Writing about potato scones last time got me thinking again about Lexie who made them every afternoon with the leftover mash from the dinner. She always worked two days ahead of herself so, for example on a Thursday she’d be preparing food for the Saturday. She was known as Lexie Ordan because she worked for a long time at Ordan Farm and it was there in the kitchen where she was seen about 4 o’clock one morning by the son of the house who’d just come creeping in the back door with his shoes in his hands. He’d been out at a dance in Bonar and when he saw Lexie busy at the range, he immediately assumed some kind of family crisis had happened in the night. “What’re you doing?” he hissed, and back came Lexie’s gruff reply: “I’m makin the breakfast!”
This is the only photo I have of Lexie, standing outside the garden gate at Ordan. It was taken by one of my aunts who worked in the chemist’s shop in Bonar. The frame is posed on a hand-stitched petticoat Lexie made which came into my mother’s possession, and which I then demanded from her. How Lexie kept her eyesight doing all that intricate thread work I don’t know, as presumably it was stitched at night after a hard day’s work.
Lexie was a half-sister of my grandfather, born in Dornoch more than two years before my great-grandfather’s marriage. She was then brought to his croft and left there by her mother; my great-grandmother raised her along with her own seven children though how much say she had in the matter I don’t know. Lexie knew of her origins because she once lamented to my mother that it wasn’t her fault that she was “different” from the rest of the family. I got the stories about Lexie from my mother and I was amused and intrigued by this relation, who had died nine years before I was born. I can’t remember why I suspected there was more to uncover about her – though I think my mother’s secretive manner had something to do with it. When I started my family researches, my mother admitted she had always known that Lexie was illegitimate and in fact, she was the one who finally uncovered the birth certificate in Golspie.
Lexie was famous in the family for her blunt speaking. One afternoon, she was visiting her youngest sister whose baby was ill with croup or something similar; she listened aghast to the noise he was making and then got up to leave. “I’ll have to go”, she said, “I’ve never seen a dyin bairn before”. I was told this story with great relish by the dying bairn himself, some 60 years later.
As well as being a servant at Ordan, Lexie had also worked at a poultry farm in Migdale and lived for a while in a now-demolished cottage at the end of the farm road. Retired, and back on her brother’s family croft, she was taken out for a drive by a niece as a treat and the driver moved the car along at a sedate pace, not wanting to startle her elderly aunt. “Have you ever driven before, Catherine?” asked Lexie.
A brother, visiting from Mallaig, showed her an unbreakable comb he’d recently bought. Lexie took it, snapped it in half and handed back the two pieces without saying a word.
Another brother brought his London-born wife on a visit and one day the conversation turned to the topic of the salmon netted in Bonar and sent down to London by train. “Aye”, observed Lexie, “a the best things go tae London” and then, staring hard at her sister-in-law, “but it’s queer the things that come oot o it”.
Late in life, Lexie was very ill and the doctor had pronounced that she wouldn’t last much longer. My granny, who was looking after her, feared one night that she was about to die and ran to the sideboard to get her a glass of whisky which she held to her lips. Lexie managed to swallow a few drops, then she croaked out: “That’s no like the whisky we used tae get”. My granny was startled and took a sniff of the glass; it was neat Dettol – in her haste and anxiety she’d taken a dram out of the wrong bottle. Lexie rallied and lived for years afterwards, dying in 1947.
Although Lexie gets top billing in this post, another character I wanted to celebrate is Andrew Bedamned, so called because of his habit of starting most of his sentences with “Bedamned”. (Jane Duncan who wrote a series of books set in and around Jemimaville, though she called it Achcraggan, has a whole family with this by-name in My Friend Flora and their house is known as Bedamned’s Corner. I must re-read the My Friend … books I’ve got.)
Again, I got these stories from my mother who may have got them from her father – I don’t know when Andrew was on the go but he was another local worthy. He worked for the Water Board and one day, while the water had been turned off, he was hailed by an irate woman on Bonar’s main street. “Andrew”, she shouted, “when’re we going to get some water?” With no regard to customer relations, but showing a good grasp of Old Testament stories and with his English keeping the Gaelic grammar, his response was: “Bedamned woman! Do you think am I Moses?”
When he was getting on a bit and thinking about retirement, he had to send off for a copy of his birth certificate as he didn’t know exactly how old he was. When it came, he discovered he was a couple of years older than he’d thought. Shortly afterwards, when it was still preying on his mind, he was in the busy pub one night and felt the barman was a bit slow to serve him. “Bedamned,” he shouted out above the hubbub, “I may die at any moment”.
With my final tale, I’m not 100% sure it’s about Andrew but I think that it is. I just can’t remember that important detail though it was told me at the same time as the other stories; the word “bedamned” is missing from his answer but maybe that’s because of who he was addressing. Anyway, one summer evening he was walking up the road from Bonar towards Migdale, well-refreshed, and as my mother put it “taking the breadth of the road”. He met the Free Church minister whose glebe field Andrew had promised to harvest. The minister asked fretfully when Andrew was going to get the hay in and pointed out that the weather might soon change for the worse. Andrew was unperturbed: “Have faith, meenister”, he said. “Have faith”.