CHAPTER SEVEN (a): LOOK TO THE FUTURE
But about eighteen months before that day, while still a student, I arrived at a moment in my life which could have been one of my possible “Exit points” which mediums tell us are arranged as a possible way to re-enter the Afterlife and leave this world. Apparently we have a few of these Exit points on offer, already in place when we arrive on earth. We choose which one to accept and when. So they say.
The Hayloft Pub was THE place to go after work to relax, and many of our student crowd cleaned up and walked down there after supper.
Dressed up in a pretty red dress and heels, I strolled down to the pub with the other girls, all of us hoping this would be the evening we met our special guy, the one and only, Mr. Right.
As we mixed and chatted, I was fascinated with a very small man dressed as sharp as a tack in a black suit with an expensive white shirt, no tie. He was about five feet tall, handsome, wore his golden hair down to his collar, and wore on his face an expression of closed-down boredom with the whole thing.
I found him irresistible and vaguely familiar. I could not stop watching him. Why did his face tickle my memory? I was sure I had never seen him before…and yet….
After a bit we started up a conversation and he was entirely pleasant, low-key and respectful. After a few minutes he said he had to head home. I replied that I, too, was leaving as I was on duty next morning early. He offered to walk me as far as his own house, a few blocks away. His house was about twenty minutes further down the road from the hospital, so we started out and chatted as we walked.
Everything seemed perfectly fine. I felt a little interested in him, although he was very small for a man.
Then we reached his house, and he said, “You know, you are walking in those high heels, why don’t you call a cab instead? I have a phone right on the wall just inside my front door, you can use it to call a cab if you like.”
I agreed, my feet were getting sore. I followed him without a single thought or doubt, to his front door. Sure enough, as he opened the door I could see the phone right there beside the door. I stepped in behind him without a quaver or a thought of danger.
As I stepped in, he shut and locked the door behind me. His face now wore quite a different expression…smug, hating, full of contempt, triumphant. He turned toward the center of the huge living room, and I saw a crowd of men coming down two sets of stairways into the living room where we stood.
This must be a rooming house for men who work in town, I thought, much too late. Now I am in trouble.
The men gathered around me in a circle. I was entirely helpless. And I remembered, too late, that just one week before, one of the student nurses had been sent home, badly injured, after being gang-raped downtown, by who we were not told. We also were not told her name. We did not know which of us had been attacked in that way and was now home trying to convalesce, if indeed she ever could.
I knew right then the terror of the trapped. There was no way out. All I could think of was how to bear the agony coming my way, perhaps even to death, and what would happen to my darling girl, already living in an orphanage in a foreign country. What would happen to Lori?
I opened my mouth to say the words, “Please don’t kill me, I have a little girl.”
But before I could speak, the front door burst open, crashing against the wall, and a huge man stormed in, furious. Obviously, the landlord.
“I have told you men, no women allowed in here. How many times have I told you?” he roared at them.
My “little, cute” friend quickly replied, about to be disappointed in losing his night’s excitement, “She just stepped in to use the phone to call a cab!”
The landlord yelled, “It doesn’t matter…” and so on. I did not hear the rest as I was already well out the door and heading fast up the street, as quickly as my high heels would carry me. I could absolutely not believe that I had escaped that impossible, nightmare situation.
Then I realized that they could come after me in a car and grab me, for they knew exactly where I was going. I would not escape if they did that, I knew for sure. I took off my high heels and scrambled down into a huge ditch that ran beside the road. Muddy and wet, I crouched and moved along down there as fast as possible. Then when I heard no traffic around, I would struggle up the steep incline to the road and walk fast in my stocking feet.
Down into the ditch, hiding for my life, at the sound of a car. Up onto the road again, running, terrorized, full of fear both for myself and for my baby girl.
Eventually I made it to the hospital gates, but I knew they could well be waiting for me somewhere up ahead behind any of the buildings I had to get past in the darkness. There were some staff houses on the right. I moved behind them and crept along, expecting to be grabbed any moment. The Nurses’ Residence was not far ahead.
Finally reaching the door of the Residence, I took my keys, looking fearfully over my shoulder as I managed to jab the key into the keyhole, not expecting to make it inside safely.
But the door opened and I was in, bolting the door behind me and hurrying to my own room. I felt, unreasonably, that they would be hiding, waiting for me there, somehow.
Eventually I fell into bed, mud and all, unwilling to dare the showers in the large, dark building.
At that moment, my brain decided to pretend nothing had happened. And for many years, I forgot all about the incident.
That’s the truth.
It was many years before I remembered it, back home in Canada one day, and I spent some time thinking about it. I still could not pin down why the little man seemed familiar to me. I could still see his face as clear as that evening in the pub.
One day, when I was 70 years old, my brother was visiting me. We were talking about our childhood and so on. Suddenly I remembered this incident again, and started to tell him about it. He listened, horrified, riveted and fully comprehending the horror I myself had felt upon discovering that I was trapped in the room with all those men, staring boldly and eagerly at my body.
It felt good to tell someone about it. But it was later that night, as I was falling asleep in the safe darkness of my bedroom, 70 years of age, forty-two years after the event, that my brain finally allowed me to recognize the cute little guy I had mindlessly trusted and followed that night in Inverness.
Kevin. It was Kevin. I remembered his last name. His brother, and his sister, married to a professional in town. His mother, long time member of the Baptist Church. She ran a Bed and Breakfast I had stayed in my first couple nights in Inverness before starting my training. I remembered the whole family.
And I remembered Kevin waiting on tables during breakfast at his mom’s establishment that long, long ago morning in 1971. That was where I had seen him, briefly, but long enough to know he looked familiar when I saw him in the pub, dressed to the nines and looking adorable…and entirely harmless.
A good member of the Baptist Church. Why was I surprised? The Christian Churches hide some of the worst abuses known to the human race.
I wondered if it was Kevin who had helped to gang-rape my colleague the week before they got me into their lair. I wondered why they were not caught. How they avoided suspicion. But why would the police suspect a fine, upstanding member of the Baptist Church? Not likely.
He had probably never been caught, looking so upright and innocent, so harmless and utterly charming.
And small. How could anyone so cute and small do so much harm? No, the police would never have looked at “our Kev” as I remember his sister calling him.
I thought about his sister, a fine and decent woman, whose life would be shattered if she had to face what her brother was all these years. If she were still alive. A lot of time had passed under the bridge since it happened. In fact, he himself might have gone on to his “reward” by this time, I thought.
I realized how much time had passed. Wondered at the ability of the brain to protect us by hiding information from us until it seemed safe to let us access different facts.
The brain is a strange and mysterious organ indeed.
I talked to our own police and followed their advice, which was to write to the Inverness police but not expect much.
Too long ago. Too little evidence.
But one result of “forgetting” the entire incident like that was that I went back to the Hayloft Pub one night several months later. We were, as usual, looking for Mr. Wonderful. So entirely had I forgotten what happened the last time I’d gone there, that I had not the slightest anxiety about re-entering that pub. There was not a lot to do on days off, and the pubs did a hectic trade.
That night, approaching the end of my three years of training, I met my future husband for the first time.
It was one of those magical moments. Standing around with the others, holding a glass of shandy, gazing around the room, I met the eyes of a sweet-looking young Scottish guy. He just had one of those appealing faces and his eyes twinkled irresistibly.
I thought, “Wow, he’s cute.”
I made sure I wandered over to the bar he was leaning on and within minutes we had a date.
Chalmers was Inverness born and bred, a product of middle class parents. He was possessed of a great and gentle, easy going charm.
A few days later I met his mother, an old fashioned Scottish lady, a widow. Anne’s home was supremely comfortable, solid as oak with a vegetable and herb garden in the back. Trained in her youth as a gourmet chef, she cooked with lots of butter, cream and salt…everything she made was delicious.
I remember now with nostalgia entering her home for a visit; the fireplace flickering warmly, her old, heavy, comfy sofas draped with cozy blankets in case you wanted to put your feet up and get warm; and the sideboard, gleaming with furniture polish and well stocked with booze, but in a ladylike way.
In moments, a crystal glass of sherry was placed in my hand and I could lie back against the cushions as delectable smells floated through from her oven.
I miss Anne. Of course. Who wouldn’t??
On our first visit to her home after our marriage in 1975, Chalmers grinned in a conspiratorial fashion at me and whispered, “I’m going into the kitchen to ask mum what she wants Lori to call her. She is going to love being called Grandma, you wait.”
I didn’t question his judgment. I guess I took it for granted, like him, that Anne would love being a Grandma too.
He came back into the living room, where I sat holding my sherry and gazing into the lovely fire. He looking tense and embarrassed.
He said, “Well, mum wants Lori to call her Auntie Anne. So that’s what we had better do.”
I hid my shock and dismay. Lori had had her fill of children’s homes where all the adults around her were Aunties and Uncles. No mummy, daddy or granny for those children in their day to day lives.
Now, after all she had been through, she had to call this woman, who should feel so glad to have a beautiful little girl in her life and her arms, yet another “Auntie”.
At that moment, my lower nature took command. From that moment on, I would never forgive Anne or trust her. I knew at once what was in her mind, and in the mind of her narrow minded, resentful sisters.
One sister, Chalmers’s Auntie Betty, had lost her son to pneumonia years ago. She had been looking forward to Chalmers’s children to love as her own. Now she had this foreign child in their place. She had been most unwelcoming toward me after the marriage, and had me in tears more than once.
I realized as soon as I heard the words “Auntie Anne” that they were going to wait for Chalmers’s REAL children before anyone would be calling Anne “Grandma”.
Well, I thought. OK, Chalmers won’t be presenting you with any children, Ladies. I’ll make sure of that. My baby girl is going to be the only one you get. So you’d better start getting used to that idea.
And I never did allow myself to become pregnant with Chalmers’s child. I used birth control from that point on.
But on the day I first met my future mother-in-law, that was still a long way down the road. When Chalmers first took me in to meet his mother, she was as warm and welcoming as the mom of any adored son could be.
We came as a double package: the young Canadian mother and a beautiful little girl. I loved my daughter with a passion I suppose is common to most mothers, and it drove me, colored my life, filled my soul with joyful light.
She was my candle in the darkness of life. She was all I lived for. Without her, I could not have gone on.
There were few weeks that passed, however, that I did not think and dream about my first baby, now living in a farm-based family situation at home in Canada, growing up to be, no doubt, well domesticated, skilled in many useful things, and probably highly responsible as she grew into adulthood. She would be, at the time of my marriage to Chalmers, eleven years old.
I often dreamed what it would have been like to have had the money to buy a present for her every Birthday and Christmas since I gave her up; of placing them in a special room and one day having the room stacked from floor to ceiling with gifts for her.
I dreamed of finding her, showing her the room and watching her select the gifts and open them, knowing that this pile of gifts showed how much I had thought of her, yearned for her, loved her, down all the years.
Of course, I loved both my girls. I yearned for them both, and both were denied me. Indeed, the fight to keep my second baby was still underway; I still had no assurance that I could meet her needs and put food on her table.
What a sad life it seemed at times; yet, I must say, there have been few mornings in my life when I have not wakened to a new day full of expectation and a sense of excitement at being a part of Life.
When I met Chalmers, he worked for a construction firm in the western highlands. He had no savings to speak of, nor did I. But we became engaged very quickly.
Lori was thrilled. A daddy had always been high on her list of pleadings.
“Will I EVER get a daddy?”
Well, she was getting one, and a nice one too, I thought. It would be even nicer when the day came that his family accepted my little golden girl and thereby set me free to give Chalmers his own family at last.
I graduated shortly thereafter from nursing and received my Registered Nurse pin. There were no jobs open just then in Inverness, so I went to Ross-shire where Chalmers worked and tried to find a job of any kind at all. I quickly got work at a local hotel.
We were married out of that hotel on a beautiful October day, the owner’s wife and co-workers carrying out all necessary wedding duties in a spirit of kindness and celebration.
There is something wonderful in the Highland Scottish soul, despite the limitations of living in such remote places. A hospitality, a wideness of spirit. I did not appreciate their type of kindness and friendship enough. This is what living in a strange culture is about; we have to adapt, and it takes a few years to get the hang of how other people think and feel about things.
I look back and realize I was not as appreciative of their small generosities as I might have been. I was so involved in ensuring the survival of my little family and so stressed about everything. In addition, they have ways of inserting enough good fun into life (ceilidhs, for example) to cope with the hardships. I knew little about fun, could not dance, did not drink, and in many ways I just did not fit.
But in retrospect, I realize how open-handed and open-hearted they really were. Of course there were exceptions, like Kevin, but in general, the people of the Scottish Highlands are exemplary human beings. Used to hardship on a level we in North America feel dismay at, and expecting far less from life than we do.
I stood in the little church and took my vows with Chalmers, feeling numb. Everything was too much and too sudden. I needed time to recover from the ordeal of nurse training and get used to the idea of being qualified. Some quiet time to think what best to do. Even as I said “I do”, my mind was reeling with doubts.
But, in order to give my precious baby the security she had never had, and a real live daddy, I was marrying this man, knowing neither of us was probably in love with the other — yet.
Before the wedding, I removed her from Quarrier’s and brought her to the Highlands to meet Chalmers. We were living in a double wide trailer at the time. She and I were in the door and getting settled when Chalmers came home. I said to her, “Lori, this is Chalmers. He will be your new daddy.”
Lori began to tremble. The trembling grew till she was shaking fiercely. Sobbing, she ran away and flung herself face down on the bottom bunk in her bedroom. I went to her, completely floored. Chalmers stayed back in the living room.
Frantic, I pulled her up from the bed and whispered, “What on earth is wrong with you?”
I held her close, but she pulled away as if in terror.
The shaking continued. I had never seen anyone tremble in such a way. “No, no, I don’t want him to live with us.”
Desperate, for I knew he could hear everything, I took her firmly by the shoulders, my small, slender, terrified little angel.
“Listen,” I said. “If we leave here to be alone together, there is no place for us to go. Nowhere. We have no other home, this is all we have. I can’t do anything to change this. Chalmers is a really nice person. Give him a chance.”
The shaking kept on. Chalmers entered the room, his face full of terrible compassion. “Let me hold her, dear,” he said.
He put his arms around her and spoke gentle highland words to her. She shoved him away. He began to get upset and angry.
He left us to sort it out. After a few more minutes, she settled down. What it took for her to trust me with this decision, I did not know.
Deep down inside, I had a horror of what I might find when Lori decided to talk. I made one of those strange, inexplicable decisions. When she was thirty, on her thirtieth birthday, I would sit down and come right out and ask her to tell me what made her tremble with fear the day she met Chalmers.
Clearly, things had happened at Quarrier’s…perhaps at the Alberta home, too, for that matter…that I knew nothing about. This was just the beginning my awareness that I should have been paying more attention to what went on with Lori in those institutions. This was the beginning of my looking back at events and seeing them in a new light, just beginning to understand what I had been looking at and did not recognize.
Now, as I write these words, and twenty one years after her death, I find that Quarrier’s has become the centre of a ferocious storm over abuse toward the children. At the same time, Children’s Homes all over Britain are being brought to task as unspeakably shocking accusations are being made, of as many as one thousand children from a number of different Homes actually missing…no one has ever kept track of these children, no one knows how many were in the homes at any time…sex slave trade predators have been using certain Homes to populate their hidden places. Some children have been found dead.
The tragedy has not been reported here in Canada; I cannot think why. Do we think such things never happen here?
I will never know this side of the grave fully what happened to my innocent, gentle angel. But it was clear that something did. As the years passed, those things became clearer, but she never told me everything.
However, Lori settled down and began to love her life in the Highlands with us. She entered school in a small, old-fashioned community where schooling included subjects unknown to my school years. One morning as I packed up her lunch, Lori said, “Mummy, today we are going to learn how to make a chicken ready for cooking.”
My mouth must have fallen open when she continued, “We are going to learn to pluck it and clean it.” She seemed unfazed by this task, which would have distressed me as a child. In the world we had entered, many practical aspects of life were an important part of the learning curve.
She came home that night and told me all about it. They had lit paper and burnt the leftover feathers off the hen. They had opened it up and cleaned it. I listened, astonished. Of course, the children didn’t have to kill the chicken…just get the little carcass ready for the oven. But still.
As the years passed, and she moved up to what I would call Elementary grades, not only did she fit in, but she shone. Her best friend was the pretty daughter of a local hotelier from the Caribbean, and the two were inseparable for years. Lori was given responsibilities helping with the other children, acting as Class Monitor.
She excelled in athletics and ran like a deer, loving the long running assignments in the countryside. Lori had almost no fear of physical injury. Whereas I was always a very cautious person, Lori threw herself wholeheartedly into all activities. It was as though she believed she was immortal, as though an injury would never happen.
But when she entered High School, she had to go to a government-run school miles and miles away, boarding there by the week. I wrote a letter to the local School Board, begging them to consider upgrading the local school to a high school level, as there were lots of local children by then, plenty to populate a high school.
However, it seemed that some of the teachers at the boarding school so far away were angry about my letter and the impending, perhaps, loss of their positions that would result. One of them, at least, took it out on Lori, even going to far as to phone me at home.
I had not considered the impact on her, so far away at the boarding school, when I wrote the letter.
We always expect other people to have generous vision and to be fair. That’s not always the case.
From the day she went off to the boarding school, Lori’s demeanour certainly changed. The happy, successful girl vanished, to be replaced by a sad, brooding teenager.
As I have said elsewhere, how I wish I had possessed some good communication skills in time to help with my parenting. Perhaps she would not have died… perhaps so many things.
But those things were far in the future as we entered into marriage.
Chalmers and I seemed to take it for granted we would fall in love eventually. It didn’t seem to be an issue. Chalmers had a pleasant, undemanding way about him.
After a while, a friend offered us a piece of crofting land. Crofting is a land management system based on the old feudal days, with a Laird (owner, often absent) at the top of the heap, and the struggling crofter working the land, often with sheep, at the bottom.
However, there were perks involved. Owning a croft meant you could apply for many grants and loans for business, for example.
We decided to accept. We wanted to start our own business and have our own home.
We applied for and got the necessary loans and grants from the government to build our home.
We built a six bedroom home and then approached the government again for a separate loan to build a swimming pool and another room off the end of the house, for a spa.
I had been wondering how I could use my R.N. away in the Highlands where Chalmers’s job was, and I had hit on the idea of a residential spa and spa, one which would take mandated patients from faraway doctors elsewhere in the U.K., patients who suffered from conditions like post-traumatic stress disorder or from addiction problems.
As it turned out, we cared for many clients from the south of England who had suffered various traumatic experiences and could not work anymore without further care. Families as well as doctors sent us addiction patients who did not want to enter the usual rehab centers. With all of these, we did our best to support, listen, offer healing ideas and a healing plan as they returned home, and of course carried out the usual medication procedures of all kinds.
The property was a few steps away from a beautiful private beach and well out on the moors. Three or four houses were a short walk away. It was remote and gorgeous.
With some persuasion, the skeptical Loans Officer who came out agreed to present our proposal to the Government office in Inverness. But even if they agreed, we still needed a lot of money for spa equipment. I phoned the bank.
The local bank manager turned down my request flat. I was terrified, never having asked for a bank loan before in my life. Completely intimidated, I hung up the phone.
Then I sat down and thought, “You are pathetic. Get back on that phone and tackle that bank manager.”
When he came back on the line, I said to him, “Donald, you refused me that loan just because I am a woman. I am not putting up with that!”
He replied, “Wait, wait, I never said you couldn’t have it! You can have it. But I want to see your facts and figures first. So let’s make an appointment.”
The equipment loan went through, the government loans and grants went through, and we were in business.
In the summer of 1978 we opened our eight-bed residential spa, after an advertising campaign in the southern news papers.
As time went on, almost all our clients came from Glasgow and the south of England with a fair number from the Continent. Our rates were low, we tried to offer everything any basic spa would offer in addition to specialized patient care, and it was truly out in the middle of nowhere…there were no restaurants nearby where clients could cheat or find alcohol.
Chalmers was wonderful with taking care of the spa equipment, the pool, the hot tub, the sauna on his days off. He worked full time in a construction firm and loved his work there.
I kept my books carefully, but had no experience in either pricing or in book keeping. I made use of the basic double entry system I had learned during my secretarial training back in Canada when Lori was tiny.
Anxious that I wasn’t charging enough, I tried to get advice from our accountant, a childhood friend of Chalmers’s. He explained that pricing wasn’t something in his purview, I needed to find a better mentor for that problem.
Well, I never did find a mentor and I continued to charge very low prices. Clients loved it…they got to go far, far away from civilization, which is the first part of an adventure, and then they got to walk on a sparkling clean, untouched beach, roam the moors, smell a peat fire, and lose weight like mad.
Journalists were the most outstandingly satisfied clients…they mostly came for weight loss, and the inches and weight vanished off them like magic. They explained that it was due to their high stress, traveling, eating-and-drinking-on-the-run lifestyle.
Running the spa was without doubt the most fun, happy-making and rewarding job of work I have ever done. It was the right work for the right time in my life.
Chalmers was proud, I was happy, and his mother bragged to her friends. And Lori, of course, was blossoming in every area. Watching her heading out the front gate to the car waiting there each school morning, her little kilt swinging and her neat navy blazer spotless, her fluffy blonde head shining in the sun, I loved her so much I thought my heart would burst. Everything was working out so well.
Having this new kind of life, a business person in a caregiving role and with a family as well, proved to be an absolute joy to me. In the first five or six years, in particular, before the burn-out, the fatigue, set in, as it must do eventually, I felt as though a woman buried deep inside had finally found a window through which to showcase herself to the world…”This is who I really am.”
In the autumn of ’79 I took the bus to Inverness and made a pilgrimage to a woman’s dress shop. It had been many years since my wardrobe had felt like an important matter. That day, I bought three outfits. I have no memory whatsoever of the two, but the third…oh, that dress. Without exaggeration, I can say that till I draw my final breath I will never forget that dress. When I saw it on the rack, I stood immobilized. It was every woman’s glamour-dream come true. I had never, indeed, seen such a frock in my life, except on soap operas like Dallas.
It was a delicate mauve color, made of several layers of filmy material; very snug to the body, it clung to every curve. Across one shoulder swept a mauve frill in a slightly darker shade, and it traveled the length of the dress, diagonally, till it curved its way around the hem.
I would probably never have any place to wear it but that was utterly beside the point. I knew if I left the shop without that dress, I would regret it forever. I could try it on at home and look at myself in the mirror, no one need know a thing about it.
At home, I showed it to Chalmers, who curved his mouth downward and asked what was for dinner. I sighed. Such was life. Although I would never be the kind of woman who wore things like that, still, I could hang it in my closet and wear it once in a while and just let myself float away in a dream.
A couple of months later, we were invited to one of the big events of the season…the annual Christmas party given routinely by a huge construction firm in the highlands.
Having a limited experience of parties, I did not know what to expect. It was at a good hotel, and we would enjoy a great dinner, I knew that. I wondered what to wear.
Chalmers informed me that this was the BIG ego event of the year. Only the top people would be there from all the construction companies and related industries. The only black tie construction affair in the area, he assured me. It was the one everyone wanted to be invited to. And WE were invited!! He was thrilled, I could see that.
I asked him what he would wear, should he rent a tux?? He snorted. “Of course not! I’ll wear what all the men will be wearing…a full kilt dress outfit, dagger and all.”
Suddenly I thought of The Dress, hanging inside a plastic cover in my closet. YES!! This was almost certainly a function important enough to warrant taking out the mauve dream gown.
As if that decision alone were not enough to make me a marked woman forever in our area, I added a further, even more major, misdemeanor. I decided to wear my long blonde Dolly Parton wig.
Sometimes I am a real idiot. It is to be hoped that the years have added wisdom, however. I wouldn’t make that mistake again. Some other mistake, yes, but not that one.
Could it be that the REAL woman inside me had not yet found her window to climb out of? Could there be yet ANOTHER woman in there screaming to be let out?
With total happiness, I prepared for the dinner dance. Beginning in the morning, I bathed, cleansed, moisturized, chose lipstick, packed my little overnight bag, got out my contact lenses, polished my gorgeous three inch high heels that made me as tall as Chalmers. Oh, I was going to be a knockout. My heart floated with pleasure as something inside me was given full, unhindered rein.
At the hotel, we unpacked and got dressed for dinner. Chalmers went down a little ahead of time for a couple of drinks and came back up to escort me to the ballroom and dining area.
I don’t remember him saying much, or doing much, when he saw me. He didn’t seem to be overwhelmed with admiration. He didn’t burst out singing, “You Look Wonderful Tonight”, one of my favorite dreaming songs.
I knew I looked stunning, curvaceous, beautiful. No doubt about it. Well, anyway, I HAD to look PRETTY good, after all that moisturizer and makeup. Maybe not stunning, well, maybe not. I didn’t know for sure. The lack of response when he saw me was puzzling.
However, as we moved down the hallway together, Chalmers in his swinging, sexy kilt and me in my Dallas gown and long blonde wig, I thought we made a fabulous couple.
As we approached the doors of the ballroom, I could hear the strains of a beautiful waltz emanating from the small orchestra hired for the night, there to welcome us all as management and staff of all the area contracting companies. We were gathered for a true Scottish ceilidh and a dinner to remember.
But once in the room, as we moved around the tables and the bar, saying hello to everyone, I realized in confusion that the other wives were all dressed in the same old dresses they wore to every other party and dinner we had ever been at. Buttoned up to the neck, dark colors, discreet dresses that could not be called “gowns” at all, some not even floor length. Little makeup. But tidy, very tidy. Neat, proper Highland housewives out for a modest evening of tatties and roast beef and a few reels and waltzes.
Well, I had so blown it. I wondered why Chalmers had not said anything to me when I had showed him my dress that morning at home. When I told him I would wear my blonde wig, the sexy long hair I had been wearing the night he first saw me in the pub a few years earlier. He had loved it that night.
But he didn’t love it this night. He moved coldly to the bar, turned his back on me and left me alone for the remainder of the evening.
Still, I could not help loving the gown. I felt thrilled to be wearing it. The dress seemed to be alive, to have a life of its own. It had been waiting for someone who adored it to pick it up off the rack and take it home. It loved the whole thing as much as I did. We were meant to be together, the frock and I.
For a while, following dinner, I sat at our table alone and watched the couples dancing. A local dentist and his slender, tall wife moved around the floor to a two-step, the pale blue layers of silky fabric she wore drifting around her like the wings of a fabulous bird floating on a high breeze. They danced like Hollywood stars. I could not get enough of watching them. It seemed someone of her stature, a professional’s wife, could get away with a gorgeous gown without criticism.
I wanted to be able to dance. To move around a dance floor like her. She was so lovely, so fragile, in that elegant, floor length, glamorous creation.
I did not dance, partly because I did not know how, and partly because no one asked me…especially my husband, still with his back to me, still standing at the bar.
I looked around the room. Everywhere couples were seated together talking and laughing. No one looked at me, no one spoke to me. And suddenly I remembered the women in the church in Inverness… “Over here, only prostitutes dress like that.”
And that was only when I was wearing my best church-going outfits!! What must they think of me in this high-falutin’ gear fit only for women of the night? And the wig!!
But nevertheless, my heart still swelled with joy at the dress I was wearing. This was who I was. This was the woman who would never see daylight in this lifetime, but I knew she was in there, waiting. Maybe another lifetime.
Someday, in some world, in some century, I would whirl and float around a dance floor somewhere in the arms of a gorgeous, clever man who loved and honored me. I knew it. Not in this lifetime, but someday.
Nothing they did, or didn’t do to me, that night, could touch the pleasure I felt at wearing that dress. I still feel such gratitude that I owned it, wore it, felt its beauty upon me.
I never felt that way about an article of clothing before or since. Probably never will. Thank God I bought it that day in that little shop.
After a couple of hours of sitting by myself in the middle of the room while everyone else socialized and drank, whirling to reels and singing Scottish songs, and looking at my stupid husband’s broad back at the bar, I got up and made my way up the carpeted stairs back to our room.
On the way, I lost my sense of direction, limited at best, there in the maze of hotel hallways, and wandered for about twenty minutes by myself in high heels before I found the right corridor. At about the fifteen-minute point, I began to feel distressed. I saw myself wandering forever, like someone on The Wreck of the Mary Deere, on the decks of this hotel, trying vainly to find my room. Never finding it, forever lost.
Just as I approached our room, my feet aching, my husband appeared and quite cheerfully asked me how I was doing. I explained that I was rather tired and was going to hit the sack early.
He nodded as though that was fine and disappeared back downstairs to the bar.
I lay there in the overheated darkness of the hotel room, pondering the mystery of why the dress affected me so.
A few months later, a girlfriend asked me if I had ever worn the dress since, and I replied no, and probably never would have an opportunity to do so either. She blatantly came right out and asked me if she could have it for her sister, who was a well known ballroom dancer. I thought about it, and said “Yes.”
I would never be able to do the dress justice, and maybe she could. Besides, I had only needed to wear it once. That was enough. Its purpose fulfilled in my life.
However, returning to our home and business, I soon recovered my aplomb and regained my focus. The joyous business of attracting new clients was an ongoing challenge, and advertising was my obsession. Advertising was the lifeblood of the spa, and I understood that well. Leaving no stone unturned, I managed to interest a national Scottish paper in doing a spread of the spa, which came out with full color pictures of our equipment, our beach, our staff. It was great.
When a famous glossy magazine did an item on spas in Britain, they phoned me and asked permission to include our details. I delightedly obliged. We were becoming known!!
Some of our clients were millionaires. One Saturday, as we hurried around adding the finishing touches to the house for new guests arriving, a Rolls Royce drove up to our gate. I was thrilled. I had never seen a Silver Shadow before.
This delightful couple from Tyneside (north of England), were the most down to earth you could find. They had made their money collecting junk from other people and selling it.
“Where there’s muck there’s brass,” he told me proudly.
Mick’s problem was the diet food. We offered a range of salads in addition to fish, chicken and steaks if they wanted. We did not offer tea or coffee because of the caffeine. Most of our guests needed to wind down, so we avoided any stimulants.
Mick couldn’t cope. He had to have his meat and potatoes and his coffee. And his beer. He argued me into accepting this unusual request, saying he didn’t need to lose weight, but his wife loved the salads, so she could have the diet food.
In the evenings he headed up the dirt road to the nearest pub for his evening pint.
There was something so lovable about him, it was difficult to be hard. Maybe it was the Rolls. I don’t know. I never yielded to any other client in all the eight years we ran the spa, however.