Joe Corrie


WHEN I was a young chap I thocht mysel nae sheep-shank; an when I leuk at an auld photie that was taen yin market day in Newton Stewart, when I was in my prime, I'm still surprised that I didna mairy a guid bit hiecher in the social scale. Cairried awa wi a couple o deceivin' dimples, an a pair o licht dancin feet, an no hivin the necessary foresicht. Juist that.

To uise a modern phrase. I was a clinker. I wish ye could see this photi for it's a work o perfection. Standin wi my left hand on the back o a fancy chair, my legs crossed in an attitude o naitral confidence, the pictur o a river, an wids, an mountains at the back o me, an the sun settin in a' its glory ; facin' the warld wi a fearless leuk in my e'en, a new suit o claes on my back, flaps on a' the pooches, an horse shae buttons by' the dizzen, my bunnet sittin at a rakish angle, an my hair curled up roon' the snoot like twisted tabacca. Leukin at my pipe shanked troosers, an the size o my buits, I must hae lost a guid deal o sweat preparin' for the market, but it was weel worth the trouble, for I admire mysel to this day.

An I'm no surprised, as I leuk at this pictur, that I was exceptionally fond o the lasses, an I'm even less surprised that the lasses were mair than exceptionally fond o me. The times I've wanted to write a beuk aboot my coortin' experiences . . . But Maggie wad be shuir to come across it, an I hae eneuch trouble wi her nooadays withoot that.

There was yin at that time the name o Nancy Whitterick. Man, she was a bobby-dazzler! An she gae my hert mair stoonds than a' the rest put thigither. I even tried to write a poem aboot her, sae that gies ye an idea hoo she got me. I can see her' yet ; her hair juist like the yellow corn ; her e'en like a summer sky ; her cheeks like reid rose buds, an her lips like the rowan berries. An the wey she held hersel, an the swin o her walk, made her juist like a flo'er that haed come to life. An when she used to slant her herd an leuk at me like yon-man, there was whiles I thocht my hert was gaun to burst wi sheer passion.

But she kent she was oot o the ordinary, an when I did mak my proposal she said that she didna fancy a common cairter. Eventually she mairried a Peter Smeddum ; nae comparison wi me ava, but he haed a joinery business in Barrhill, an money in the bank, sae she selt hersel for gowd. An in a fit o jealousy an madness I proposed to Maggie, mairried her, come to my senses, an juist settled doon to the inevitable.

But for a lang time I thocht aboot Nancy wi mixed feelin's. I haed forgotten aboot her for mony a lang year, o course, but the ither day, when I was potterin' aboot in the garden, an Maggie was doon at her sister Leezie's, a strange wumman stopped at the gate an leuked owen at me, an efter a langer leuk she said to me. "Are you no Tam Lowrie ?" I strauchened my back an leuked at her, but haed to say, "I'm sorry, my guid wumman, but I hae nae idea wha' ye are." Then she gae a wee lauch an said, "Hae ye no mind o Nancy Whitterick ?" An wad ye believe it, a cauld shiver ran doon my spine, syne a hot shiver ran up it, my knees started to quiver, an a dryness cam into my thrapple. An it was a guid three meenits before I was able to say, "Guid sakes, d'ye tell me that!"

She haed got a bit stootish, an the hair that yince was yellow was growin grey. The rose buds haed gane free her cheeks, an the rowan berries frae her lips. But she was dressed smertly, an there was still a flicker o the auld licht in her e'en. An I noted a wheen o wrinkles that I kent fine hadnae been etched wi joy an lauchter. An we stuid leukin at each ither, me wi my thouchts o the past, an her, nae dout, thinkin much the same, what she was like, then an what I was like, an musin' ower the springtime o youth . . . But I'd better no get sentimental.

An as we ceuldna stand there leukin at each ither wi a gate atween us I said, "Come into the hoose, Nancy, an I'll mak ye a cup o tea." Sae we walked up the peth thigither to the door, an there was still a bit o the auld swagger in her which I couldna but admire.

Man-a-man, I thocht, if only thae scientific men could gie us something to renew oor youth insteed o makkin atomic bombs what an 'oor Nancy an me could have haed wi Maggie oat. But that's juist greetin for spilled milk, sae I juist let my imagination dae its best.

I asked her to sit doon on Maggie's chair while I put the kettle on the fire. Then I sat doon opposite her an asked her what haed been happenin' to her a' thae lang years.

It was a lang story. an her lips trembled quite a lot she was tellin' me, no forgettin a wee teir comin into her ee noo an again. Peter Smeddum at hert was juist a rascal, an haed treated her nae better than a dug; a greedy, graspin' indeevidual. An I'll never forget the leuk in her e'en when she said, "An in my darkest 'oors, Tam, I aye thocht o you." An fair overcome wi emotion she rose to her feet to get some sympathy. Sae, bein the kind-herted sowel that I am, I rose to my feet, tae, an let her put her airms roon' my neck sae that she could greet on my shouther. But that wisna ower comfortable for me. sae I juist lifted up her heid an kissed her wi a' the passion that's left in me, which, to my surprise, I discovered was quite substantial.

Then the sneck o the door gae a click, an when I leuked up there was Maggie standin in the doorway leukin as if she'd seen a gaist. Man, I hae been in mony a queer corner in my day, but never a yin like yon. An if you'd seen the leuk on Maggie s face ! It was like leukin at the stany Merrick when the black clouds abuin it are rent wi thunder an lichtnin'. Nancy turned roon',' o course, an haed the common-sense to see that she wisna juist as welcome as the flo'er in Mey, but she couldna help, it seems, but kiss me again. Wi that Maggie uttered a howl like a banshee an rushed into the room, her feather boa fleein in the wind.

"Sae that's her, Tam ?" said Nancy.

"That's her, Nancy," said I.

"A terrible tragedy for us baith," she said wi a sich, then sheuk my hand, an thanked me for my sympathy. I saw her to the door an waved my hard to her for the last time as she went throu the gate.

I went ben the room to discover that Maggie was lyin on the bed in a fit o convulsions, greetin an howlin' time aboot-an shoutin' to me to leave her for ever.

I tried to explain things as calmly as possible, but she started to bite the bed-cover, an kick her heels in the air, an bang on the pillows wi hen clenched fists, sae eventually I juist let her be daft, an went ben the kitchen again to mak the tea which Nancy an me could hae enjoyed in mutual plaesur. Efter that I went doon the toon to let my hert settle a bit.

When Maggie stops speekin' she never kens when to start again, sae for a hale fortnicht when I wanted something duin for me, like a button put on my troosers, I haed to tell the cat.

Then yin da when I cam in frae the garden she turned roon' frae the fire, fixed baith her feet firmly on the fluir, put her hands on her haunches, an shouted oot, "FLIRT !"

Weel, I couldna say oucht to that, hivin been caught in the act, but I've haed mony a chuckle to mysel since, especially when I'm gaun doon to the Post Office to get my pension. Flirt! At my age! But it mak's me strauchen my shouthers, an gie my bunnet a twist. An I keep my e'en aboot me wonderin' if Nancy is still aboot the locality.

Aye, aye, it's a queer organisation is the human hert.