How I Came To The USA. Part 1.

Being a fur’ner in a strange land, people sometimes ask me “How did you wind up here?” or “How did you meet your Problem Husband who is twice your age but we’re good-hearted people so will pretend that’s not odd?”

Here is how it happened:

My parents sold me at the age of 12 for a John Deere tractor, a pair of nylons and a bottle of Jack Daniels. Weaving drunkenly off down the road, my parents turned and yelled “Take care, young’un, and be sure always to be kind! Yeeehaaa, this rig rocks, Seonaig! Next stop, Ullapool!” They honked their horn as they turned the bend in the road and that was the last I ever saw of them.

Weeping silently, I turned and looked into the cold, fish-like eyes of my new life, but not before looking into the cold, fish-like eyes of my new “owner”. Her name was Mrs. Billingsgate, like the market, and she ran a boarding house “for those wot weren’t welcome elsewhere”. For this was Near London and they talk like that Near London.

We left Near London straight away. Mrs. Billingsgate (how I would come to hate that name!) drove and I rode with her spotty son Roland on the back of a wooden cart and, through my woe, was almost oblivious to the anachronism of this as Toyota Avenses and Nissan Micros sped past us on the highway, spooking the cart-horse, Ted, who passed away from nervousness soon after that trip. I wept for Ted because he was my only friend in those early days in London.

At length we arrived at the boarding house which was in a dark, gloomy lane (it’s the gloomy lane on London’s famous “Take The Gloomy Lane Tour!” tour for which the bus-drivers demand extra compensation on account of the screamings and stabbings and wailings and, unexpectedly, the cluckings.) Ted, (God bless that horse!) parallel-parked our cart skillfully between two similar carts despite being lashed all the while by the boy, Roland (a more odious youth, I have yet to encounter).

I alit from the cart, clutching my thin woolen shawl around my shoulders as the settling London fog was making the air nippier than a bowlful of teething pirrhanas. As we had travelled straight from the island that morning, I was still wearing our traditional garb of a long, plain but becoming dress with crinolene petticoats, thin-woolen shawl and a biannac (a kind of headscarf that speaks Gaelic). I also had my Nike trainers on because when I heard we were ” just going to take a wee trip down South” I decided I wasn’t going to let these London kids think we don’t know about fashion in the Hebrides. Upon lifting my skirts to avoid a puddle, Roland spied my Nikes and his piggy little eyes shone greedily in his scone-like face. Later, he would steal them for money to support his absinthe habit.

I looked up at the grey, lowering building in which I was to be indentured as a scullery maid, patting Ted’s nose absently, and an iciness took its unforgiving grip on my soul and squeezed.

“‘Ere, watch aht, young miss, that’s moy naahose you’re squeezing”, said Ted, sounding not unlike Dick Van Dyke’s cheerful sweep, Bert.

I doubted my ears, but they were still there, and then my sanity, but I didn’t know where that was and I thought it might be squishy to go poking for it. So I thought the only sensible thing to do was to reply politely, as I had been taught always to do. (My parents may have sold their own daughter into a life of servitude but they were lovely really; quite irreproachable people – when not on the mainland, which, after all, is known to temporarily turn even the most stoic of island heads – in possession of impeccable manners, and there were always paper doilies at teatime. I’ve never held my sale against them.)

“Oh, I do beg your pardon!”, I said.

“Don’t worry, ” said the inestimable Ted (may choirs of unicorns neigh him to his rest!) “I expect it was the iciness gripping your soul and squeezing. Best run along now, dearie. Roland’s in a rum mood, tonight and I’m already terribly nervous from that big-rig back at the M25.”

Roland whipped and yeehaed Ted round a corner and I was alone in the street. I could have run then. Don’t think I haven’t replayed that moment over and over in my mind. But I still had hope at that point, contrary to my every instinct, that I might find some small measure of kindness in my new life with the Billingsgates.

“Well gerra move on, you dozy bint!” cried Mrs. Billingsgate from the gate. “There’s supper to fetch for 22 ‘ungry men and you ain’t no use to man nor beast gawping out there.”

I went in.

I’m sorry. I’m going to have to finish this another time. I can’t go on right now. Too awfully moving and difficult, you know, revisiting these dark chapters.

30 thoughts on “How I Came To The USA. Part 1.”

  1. Is the next part when you stow away in the bilge of HMS Quotidian only to be torpedoed by a U-boat and captured by young, handsome Kapitanleutnant of the Kriegsmarine?

    Or is that part later still?

    Cheers.

  2. Let me guess, you manage to escape the workhouse in a coffin, float down the Thames, get scooped up by a trawler en route for South Africa. Somewhere near the Azores pirates board the ship and steal the coffin with you still in it. The pirates are sunk by a large whale that swallows the coffin then gets seasick somewhere near the West Indies. You wash up on Miami south beach where some joggers on the boardwalk take pity on you. They take you to a local hotel where your future husband is the concierge. After a whirlwind romance he….well, you know better than me I guess.

    Excellent stuff by the way!

  3. ‘I alit from the cart’ is pure brilliance and the whole tale has to be true – no-one would invent a name like Roland. I think it is cruel of your readers to anticipate the next bit. ‘Much sorrow and woe ahead’ Now Sam you wouldn’t be taking the Michael would you? I shall give you the bene fit of the doubt.:)

  4. PCB…touching…even without the succeeding chapters I consider it nothing short of amazing that you have turned out as well as you have. There must have been many years of soul searching, therapy, perhaps even medication, to ease the burden of such an awful turn of events? No one could have cast blame your way had you turned out to be one of society’s deviants, perhaps even a serial killer or worse! Kudos to you!

  5. This story of yours is one to rival Flora’s from Cold Comfort Farm – I hope you managed to reform the family you found yourself with and show them how to join modern civilisation and see the error of their ways!

  6. Pat, I never extract the Michael from a situation. But I will take the Percy out of anything.

    Joel, oh but they did cast bame, they did. Everybody’s a critic when you’re one of society’s worst social deviants. Thankfully, they had a very good rehabilitation programme, just in time to catch me before my life spiralled even more down into darkness and meaninglessness. It was in the Forest of Epping run by the Duke of Edinburgh himself. He’s a real card, by the way and, at lights-out time, always the first out with the brandy in the dorms. It was in Epping that I removed my first stubborn stain and remembering the satisfaction of that moment has made me the superlative housewife I am today.

    Alas, Kit, the Billingsgates and their whole neighbourhood were trapped in Victorian London on account of a Top Secret MI5 experiment gone wrong. They were attempting to build a machine that could solve the mystery of Jack the Ripper and clear it up for the Royal family once and for all, but the guy doing the time-travel calibration was the same man ultimately responsible for The Millennium Dome and so you can guess how it turned out. They’re trying to sort it now I believe and every so often the Billigsgate’s house flickers back into 2006 as a very confused Mr. Patel’s Tobacconist & General Grocer. Also, even if they were dragged into the 21st century, the Billingsgates were very happy with their erroneous ways and you have to want to change, don’t you? The Duke of Edinburgh taught me that.

    It may be, Doccie M, but I still maintain they should have held out for a barrel of sheep-dip and a lifetime’s subscription to “Your Croft” magazine. They were robbed! A fine island girl like me? – Robbed I tell you .

  7. the guy doing the time-travel calibration was the same man ultimately responsible for The Millennium Dome

    So, to that effect, Mrs Billingsgate is in fact, a large white elephant and a vacuum for public money that despite initial favourable press, is neither use nor ornament? Crumbs… It’s no wonder you turned out the way you did.

    As for the rehab programme in Epping Forest, I concur. My family have been in attendance of those very same workshops for generations (unfortunately though, that also explains the inevitable inbreeding)…

  8. You are a brave brave woman and an inspiration to others who have walked similar paths of woe.

    Oh, the boilwashed Hell that was the laundry treadmill at boarding school!

  9. Don’t talk to me about indreeding, Claire. And don’t stare at my 3rd thumb either! I can’t help it. All my cousins/sisters have thumbs in their ears too. Sob. It’s never a problem ’til you leave the island and start mingling with the mainland folk. I should have listened to my mammy/auntie/sister.

    fmc, That reminds me of a Martha Stewart idea for Christmas ornaments. Hmm. It’s only a few months away isn’t it… The mere mention of “trimming the tree” at Martha’s apparantly caused last year’s butler to run screaming down the street and jump into the sea. Salty. Oooya. Martha’s one lady that IS a bint.

    Aunty M! Thank you for stopping by. Welcome. I think I shall stick the phrase “boilwashed Hell” above my computer for being one of the all-time greatest images I’ve read. Beautiful!

  10. PCB…did you say Forest of Epping? As in the Epping Forest featured in the book “Lair?” Oh my! What of the horde of mutant, man/woman eating rats of which the book speaks? Were those nothing more than urban legend or did you make their acquaintance?

  11. Joel, that was a false rumour started by a disgruntled former deviant. They weren’t rats, they were Prince Philip’s corgis. A horde of mutant, man/woman eating corgis. The press these days has to sensationalize everthing!

    Claire, Ive been trying to comment over at yours several times over the past month or so but it won’t take for some reason. I listened to your voice post today. Things like that are part of why I like the online world so much. It’s funny how you read in your own accent and it’s always surprising to hear someone you sortakindasorta think you know speaking completely differently from what your mental audio of them was.
    Very cool though and don’t let anyone make assumptions about you from your accent! Nobody in America has heard my accent before which isn’t surprising because it’s not like mainland Scottish accents and there are only about 15000 people on Lewis who speak like it. I’ve had people assume I’m Irish, Welsh, English, New Zealandish, Swedish (i can see that actually because we do have Swedish elements to it from when the Vikings landed on Lewis), German, Dutch, Norwegian, Icelandic, Australian and occasionally Scottish too!

  12. @PCB: How odd… *tests site* comments work for me… I wonder why my blog doesn’t like you? What happens when you try to comment? (I must admit, I’d wondered where you’d gone).

    I know! It is odd hearing people you “know” speak online, isn’t it? A Scottish friend of mine that I’ve known for a couple of years online, sent me a voice clip for the first time the other day and it was so strange – she didn’t sound half as Scottish as I’d expected her too!

    Based on your rather intriguing description, I’d love to hear what a Lewis accent sounds like… would you ever consider voice-posting, PCB?

  13. With a tractor like that, they’ll move mountains. I can’t wait for the part where they show up after you’ve made it big and cried rivers. Just when you assume they’re after some moneys, they’ll reveal that they’d begun to show the Tractor at the Russian Ballet for exporbitant fees, and while its appetite has declined somewhat over the years, it still is capable of eating three to four ballerinas per hour provided none are wearing dancing bells.

  14. Accents, I love em. A previous Mrs Maroon and I were in a compartment of Europeans on a train to Vienna. It really WAS like an Agatha Christie story. Obviously to each other we spoke in our normal seeyoujimmy gutteral Scotch, but when the conversation in the compartment turned to English as the Lingua Franca among our varied companions, we introduced ourselves and joined in.
    They were all astounded that we were British. Two of them thought we were Brazilian of all things.

  15. Look forward to hearing how you did escape this evil fate and possibly, I don’t know, stowed away in a large freighter bound for America, along with hundreds more exploited Outer Hebredians who were sold into servitude. I know it’s painful to write about, but it will be cathartic, believe me.

    Do tell, do you still wear the traditional garb of a long, plain but becoming dress with crinolene petticoats in California? And if so, do you get any funny looks or do you just explain it away by saying you’re Amish?

  16. Hello to a fellow Scot, even if you are in exile.

    Love the story so far although you might have made it a bottle of Macallan single malt! Make it more understandable, even I wouldn’t have traded you for a bottle of Jack, John deere or no John Deere!

    Waiting for next instalment with almost a baited breath, got the hiccups from too many “wee heavys” and not enough Macallan!

    :)

  17. Claire, no I wouldn’t. I’m too stupid to make a voice-post work. I’ll have another shot over at your’s. It used to work for me but now I get an error message. I was using Firefox for a while on and off. Could that be it or wouldn’t that make a difference? Completely stupid, you see, and I just won’t learn, making me also, therefore, immensely irritating.

    SafeT, I can’t wait for that bit either. I just have to make it big now to show the wretches (although well-mannered wretches, can’t fault them there) they made a big mistake in selling me for so paltry a price. Then, then by God, will they be sorry. It’s always bothered me that they got more for my brother than for me.

  18. It’s true, Mom 101. Bitterness rises in my throat just to think of it.

    Doccie M, I expect that was because of the way you wax your bikini-line. They probably discounted your being Scottish because of the assumption you’d need more hair to keep the chill out.

    Emma, i have long since discarded the coarse sheep-wool garb of my youth and all it’s associations of betrayal and being too warm at ceilidhs. It has been several years now since I adopted my current wasp-waisted-and-full-crinolene-petticoat-with-immaculate-apron look. In fact, I’ve started quite a trend here in Ojai. All the fellas are wearing wasp-waisted dresses down at the Moose Lodge, this weather.

    Tattieheid, welcome! Thank-you for visiting. You’re right. But I’ll show ‘em, you see if I don’t! This is one Hebridean who won’t take being sold into slavery, lying down! I’m in America now see, and I know this attorney and HEEEE thinks I might have a very good chance suing them. Ha! Thay won’t be expecting THAT! I just have to find $10000 to show my “good faith” in him and he’ll get cracking on it. And you’re right about wee heavies being absolutely the best size for heavies, and so flexible. I like the big wee heavies best.

  19. Paw, why is everyone interested in the tractor? What about me? Memememememe? MY tragic entrance into the seedy underworld of human trafficking? Tractor – phthoo! Mumblemumblewhataboutmemumblemumble.

    Cindy, thanks for stopping by. Welcome! I’ll be over at your’s for a snoop in a bit.

  20. Oh heeoree a bhalich, what on earth are you too do? I am so moved by your awful plight. I mean, being swapped or traded for a John Deere – a Massey Ferguson I could just about take… but then thinking about it, there might be an awful scramble in the village here at the tattie planting!
    You know what these Skye men are like! These Leosachs are every where….
    Oh heeoree, I best go – Kenny John is shouting for more milk for the lamb! Damn pets!
    I can’t wait for the next instalment…you might make it onto Roddy Smith’s book shelves yet blone!

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