What a beautiful morning – Lochaber at its
best! thought Ronald Cameron as he drove across the Blar Mor.
A golden light surrounded him; the light danced on the waters of Loch
Linnhe and even the Ben looked warm and friendly.
It looked as if spring was coming, although there was a nip in the air
And the Cameron Ceilidh tomorrow night, he
must telephone KK Cameron. It was
good to have KK’s Tearooms for the Ceilidh, central to the district, warm and
friendly. Must also telephone Jessie
Cameron to be sure she was still able to sing at the ceilidh and Johnnie Cameron
to see if he had finished his new poems. It
should be a good night. Then there
was the Kilmallie shinty match on Saturday – must see who wants a lift to
Newtonmore. Not much chance of
winning – Newtonmore had a great team this year.
There was the Committee meeting too for the Highland Games this week.
It needed some new ideas to revive it.
At the office in Fort William, the daffodils
were a bed of gold. It was worth the
trouble keeping the gardens going – brightened up the place.
He must get the dahlia tubers in this week; they were the real show in
the summer time. Hoped that new
variety would grow all right, it was claimed that it had large red flowers, but
how many blooms to the plant? Time
will tell – hope it doesn’t leave a gap in the show.
He had a word with everyone and had settled
down at his desk, when young Sandy came rushing through.
“It’s the Manager from Glasgow, coming up the path, must have come up
on the early train.” Ronald
wondered why the surprise visit – just to check up that they were doing
everything by the book! Thank
goodness he did not come yesterday, when the office was full of relations from
Roybridge, down for the cattle sales. He
would not have been impressed with all the talking in the Gaelic!
“Good morning, Ronald.
It’s a grand day,” said Mr. MacDonald, cheerfully.
“Great trip on the train, the hills were clear and the lochs sparkling
– even Rannoch Moor seemed to have a touch of spring.”
“That was good,” said Ronald, noticing that Mr. MacDonald was
cheerful, cannot be anything wrong, he thought.
“What were you wanting to see? Mr. MacDonald, last month’s
summaries?” “Well, no.”
said Mr. MacDonald “I am sure that they will be at your usual high
standard. Things are going well, are
they not?” “Yes, we are all
ready for what we hope will be a busy summer with the tourists.”
“No, I wanted to talk with you personally.
I have brought this letter. I
know that if I posted it to you, I would just get a polite reply and a
refusal.” He handed the letter to
Ronald, who read it quickly. Oh, no,
they wanted him to move to Fife. Mr.
MacDonald said “You have done very well in Fort William, but there is no
position for promotion. We need you
in a bigger job further south.” Ronald
knew there was no promotion in Lochaber – or anyplace in the West Highlands,
but he hoped that that they would leave him here until his retirement.
Mr. MacDonald was explaining that they liked promoting their own people
and if Ronald moved then someone could be promoted into his job.
He then spent another hour describing the job in Fife – the interesting
work, the chance of further promotion may be into Edinburgh or Glasgow, the
increased salary, the house made available for the family, the good schools and
the chance for further education for the children.
They could easily travel to Edinburgh, St. Andrews or Dundee and their
education would be cheaper. Finally
he said that he would have to go, as he had to catch the train back to Glasgow,
he had a meeting that night. So
Ronald walked down to the station with him and they parted with Mr. MacDonald
saying “Please consider this carefully. We
really need you in the South.”
Ronald walked slowly back – his day all
upset, even the weather had turned grey and the rain was starting.
He went back into thinking in the Gaelic: Why today?
Why now? He knew that one day
he would have to face this, but thought it had disappeared now that he was
getting older. He realised that it
would be better for the family from the point-of-view of education and
employment possibilities. But they
would lose their ties with Lochaber – their history, their home, their
culture. Young Ronnie would not be
able to play shinty in Fife and he had the look of a top shinty player!
A cheerful voice said “ Maidhainn mhath.
Ciamar a tha thu?” and
broke into his thoughts. He grunted
a good morning and continued walking. Suddenly
he realised that it was Jessie Cameron and quickly turned to say “Tha gu math.
Ciamar a tha thu-fhein?” As
she replied cheerfully that she was fine, he remembered to ask her if she was
all set for the ceilidh. “Of
course. I have a couple of songs I
have not sung before – I got the music from Maggie Martin, hope the Camerons
As Ronald said good-bye, he quickened his
steps and went back to the office and on with his day’s work.
He was so quick and busy; everyone wondered what Mr. MacDonald had said
– may be he was not happy with the amount of work the office was doing,
criticising their West Highland ways. So
they intensified their efforts as well. But
the thoughts would keep on recurring and they flooded his mind on the way home.
His grandfather had not gone away to Canada or
America when the Gordons had removed them from the land up Glen Nevis.
He had moved to a bit of moorland near Spean Bridge with some other
families and built the stone walls and the houses, and gradually brought in the
land. He did not want to leave
Lochaber; this was the family’s home for a long time.
If they went away on the boat, that would be the end.
His father had also stayed, working the croft and he made a little money
working on the Canal and the roads. Not
a very good living, but they had enough. Luckily
for him, the railway had come and Fort William expanded, the aluminium works was
built, and one could find a job in Fort William.
But now the time to make a decision for his family had come.
It was the same as 150 years ago – to stay or go?
He was soon home in Banavie with Mary and the
children. He knew she would say,
“let’s go tomorrow.” She had
been away in New York when she was young, only came home because her mother was
ill. She had seen and lived a
different life – going to concerts, plays, meeting interesting people, reading
books and newspapers, seeing how people could make better lives for themselves
– get educated, raise themselves into the middle classes away from the feudal
system in the Highlands.
The children filled the mealtime with their
talk. Ronnie was worried about the
junior shinty match on Saturday because they faced a formidable team, Marie and
Beth were arguing about something or other, and the wee one had the questions as
usual – tonight it was ‘why do aeroplanes stay up in the sky?’
Where did she get these ideas, as he sifted through his mind to explain
thrust and power to a 6-year-old? The
arrival of Donnie Cameron again delayed the time before the telling!
He had brought a couple of hares he had shot and Ronald had a blether
with him about the goings-on around the village.
But he could not keep him forever; Donnie had to get home to his wife.
As he watched Mary getting ready for bed, brushing and plaiting her hair
and getting out her nightdress, he eventually opened the subject
“Mr. MacDonald was up from Glasgow today.”
“Oh, what did he want?” replied Mary in a disinterested voice.
“He offered me promotion to a new job in Fife.”
Mary’s eyes gleamed. “But that is wonderful . You have done
really well. When do we move?”
And she rushed over and gave him a hug and a kiss.
Ronald quietly said, “I have not decided to go.”
“Not decided! What is there
to decide? This is our chance.
It will be great for the children. They
will be able to go to a good school and have a chance of going on to University
or college.” “Yes, I know”
said Ronald “But we shall have to give up our lives as Camerons of Lochaber
– our people, family, language, poetry, songs, games, history.
We shall never speak Gaelic again. Sure
it is a poorer living financially but there is the wealth of the people.”
Mary asked what the Camerons had ever done for them.
The argument went on through most of the night
until he said “We have to get up in the morning and get the work started and
the children off to school, so let’s go to sleep now.”
She still tossed restlessly, but finally fell asleep.
He lay awake still thinking round and round.
In the morning with the noise of the children,
there was no time to talk, and he quickly got out of the house and off to work -
still in a quandary. Why did these
things happen, why upset his pleasant life?
The staff wondered what was wrong; Ronald was so quiet, not his usual
talkative self, not encouraging them in their work, not looking for something
new to do, not telephoning his friends, arranging ceilidhs, meetings and what
have you. Finally Maggie Cameron
walked in with a cup of tea in her hand and asked if he was all right or was he
poorly. That made him jump out of
the darkness and he went through with his cup of tea and started working with
everyone again. Had Sandy been down
to the Oban Times office with the advertisement?
Had Maggie chased up the bookings for the steamer?
But the darkness was still there at the end of
the day. He had only one day to make
up his mind. Again that night, the
argument went on - his ideas on staying and Mary’s ideas on leaving.
He did realise the advantages of education, of improved medical care, of
wider interests, of improved chances for the children’s future and of a
larger, more varied, circle of friends. But
he also realised the heritage from his father and grandfather of staying, of
continuing the old traditions, of keeping his feet on the ground trodden by his
ancestors. He thought of this lovely
countryside – the Ben, Loch Linnhe, the Great Glen, the waterfalls, the
rivers. The peace at night, watching
the sunsets, the full moon, the Aurora Borealis flashing across the sky.
All gone in the murky sky of the Lowlands, the fogs, the bitter cold, the
north easterly winds that cut right through you.
What a decision to make tomorrow!
On the next morning, he suddenly got up from
his desk, walked down to the Post Office and sent a telegram to Mr. MacDonald.
I APPRECIATE THE OFFER RECEIVED FROM THE
COMPANY AND YOUR CONFIDENCE IN MY ABILITIES.
I HAVE DECIDED THAT I SHALL NOT ACCEPT THE PROMOTION TO FIFE. I SHALL
STAY IN LOCHABER.
Well that was done! Dear knows what the future
would bring to his work, but there would be unhappiness at home.
As he walked back, there was darkness as the wind brought the pelting
rain up the Loch; the sun had long disappeared.