nice fruit, and also use a swing which my father had put up for me between two pear trees. I was never any more in want of companionship.

Our house stood on this ground and there was plenty of room for the buildings needed for the Glue and Size manufacturing carried on by first my grandfather and then my father. I never knew my grandfather as he died before I was born, but my father carried on the business successfully until he retired at aged 70. He did not even want to retire then, but he was unable to procure the skins necessary to make his product, as World War I was raging and the skins needed all came from Germany.

Well, I am getting somewhat ahead of my story, so will go back to the days of my childhood for a little while. When I was very young I was taken to church for the first time. Even although it is a very long time since then, I can remember the circumstances – I misbehaved! Everything was all right for a while, but to a little girl it seemed to be a very long time to sit quiet, and I began to fidget. I looked around for something to do, and at last I spied my mother’s gloves which she was holding in her hand, so I proceeded to put them on her hands again. This was not so easy as they were kid gloves, which were fashionable at that time, but I persevered, and my mother was so glad to see me occupied that she was very patient and let me do it. I tired of that though, and looked around again for something to do. When we got to church that morning, there was a stranger sitting in our pew (a man), and as I was ushered in first I found myself sitting between my mother and the stranger, so after I tired of trying to put the gloves back on my mother’s hands, I thought I would try a new game. I got a hold of one of my mother’s hands and of the stranger’s and proceeded to place my mother’s hand in the stranger’s. When she saw what I was doing she quickly pulled her hand away, and I got a very disapproving look from her, which was enough to make me stop any more antics. However, at the end of the service and in going out, I raised quite a fuss, as I did not get back my penny, which I had put in the Plate as it went around! Evidently the Scots was showing in me, even at that early age. So, you see I was no angel either, but of course I was very little and had a lot to learn.

When I was a little older, maybe about seven years, being able to read and write a little, on rainy days, not having anyone to play with, I was often given a pencil and paper and told to amuse myself that way. Therefore, I got into the habit of writing stories (my own concoction and spelling). I was presumptuous enough to call them “Essays”. About that time I had quite a bout of flu. In getting better, and the experience still fresh in my mind, I proceeded to write a story about it. It must have been very funny as our family doctor asked if he could have it. He sent it to a magazine and it really came out in print. That magazine lay around the house for many years, but I do not know what happened to it. I wish I had it now so that I could have a good laugh at it. I must have had some literary gift born in me too, as all the prizes I got in school were for English and Composition. I never was endowed much with the gift of speech, but could put my thoughts down on paper much more easily.

I had not started school very long when I came down with a very serious illness of scarlet fever and measles together – I had two kinds of rashes over my body and, for a time, it seemed as if I was not going to get better. There was quite an epidemic around at that time, and a little playmate of mine, who had only the scarlet fever before me, died of it. I have a little mug with me here that her mother gave me as a keepsake. It was about 85 years since that little mug was given to me, and I have always kept it and cherished it. I brought it over here to this country after I was married, and have carried it around with me every since. Both scarlet fever and measles are very infectious, and scarlet fever is also a very dangerous disease, but I was not sent to the isolation hospital. My mother begged to have me stay at home, and she would nurse me herself. Her wish was granted as we had room in our house whereby my mother and I could be shut off from the rest of the house and family. We were there for six weeks until I was better and allowed to mix with the rest of the family. I often think of my mother’s devotion at that time, being shut off from the rest of the family for so long and alone up there with me in such a serious condition. My oldest sister was capable of carrying on downstairs with the help of my other two sisters and my father, but when my mother was at last able to be united with them; they must have received her with open arms. I can, to this day, still smell the disinfectant that was used at that time. It was a very strong one, and the house was saturated with it. Well, my illness kept me from school for quite some time, and I lost six months in the process. When I was well enough, however, one of my sisters who was studying to become a teacher kept me up in my work.

When I went back to school they found that I had done very well. I attended the local school for the first three years, but my sojourn there ended very rapidly. In those days, unlike today, the children were very often chastised in a very cruel manner, and many of the teachers took advantage of this. There was often quite a lot of cruelty perpetrated with serious results. It often depended on how the teacher was feeling on that day as to the severity of the punishment. My teacher had a very bad temper, and on this particular day she must have had a special grudge. She had called out for us all to sit up in our seats and fold our arms. I must have been day-dreaming as I did not hear that command, there I was with both my hands spread out before me on the desk with the backs of my hands uppermost. In a twinkling she was on me, in her hands a heavy pointer, and she brought it with all her might down on my hands. I cannot describe the pain I felt, but when I gathered my senses I found I could not move my fingers and the backs of both hands were swelling rapidly. I went home in that condition, and the doctor was called in. It was thought that some of the bones were broken, but there was no X-ray at that time, and different treatments were tried. We just had to wait with hope that I would be able to move my fingers after the swelling went down. Our doctor was furious, not to speak of my father and mother, and the doctor wrote a very angry letter to the principal of the school, demanding that the teacher be discharged or be severely reprimanded for what she had done. After many treatments my fingers finally started to move, but it was quite a long time before I had the full use of my hands. Needless-to-say, I was not sent back to that school.

My mother arranged for me to be enrolled at Lasswade School. It was a much better school, and I wished that I had been sent there to begin with, but having such a serious illness it was not possible. All my sisters and my brother had been educated there, and children came from long distances because of its fine reputation. It was a good one and a half miles from my home, and in inclement weather it was not at all good for walking. Half of the way was very much downhill, and the other half all uphill.

Lasswade was a very picturesque little village, and many artists painted it. It lay in the valley of the River Esk, which ran into the sea, when it reached the coast. After we crossed the bridge over the River Esk, then came the long climb to the school, which stood, on a height. In the wintertime it was really hard getting there with snow and ice on the roads, especially the long hill down to the valley. Many times we had to put boards on each side of our bundles of books and slide down on them. We had some very hard winters in Scotland, but we were a hardy race. Our teachers in that school, however, were so different than they were in the other school. As far as punishment was concerned I witnessed many a cruel on-slaught on some of the pupils, especially the boys. As we grew older this seemed to quieten down. I think this was because some of the boys were bigger and stronger than the teachers, and the latter were afraid they would turn on them and give them some of their own medicine. I am sure that kind of punishment is not tolerated now over there – those were the olden days!

I would like to mention my grandmothers, especially my grandmother Somerville of whom I was very fond. Both grandfathers had died before I was born, and so had my grandmother Baillie. I wish I had known her too, as my sisters used to tell me about how fine an old lady she was. Her husband passed away very suddenly when he was quite a young man, leaving my grandmother with four sons and one daughter (my mother). My grandfather had worked on the Melville Estate, on which stood Melville Castle. It was an extensive estate; its ground stretching all around the village of Lasswade, and reaching for miles further on. There were five entrance to the estate, and at each entrance stood a very pretty cottage, occupied by the keeper of the gate which was kept locked, until Lord and Lady Melville’s carriage wanted to enter by that gate. The occupant of the cottage was supposed to be summoned by a bell, which would ring in the house and he, or she who lived there had to come and unlock the gate to let the carriage through. When my grandfather died so suddenly, Lord Melville condoled with my grandmother, and offered her the tenancy of one of the lodge gate houses, which she was very glad to have. It was there; she raised her five children. Every one of the sons turned out very well and each one owned their businesses when they grew up. My mother, of course, married my father. When my grandmother became too old to live alone, she came and lived at my mother’s and died there.

I have been told she was a great reader, not of very ordinary books, but real intellectual ones. She was bedridden for a time before she died, and my sister, Jeanie, was chosen to read to her as her eyesight had failed. She had a dry-as-dust book of which she was very fond. It was large leather bound book, the name of which was “The Four Last Things”. My sister hated to read from that book, as it was all Greek to her. One day when she was reading (she was supposed to finish a chapter each day), Jeanie noticed that my grandmother’s eyes were closed, and thinking she had gone to sleep, she turned over quite a few pages hoping my grandmother would never notice. She continued reading when a voice from the bed piped up, “Jeanie, that doesn’t make sense”. Poor Jeanie could not get away with it, so she dutifully continued to read a chapter each day, as grandmother wanted her to.

Many large estates in Scotland and England were very highly taxed and their owners had to give them up. I was very sorry to hear that last time I was over in Scotland that the beautiful Melville Estate had been sold. The Castle was a very picturesque one, and the vast grounds were beautiful. I was told that the Castle had been sold and turned into a large restaurant and tearoom. Friends took me there one afternoon to have tea, but I could not help but wonder what my grandparents would have thought of that had they been alive. Lord and Lady Melville were very good to us when we were school children, and had us all there one holiday from school, and served us lunch on the lawn in front of the castle. This was usually on Queen Victoria’s birthday, and we would be given a mug with a picture of the Queen on it. What a long time ago that is.

My Grandmother Somerville I knew very well. She lived quite near us in a pretty little cottage with a very pretty garden. I was very often at her house. By this time I was maybe about 10 years old and growing up. When we had company at our house and we needed more bed room, I was very often sent to her house to sleep. I slept with her, as her brother whose wife had died came to live with her and he occupied the other bedroom. Grandma had five clocks (all ticking ones) in her room. They all had a different tick, some went fast and some ticked slowly. She could not sleep without them. They were company, she said. I could not sleep for listening to them, and it seemed to me that some were trying to catch up on the others, but never could get there. I did not tell her that they kept me from sleeping, as they seemed to have a soothing effect on her. I loved to go to her home on the long, dark winter nights after I had done my schoolwork. She would have a big glowing coal fire, with her easy chair drawn up to it, and I would be seated by her side. She was very good at telling stories of her childhood and her younger days, and she told them in such a way that I never got tired listening to her. She had a marvellous memory, and could tell the names of the Royal Family from away far back, – their names, who married who, and the names, etc. of all their children down the years, but it was the stories of her life that I liked to listen to best.

Her brother (my father’s uncle) was a wonderful old man too. He was very meticulous in his person and his attire. He had seven pairs of shoes (a pair for every day of the week) and he would never wear a pair two days running. He said that was not good for the feet. He worked in Edinburgh for a large wholesale drug firm. He had started there when he was just a boy fresh from school, and worked his way up to be quite an important person in the company, working there until his retiral. His name was George, but my grandmother called him “Geordie”. Before long he was know as Geordie to everyone around. He was a very nice old man and all our family loved him. My grandmother died at the age of 94.

My little brother, Charlie, had grown out of his babyhood by this time. He was a very likeable little boy, passionately fond of horses. My father had allowed a contractor friend let his horses graze on quite a big patch of ground, which was unused. This patch had quite a lot of nice green grass with lots of clover in it, and horses loved that. This man had three horses, but only two at a time would be grazing there. Charlie was not a bit afraid of them, petting them and feeding them little titbits. He got many a ride on the back of these horses when their owner was bringing them in. I remember one day, in which little Charlie was involved. He was five years old at the time. It was the height of the summer season, and on certain days of the week a very large vehicle would come from Edinburgh, usually filled with tourists taking them to certain points of interest not very far from our home. They passed our house. The vehicle was usually painted a very bright colour, and it had a top deck for those who liked plenty of fresh air. It held many people and was usually well filled with tourists, both inside and on the top deck. It was drawn by four horses and this vehicle was called a “Four in Hand”.

The driver was dressed in a red uniform, and wore a high top hat. Another man stood on the top deck, and pointed out the places of interest on the way. He carried a bugle in his hand, and blew it whenever they neared a community, to let them know of their approach and maybe also hoping to pick up another passenger. He, too, was dressed in bright red and altogether the whole outfit was a very picturesque one. On this particular day the bugle blew as usual, and Charlie heard it. As it approached our house Charlie rushed out of the gate, held up his hands, and called “HALT”! The driver pulled up and stopped, thinking that someone was coming out of the house to go on the trip. When nothing happened, the driver looked down at the little boy on the street below. “I just wanted to know the names of your horses”, piped up the little boy below, “I would like to know what they are”.

Laughter went around the people in the vehicle, but the driver did not at all think it was funny. He was chagrined at being stopped by a little fellow like Charlie, and whipped up his horses and hurried off. It is not an easy thing to stop and start four horses. Needless-to-say, Charlie never got their names. Instead, he got a severe reprimand from his father for doing what he did.

I stayed on at Lasswade School until I was over 16 years of age, which, at that time, was the age for leaving and starting to think about one’s life work. I chose a business career, and travelled every day by train to Edinburgh, where I learned shorthand and typewriting and also other subjects necessary to a business career. The only shorthand which was taught in those days, was “Pitman’s”. It was the first that ever came out and it took longer to be adept at it than the simpler types of today. It usually took a year to complete the course.

My first job was with a firm of civil engineers. Their office was situated along at the very busy West End of Princes Street, and by a strange coincidence their front windows looked out facing the back windows of my Uncle Baillie’s back windows – his house facing Shandwick Place.

He was in business there as a Surgeon Dentist, doing surgical work to the mouth as well as extractions etc. His home was there as well as his place of business and his family consisted of his wife and six children. Of course the family knew where I was and the younger ones often played tricks on me. Sometimes they would shine a mirror facing the sun, and train it so that the reflection would shine in the windows of the room where I work. It was a good thing that only another girl and myself used room and the head of the firm was not always there. I had to stop them at this, though, as it was too risky. I enjoyed my work there very much, and they were very nice to work for. I was not too keen on having to make the trip to the City every day, and having the long walk along Princes Street to get to my work, so always kept an eye out for a position of this kind nearer home.

Before I go on with my story, though, I must not forget to mention my three sisters, all of whom I was very fond. They were Margaret, Jeanie and Christina (Tina), and I mention them according to their ages. Margaret did all the clerical work and bookkeeping for my father. She was his right hand in that respect. Her sudden death at an early age hurt my father very much, and it was a long time before he recovered from the shock. Jeanie followed out teaching for a time. She was a brilliant scholar at school and for a number of years before she left school; she came away with all the first prizes in her class. When she left, after going as far as ever she could in that school, she was presented with a solid silver medal for her accomplishments. I have it here with me, and treasure it very much. Her real love was music, and she was a wonderful pianist. She finally gave up school teaching, and became a teacher of music, and that she enjoyed. Like her sister, Margaret, she did not have a long life; in fact she passed away before Margaret, so our family at home grew smaller. Tina stayed home with my mother and was a great help to her. My brother, Will, was in the business with my father, but he did not at all like the work. He always had a yen to travel, and when an uncle (a brother of my mother’s) came over on a visit from America, he persuaded my brother Will to go back with him, and he jumped at the chance. He settled down and did very well in his adopted country. He married a very nice girl. They had and raised seven children, all of whom are alive today, most of them grandmothers and grandfathers. Their father and mother have both passed on. They spent their lives in the State of Washington, but several times came east to visit James and me. My brother, Charlie, worked for many years in one of the Government offices in Edinburgh. He worked himself up to a very good position there.

He served in World War I, and the effect of it told on him all during his life. He, too, has passed on. Tina lived to a good old age (86), and at the time of her death, she was the only one left of the family there; she lived in the old home until pretty near the end. I am now the last of the family.

I will continue the story of my life. After working for a year with the firm of Civil Engineers, I happened to see one day an advert in the local newspaper for a secretary wanted for a local office. This was very interesting to me, and I lost no time in answering it by letter. I knew that I would have lots of competition as many girls in my home town had followed the same course that I had, and some of them had not yet been able to get a position. However, I thought I would try. I thought it might be in one of the lawyer’s offices in my home town. Imagine my surprise, when, in a few days, I received a letter from the offices of the large carpet manufacturing company right there in Bonnyrigg, asking me to come for an interview. I went in fear and trembling, having heard that the office staff there had to work very, very hard. Mr John George Stewart was the owner of that mill. He owned another two, within about four miles from each other, but the Bonnyrigg one was the largest, and employed about 700 people in the manufacturing departments, besides quite a large number in their office. Well, on that day I as ushered into Mr Stewart’s office. He was there and so were his private secretary and consultant, who had been with the firm for many years. I was given a very rigid test on almost everything one could think of, mental and written arithmetic, spelling, composition, shorthand and typing, reading of other people’s shorthand notes, etc., etc.

I went home that day, not knowing what impression I had made, and although I was anxious to find a position nearer home, I felt I really did not care whether I got the position there or not, so very much seemed to be expected of me. I had just turned 19. Just a day or two later, I got a letter from them, informing me that I had been appointed, and they would be glad if I would start work on the following Monday.

I went there with mixed feelings, but at the end of my first day, I felt that my fears had been groundless, as I got along fine, and they were all very nice to me. A suite of new offices had just been built and on the day I started, it was the first day on which they were occupied. I had to share a room with the private secretary and it was with him that I had most to do. Our room was called the “Correspondence Room”, and it was next door to Mr Stewart’s room. They certainly made lovely new office quarters. The room I was in was nicely carpeted, had ample desk room, a nice open fireplace with tiled hearth. Two large windows opened out on a lovely view, a pretty rural scene with the Pentland Range in the background. It could not have been nicer or more comfortable, and I really was very lucky.

My work there was somewhat different from other offices. Instead of having me taking down dictation, the private secretary would keep me going with his shorthand notes, or I would receive notes in shorthand from other departments. This saved much time, and I got much more done. I was really kept very busy, and from 1.00 pm in the afternoon to 6.00 pm I was kept busy tapping the typewriter. On the mornings up to that time, there was other work to be done, and I found out then why they had been so particular in finding someone who was good at arithmetic. I had much of that to do as time went on. I worked for them for nine years, and by that time I was very well acquainted with everything.

Just about that time, a young man arrived in Bonnyrigg from the United States. His mother was also in Scotland. She, too, had come over on a visit, but had taken sick there, and her son had come to see to his mother. She was born in Scotland and so was her son, but when his father died the family came to America. In their young days, his mother and my mother had been good friends, and so had his father and my father – they had been boys together, so it was natural for his mother to wish to come to Bonnyrigg and see her old friends. She took an apartment there, and it was to Bonnyrigg that the son came to see his mother. When she got over her illness, she did some visiting, and one day she came to see my mother, bringing her son with her. That was how the son and I got acquainted. He came quite a lot to our house, and we became very friendly.

Finally, our friendship ripened into love, and he began to talk about marriage. It was just about Christmas in 1912 when I first met him and in February of 1913 we became engaged. So that is how things progressed. As it was his intention to go back to the States, he asked me if we could be married soon, so that we could have a nice long honeymoon around Scotland together before we sailed. This important day was April 15, 1913. He asked as a favour if we could have a quiet wedding, with just our own families and a few very good friends. He disliked show of any kind, so that is what we had.

We were married in my home by the minister who had baptised me when I was an infant and we set off on our honeymoon. We spent about two and a half months mostly down the West Coast of Scotland, and it was a memorable time. We sailed for the United States on June 26, arriving here on July 6. We did not go home to bid goodbye for a second time, as we thought it would be too hard on our parents (James’ mother had decided to make her home in Scotland).

My parents thought a great deal of James, but they did not like the idea of my going so far away. No planes crossed the ocean in those days, and a pretty stormy sea had to be crossed to get to the other side. Before we left, however, my father and mother sent my eldest sister to the West Coast where we were staying just to see that I was all right, and to bid a final goodbye from the rest of the family. She stayed for a few days with us and we went to the railway station to see her off on the train for home. It was a sad parting, and although I did not know it at the time, I was never to see her again. She had passed away before I managed to take a trip home.

Our intention was at the time of our marriage to go to Florida where James had an interest in some property in Bradenton near the West Coast. However, I was afraid, but I was not sure, that I had become pregnant. This was verified when we got to this side and with such prospect in view, James felt that we should stay where we were, which was in Philadelphia, and he started to work there.

He got employment with the John and James Dobson Company in that town, as their Colour Chemist. It was a very good position and he was with them for many years. Those were the good years. In due time our little son arrived on February 20, 1914. James was very pleased, as he wanted a son for the first. We cabled home to Scotland the good news, and had some cables back in reply. Maybe it was that I was an amateur mother, but for a time we had quite a job with his feedings, and I lost many a night’s sleep in the crib beside him, trying to comfort him. After he was three months old, however, he settled down, and it became a real pleasure, and I never again had any trouble with his food. He was what they call a colicky baby to begin with. James wanted to have the privilege of naming him which I was happy to let him do. He gave him such an appendage, though – James Law Drummond Brown – that, in later years, when he grew up, Drummond preferred to use only the name James, and is known to all his friends as such. We always called him “Drummond” though, to distinguish him from his father and he remains Drummond to us today. He was a very happy little boy and a great favourite with everyone. He used to say, at that time, that he would never worry, but when he grew up and became a man, many worries that came across his life.

In about two years after Drummond was born another little baby came along, a little girl. Maybe it was that I was not so amateur as I had been to begin with, as from the very beginning she was a very good baby, and slept the whole night through. I wanted the privilege of naming her, and did not have to search for a name. I had read a book, and the name of the heroine in it was Marjorie. I admired her so much that I made up my mind if I ever got married and had a little girl; I would name her “Marjorie”.

My own family name of Somerville I gave her as a middle name, and I think she likes her name. In two years and one month later, another little baby girl arrived, and she, too, was a model baby, and very pretty. Unlike the other two children, who were both very fair, her hair was a dark brown, and so long and thick that the nurse had to bob it so that it would not make the baby perspire. She was a larger baby and more strongly built that the other two, and she also, was a very good baby. On the night that she was born, it had been a dreadful snowstorm, and the roads were icy and treacherous. The storm was still at its worst, when we had to call the doctor and the nurse. The nurse managed to get there all right, but the doctor had an awful time. His car stuck in the drifts four blocks from the house, and he had to walk the rest of the way in deep snow. He was just recovering from a cold and soar throat, and he arrived with a flannel bandage around his throat fastened with a large safety pin. I was not in a condition to notice what he had on, but the nurse told me afterwards. I wonder what doctor would make a trip like that today! Babies were all born at home in those days, and the doctor had to come there. They had a much harder life to contend with then. We had got a woman to be with us for a time, so that someone could be with the other two children downstairs. She had come a few weeks before and we found her to be a very nice and kind woman, and the two children liked her.

On the morning after the baby was born, she got up very early before the house was stirring, and walked four blocks to a Catholic Church (she was a staunch Catholic), to give thanks for the safe delivery of the baby. This was a wonderful thing for her to do, but very foolish too, as it must have been a task for her to get through all the snow and drifts on the way. She got back all right and came to tell me about it upstairs, but, later on in the day she took very sick, and we had to get an ambulance to take her to the hospital. We were shocked to hear the next morning that she had passed away. It had been a heart attack, brought on, no doubt, by her effort to get to the church. We will never forget that time.

Well, the new baby thrived and grew, and both James and I had a hand in naming her. I chose the name Elsie, which I always liked, but James did not think that was fancy enough, and wanted to insert two middle names, so Elsie’s full name is Elsie May Constance Brown! I don’t think she likes all of it.

While Elsie was still a baby, not walking yet, Drummond and Margie were now at an age when they could enjoy a nice place to play. That we did not have where we were living, so we got the chance of a nice house with quite a lot of ground on Mt. Pleasant Avenue, Mt. Airy in Philadelphia, were we had settled in the first place. It was really nice for them there, and the homes were not a bit congested, therefore the air seemed much better. The two children enjoyed it. The time was between 1918 and 1919, but those two years proved to be dreadful ones for everyone. The Spanish Influenza (which they call Swine Flu today) broke out all over the United States. In Philadelphia it was very bad, and people all around us were dying, parents and children too. There was so much of it close to use that I was afraid to take the children out of doors into the garden even. I was also worried about James, who took the trolley to work and home again, but we were very fortunate, and none of us got it. It was a dreadful time, though, and so many families were bereft. We were not allowed to stay more than two years in that home, as someone came along and bought it, so we had to move again. I could not induce James to buy a home, which he could very well have done at the time, and it was very hard to find a home if one had children. There was such a demand for homes at that time that people who owned them would rent only to adults, they were so independent. However, we did find an apartment, but it had no nice place for the children to play safely. This moving around became too much for me, so James decided to buy. We found a house this time again in Mt. Pleasant Avenue. It also had a nice piece of ground, all fenced around, and nice for the children. Just before we moved there, our fourth child be born, another little girl, who we named Betty Aileen. She was a lovely little girl, just as fair as her sister, Margie, was when she was born.

Like here sisters, she also was no trouble, and James and I were very proud of her. She was about a year old when we moved to our new home. We had not been very long there when all four children came down with whooping cough, a very debilitating and distressing disease. James also took it, as he had not had it in his childhood. I had had it when a child, so it was a blessing that I was able to take care of them all. That was a dreadful time though, and I don’t think I got a night’s sleep for six weeks, going from one bed to the other raising each one up in an effort to ease their cough, and keep them from strangling.

The three oldest children survived it, and so did their father, but our little baby, Betty, could not stand it. She succumbed to pneumonia and meningitis following it. That was the first great sorrow in our lives and we hated to lose our little girl.

It was a long cold walk for the three children we had left to get to school, and we were very nervous over them after what had happened, that we sold our house, and bought a home that had just been built, close to the school, which was much better. They were so near that they could come home for lunch. At that time, I was not a bit well. Having five with whooping cough, and losing our baby through it, had been just too much for me. James was very thoughtful, and suggested a trip home to Scotland to see my family there, and he thought it would be nice if I could take the children too, as they had never seen their grandparents or relatives.

Well, it was all decided, our fares were booked, and James went with us to New York to see us off. The only thing that I felt sorry about was that he could not go with us. His work was such at the time that he could not get away. He would like to have gone. We were away for almost two months, and I think it was my native air, and seeing my parents, my sister and my brother, that set me on my feet again. The grandparents were delighted to see the children just as much as they were to see them. They had a wonderful time, and so did I. It had been twelve years since I was married and left home. There was sadness in my visit for me, too, as during the interval two of my sisters had passed on, and I could see that it had told on my father and mother.

During the voyage across the Atlantic (it took 10 days then, and no plane flew then) we had quite a nice voyage, and Margie and Drummond enjoyed it. Poor Elsie turned out to be a poor sailor, and could not find her sea legs. From the time we stepped on board at New York, she got seasick. It was high tide and the boat swayed back and forth at anchor and the motion set Elsie off right away. We had to get her to her room and into bed. It was such a shame as she had been looking forward to going so much. She lay there for several days, and I stayed with her and had my meals brought to me. I could not get her to eat a thing.

Within about three days of landing in Britain, a lady in the next room helped me to carry her upstairs to get her on deck where she could get the fresh air, which we felt sure would help her. On the way there we passed a Gift Shop which sold all sorts of things, and Elsie spotted a little girl with a monkey in the shape of a glove, which one could pull onto one’s hand and manipulate the fingers, making the monkey do all sorts of funny things. Elsie pointed to it and I bought her one and proceeded to reach the deck. We placed her in a lounge chair with the monkey on her hand, and that was the cure of the seasickness. She forgot all about it, and from then on was fine. What a pity it was that we had not got her up there before, but the stewardess said just to let her lie still and not disturb her. If I had known about the monkey trick, I would have bought half a dozen monkeys for her if I had thought it was going to do her any good, but I had hardly ever been out of her room.

All this time Drummond and Margie were having a good time on deck with children’s games and one thing and another.

Elsie enjoyed the voyage home to America immensely. She was not a bit seasick and was at every meal. James was at New York to meet us as we disembarked, and said he was glad his batchelorship days were over, and that he could come home to a cooked meal when his day’s work was over. All the way home in the train he had to listen to all that the children had to tell him.

We had been very fortunate in our married life up till now, as far as finances were concerned, and we both felt very grateful for this, but there came a time when there was quite a change in this way. Around the year 1926 a great business depression spread all over the United States, and, indeed, most of the world. Business was so bad that many hitherto reliable firms failed and closed their doors. Mills closed down for months at a time. Banks were failing and closing their doors too. It really was a dreadful time, and many lost their all. We suffered too. Investments which were splendid if times had remained good became worthless almost, shattering the hopes of James and me, as well as it had the hopes of many others. James was not a robust man, and he worried about this until it began to tell on his health. His losses were great and he just could not get over it. He always tried to do what he thought was the best for his family, and he could not foresee what the future was going to bring. It was a shock, but we were not penniless, for which we should have been thankful. Many well-known business people were so badly hit that some of them were forced to take very menial jobs, such as selling apples on the streets. Even menial jobs were not to be had. Those who are still alive around our age will never forget that depression which lasted for quite a few years. There is a silver lining to every cloud, it is said, and we got on our feet again. I am sorry to say, though, that it came through the death of my father in Scotland, at age 91. He had provided for his family well. We were very grateful for it, and it made quite a difference, but it brought many worries with it too, which I try to forget.

We all know that life does not always run smoothly, and we must be prepared to take the hard knocks as well as the good times, but James never did get over his disappointment at what had happened to his efforts. He lived, though, to be a good age, passing away within three weeks of his 89th birthday.

Now, by this time, my children have pretty well grown up, and know what life held for us in the future, so I do not need to tell them. What they wanted to know was about my childhood and growing up days, and of the days before they knew me. I have tried to do that, and would like to have written much more, taking us up to the present time. However, I feel I have done enough. Had I continued up until the present time it would have ended up with being a book, and I do not aspire to being an author now that I am getting close to 92 years of age. What I have written is enough, and more would only be boring for them to read.

What I would like to have done is to have been able to tell them something of their father’s childhood and growing up days, but that is something he would have had to do himself. Even before he was born, his mother and father moved to another part of Scotland, and his family and mine lost touch with each other. Then his father died at quite an early age, but by that time the children were grown. They decided to come to America, and the whole family went. My mother and father would hear news of them from relatives from time to time, but never saw them again until that time when James’ mother came to Scotland for a visit and visited our family, bringing her son with her.

Just one year before we were married, in April 1912, the dreadful news of the sinking of the “Titanic” was broadcast all over the world. Little did I think that in a year’s time, or a little more, I, too, would be crossing the ocean. Nothing was further from my mind then. It was a strange stroke of fate, but, if anyone asked me that, if I had my life to live over again, would I choose the same, without hesitation, I would say “YES”. I have not regretted my choice, but, if I were allowed a second time, I think I would be better able to cope with all the trouble and trials that came along. In my later years I have followed the injunction of the Bible which says, “Cast thy burden on the Lord, and He will sustain thee and comfort thee, and give thee Peace.” This has worked wonders in my later years, and had I done so when burdens came along earlier in my life, through prayer, it would have been so much easier.

Now, I am getting very near to the end of the trail, and it is as it should be. I am not afraid to die, and am ready to go when the Lord calls me. The reunion with all those who are dear to me, and who have gone before, will be a happy one. I hope that all my children’s lives will be happy in the future, and I also hope that if burdens come along in their lives, they will go with them in prayer to the Lord, and I know He will take care of them.

There is one person I must not forget to mention, as he is very worthy of mention, and he is James’s father. I should have mentioned him before my closing paragraph, but I must now. He was a very talented man and was very much respected by everyone in the community. He was a Carpet Designer and was head man in that capacity with a large carpet firm in Stirling, Scotland. Besides his work as a designer, which kept him employed all day, he had two hobbies which he worked at in the evenings, or during the weekends. He was quite an artist and he turned out some beautiful paintings. Even some of his were accepted and hung in the Royal Conservatory of Art in London. The critics there were very severe, and no paintings were accepted or hung in that building unless they were worthy. This gift which he had must have been born in him, as even when he was a little boy, playing with my father and other boys of the neighbourhood, he would amuse them all with his drawings of animals, etc. They all though he was a genius, and he must have been to be able to show his talent at that early age. It was a pity that he passed away in his early fifties, as I am sure he would have made a name for himself. He had many of his paintings hung in his home. They were large and had quite expensive frames on them, but when he died and the family decided to come to America, it was a problem to know what to do with the pictures. It would have cost them quite a lot of money to have them packed, both the pictures and the frames being so large that they were given to friends to keep for them, and then be brought over here later when they could see their way to do it. At least, James thought that was the way of it. He was young at the time, and did not have a list of the names of the people they were given to. Such a pity that was, as in later years, the family wished they had them. What was brought over here with them were only a very few small ones, and the family never got the very good ones.

His other hobby was Astronomy. He had built in his garden at home an observatory, and he obtained the most powerful telescope he could get at that time. He spent many evenings in that place studying the stars, their position, and finding new ones that had not been heard of before. He was very interested in the Heavens, and wrote many letters to the newspapers telling them of his finds. He became very well known in this field and he had many visitors to view the stars from his observatory. Both Drummond and Marjorie had inherited the gift of drawing and painting, and so did James. He painted quite a few good pictures and enjoyed doing it. Neither Drummond nor Marjorie kept it up after they were married, which is a pity, but maybe they will take it up again in their later years, as many do. Elsie did not inherit this gift, but she is gifted in many other ways, which the other two don’t have.

I have now come to the end of my story, and hope that my children will not be bored reading it. Had I not waited so long to write this story, but had done it when I was younger, the composition would have been better, and I might have been able to relate it in a nicer way too. However, I did not do it, but I have tried to do my best now.

I have not typed these pages myself, as my hands have now lost their cunning, and my fingers have so stiffened that they do not fly over the keys quickly and correctly as they did when I was young. A dear friend has typed it for me, and I am indeed, very grateful to her.

I would like to close with a little poem of which I am very fond. It is entitled “Old Memories” by Carice Williams, and it goes this way: –

“I treasure sweet old memories

As time goes swiftly by.

A few bring smiles of happiness

And some tears to the eye.

They all are precious in their way

Opening doors of old

That have been shut these many years,

What pictures they unfold.

Those dear, old sweet old memories

All play their special part

In bringing joy and opening up

The latch strings of the heart.”

With love to all my children


MotherĀ (Janet Somerville Brown)