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An American Abroad
The Funeral

As we are all aware, there's a proper way to use a language, and there's the way that everybody else does. So when Nettie Simpson's granddaughter came over from America, and talked the way that they do across there, there was a certain amount of confusion for a while, and things got so mixed up that the dust took a long time to settle in the Innerleven Bowling Club.


An American Abroad

When the long winter is settling in, and there is nothing to watch on the television, those that were there at the time, will clear their throats; a clear signal that the new members should order another round of drinks Then, warmed and wetted, they'll tell the story of Nettie's First. Funeral, that is!

It was a Thursday, just after dinner-time. Big Mary was starting to get a trifle anxious. Everybody that should have been there for the morning matches had come, played, won or lost, and nobody had created a fuss for any reason, real or imagined. Wullie, her man, had managed to get along to Methil, to Gordon Allen's - the butchers - for a steak pie for the Saturday night raffle, without getting lost, done out of change or, even worse, buying one from the Co-op!

It was quiet. And Mary was starting to fret. They say now that you could taste the air like it was sucking a penny, but we all know that that's just blethers.

It was then that the taxi turned up, and everybody knew at once that trouble had arrived. Taxis were for funerals and weddings. The only likely candidate for a wedding, Rachel Ross's daughter Irene, had been safely married off just in time to fit in a two week honeymoon in Blackpool before signing in to Forth Park Maternity.

So it had to be a funeral (or somebody with more money than sense, or an American, which everybody knew amounted to the same thing). As it turned out, it was both.

With the inbuilt sense of generals and prime ministers, Big Mary moved in to organise. The twist of an eyebrow summoned her staff. The Coh-mittee moved as one to take charge. It would be done 'proper'.

As the big guns swung around to take aim, the taxi door rattled open and revealed the opposition. Clad in the best of winter wear that L L Bean's emporium could provide, armoured in flannel and thermal underwear, was a sight never before seen in local waters. The hair was more frostbite than peroxide. The face had never launched a ship, though it had probably caused a few sailors to scuttle one. Out of the taxi stepped Portland, Maine's answer to Portland cement - Nettie Simpson's granddaughter. Named after her gran, but never called Nettie to her face. Jeanette Day Pendexter, if you please.

And on that mouthful, the Americans fired first! "Ay-uh!" Straddled by the first salvo, Big Mary blinked, slowed a couple of knots, and fired back. "Hi-yah, yersel! You're no fae aroond here. No w' that outfit, onnywey. C'n ah dae onnything fur ye?" "Ay-uh say. Hain't this heah yahd the Hinnerleh-ven Buh-hoolin Club?"

Mrs Jeffery lofted a shot across the American's bows. Always keen to fire a round, providing somebody else fired first. And as long as she was with the biggest Navy. "Izzat a speech impediment ye got there hen? If'n ye talk slower, we'll try tae unnerstaund ye." Ina Wilson, bein the brains, so to speak, of the trio, took a little longer to join in. "Aye. This is Innerleven Bowlin Club. Are ye lost, hen? An, if ye dae mind me sayin, that taxi driver has ta'en th long wey roond fae whaur ye've come fae. If ah wis you, ah w'dnae be peyin whit he'll be askin!"

Still broadsiding around on full rudder, and with her instincts on full steam, Big Mary saw a situation that called for caution! She could hardly make out a word the woman, from the taxi, was saying, so she altered course in a blink, and sent Ina in to make the next exchange of shot. A good admiral knows when to concentrate on the grand strategy, and send in someone else to take the shellfire. It's what leaders do!

Ina was crafty, and she had depths of knowledge that no-one had ever plumbed. (Not willingly, anyway!). She had even taken two years of Latin at school. At the time, she had reckoned on becoming a chemist, and in the process, saving herself the cost of prescription charges. She could now see how the current situation could work to her advantage, and anyway, when it boils down to it, there isn't a lot of difference between languages. (If there was, she could just make it up as she went along, and Big Mary would never know the difference.)

"Mebbe, if'n ye tell us yer name, that'd be a start. O.K.?" "Jeezum Crow! Cain't any of you people speak English. This heah gal is called Pendexter. Jean Day Pendexter!" Big Mary and Mrs Jeffrey,e struggling to follow any part of the conversation, started one of their own. "Pendexter? Whit's a Pendexter?" said Mrs Jeffrey. "Ah dae ken. Hey Ina! Whit's a Pendexter?"

Ina was trying hard to spit out the gritty bits, and make something of the conversation. So she snapped back at Big Mary. "It's a left-haunded ballpoint pen! Noo let me get on wi' this ..." Always quick to seize on something to complain about, was Mrs Jeffrey. "Left-haunded ball point. If mah mum h'd been able tae afford wan o them, I'd've passed mah qually, an went tae th high skale. Cah write left-haundit w' th richt-haundit pens that skale gi'en oot!"

"So yer name's Jean, an y're lookin fur th Boolin Club." said Ina. "Were ye lookin tae set up a match?" Jean considered Ina with that face that said 'We can do a bit of business here', then glancing sideways at Mary and Mrs Jeffrey, reckoned "That theah payuh oh hoes could no way 'get heah from heah, no mind from theah'. Well, ayuh cain't says as I'm lookin fuh a match. But, I guess prob'ley, I am lookin foh this heah buhoolin club".

"Richt!" said Ina. "An why are ye lookin fur th Boolin Club?" Amazingly, Jean's face lost its hard edges for a second, and out came the story. "It's my Gramma Jean-nette Simpson. Shuhely, I was named aftah huh. I cayum all the wayuh cross the Lantic, from ayuhpawt to ayupawt, with only an ayuh-line bed lunch ta keep the body ah-runnin. Ah comes all this way heah ta see ha, but when I get to ha house, theh-are was nobody theah."

"Hing on a minute", Ina butted in. "Ye've flew aw th wey fae th States tae see yer grannie. Is that richt?" Jean could see that saying 'Yes' was the easiest way to carry on with her story. "Ay-uh! The house, it was sitting emptuh. No smoke up from the chimbly. And then a neybuh, He come ah-tellin me it was Thudsday, and Nettie - ah thinks he meant Jean-nette, my Gramma - she would be away to heh funehral. It would be at 3 o'clock. Somuhplace he called the 'Crem'." By this time, the Portland cement was cracking. The make-up struggled to cope. You could see that she was really upset. "My Gramma! Came all this way heah. Hahd tellin not knowin she was dead. And now, I'll be up and missin her funehral."

Ina was starting to get a grasp of this. Well, some of it, anyway. Jean sailed on through the growin fog of words. "The neybuh, he is sayin 'Goah to Hinner-Lehven Buh-hoolin Club. Ay-uh. Them, they'll know evrything. They-uh always acted like theyuh did. You ask them! Jea-nette always playud theah."

Before Ina could speak, Big Mary was right in there. "Well then, whit's she sayin?" "Near as ah c'n mak oot, she's Nettie Simpsons grandaughter, fae America. Netties daed, an the funerals at Kirkcaldy crem at 3 oclock."

Big Mary was shocked! "Nettie's daed, an never telt me! An wha's gaun tae arrang th tea? An oor names'll be dirt if we dinnae turn up at th service. There's only wan thing tae dae! The Innerleven Boolin Club'll hae tae oarganise Nettie's funeral! It's only richt!"

The Funeral

Now, I'm sure that you can all see what's coming. It's a bit like asking the Dodo to provide school dinners, and feed the cat while they're at it. Once the fleet sets sail, it's hard to haul them back.

"Ina! Mak shair that taxi driver disnae sneak awa! Jeannie, you start makin ready fur th tea!" "Ay-uh. You want me to make the tea?" "Naw, no you, Jeannette. Ah mean her across there. Jeannie Cook. She can mak th tea, an - jist haud on a minute. Aggie! You mak the tea. Jeannie, jist mak yersel yaisefy. Get yersel aff tae the butchers. Get th biled ham. Get th bread f' Stuarts. Lightbodys'll be sellt oot b'no. Nae stale stuff, mind."

Jeannette just stood there. It was like watching a prize turkey organise Christmas. Orders were flying out in all directions. One word in twenty was about all she grasped. But the rest of the wee turkeys were streaming out the yard in all directions. You could tell who was the big bird at the table. Big Mary was 'oarganisin'!

The taxi driver did try to sneak away, but Ina's foot was in the way. (Thirty years later, when they invented speed bumps, sleeping policemen, traffic calming - call it what you will - I always had a minding of Ina Wilson)

"Ye'll be stayin fur a bit, then." said Ina. "An ye'll be keepin yer haund aff that clock!" The driver just nodded, and sweated. "Noo that awboddy kens whit tae dae, it's time tae get respectable. Ina! Whit time did th Yank say fur th funeral?" Jeannette got that bit. "Listen you. I'm from the United States. From Maine. It's Yankee!" "That's whit she sayed, Jeanette. 'Yank' She jist misses oot th excitin noises." She turned. "It wis 3 0'clock, Mary."

Looking at the thermally insulated American, Mary reckoned there wasn't any way to get her changed in time for the funeral. "Ye'll jist have tae go as ye are! At least, y've got a hat." The hat in question looked like an advert for Grouse whisky - all feathers and curly bits. "Ina! You an me'll get changed intae oor best funeral claes. Ah've been deein tae wear that black suit fur ages. Tell her tae watch the taxi man." She explained to Jeannette. "Me an Mary's gaun tae get ready fur th funeral. Ye ca' go in boolin claes. Watch th taxi fur us. We'll need it tae go tae th Crem."

The guard changed over, but the prisoner remained the same. One last spark of resistance was extinguished when Jeannette took away his Rizla machine. "I am telling you, Mister man. There'll be no smoking in my taxi!" "An there wis me thinkin it wis mine. Winder if the mill's takin on workers. Ca' be worse than this."

Jeannette was starting to worry. The hour for her grandmother's funeral was fast approaching. The two people who were either organising or translating, had vanished. The Bowling Club was a turmoil of tablecloths an dusters. Women kept appearing with 'message bags' (whatever they were!). And the only person she could recognise from the moment of her arrival was Mrs Jeffrey. Not good!

"Ah've goat a cousin in Florida cawed Irene. Ye'll maybe ken her" "Your cousin in Florida keeps goats?" "She mairried a Yank durin th war. Of coorse, she never telt her first man, but then, he wis runnin around wi yon Wilma on th buses. Goad, could that woman grow a moustache."

Jeanette was starting to realise that having a conversation with Mrs Jeffrey was like playing a fruit machine. Lots of lemons spinning around, but no jackpot! To pass the time, she would give the taxi a quick nudge ... like whenever the driver reached for the door handle.

Just as she was about to make one last, desperate attempt to communicate with Mrs Jeffrey, Big Mary and Ina came whirring around the corner, like two black pierries. Big on top, black and with a suspicion of a whisper of overstrained cables. Dressed to kill, and ready for a funeral.

"Richt" said Mary, "Awboddy in th taxi. Awthings oarganised, an if that driver c'n himsel started, we can mak it tae th Crem." Mary and Ina struggled into the back, and Jeanette tried to get in with the driver. "Fur heaven's sake, Missus. Th ither side! Th ither side. It's no America! Ah'm th driver." Two seconds later, he wasn't!

"Ay-uh. Will somebody give me directions along this toteroad, jest sos ah kin get to this Crem." At that, the taxi was fired up, crunched into first gear, and screeching up the road. "What do I do now?" "Seein as y're daein fifty, try pittin it intae top gear." By now, the (ex) driver had given up on driving, working or caring about anything but breathing. He was considering asking for a sick note from the local doctor, in order to get time off work, when he remembered that this was his car, and he was self-employed. "Left! Left! Ya daft besom. We drive on the left!" If he lived long enough, he could always retire. Who wants to be a taxi driver in this town anyway?

As the taxi rocketed up the High Street, past the Wonder Store, Big Mary tried to get back into the driver's seat (metaphorically speaking, as Jeannette was in the actual seat and the driver wasn't, if you catch my meaning). "Ah've oarganised Willmax's wee bus fur th rest o th mourners. If ye see it, let it catch ye!"

Perhaps I should explain. Willmax was a garage business, and they owned a wee bus for hire. And I do mean 'wee'! Half the length of one of Alexander's Bluebird coaches, and available for hire at reasonable rates. All done in pastel pink and green, it featured lots of chrome and fins on the backside, and the inside had acres of that awful plastic wood. Ina described it tae Jeannette. "Ay-uh. Sounds real cunnin. Is that it a ways down the road at the back of us? If so, how do you slow this foah bangah beetah down?"

Isn't it wonderful how one unthinking answer can provide treasured memories for years. The taxi was screaming (or perhaps it was just the driver) by Methil Primary School at the time ...

"Jist turn richt! Roond b' Fisher Street an back th wey we come." Jeannette stuck her head out of the window, and yelled "Can't find the directional. Hanging a right!" The schoolchildren had just been let out for their afternoon break. The tyre squealing and the shouting had them climbing up the railings. Round the school went the taxi, right back on to the High Street, and straight out in front of the wee Willmax bus. "I think there are more cars tryin to catch us!" "Well, tak th car roond again." "Hangin a right!"

This time, it was a taxi, followed by a wee chrome and pastel bus that spun around the school, tyres blowing out blue smoke, and the occupants rattling around inside. All the children had seen Ben Hur at the cinema the week before, but this was much, much better. More cars joined in as the taxi went around for another turn. I can tell you! Just ask any child who was at Methil Primary that day, and they will tell you that Charlton Heston drove around Methil school with a chicken stuck on his head!

At last, having collected the district nurse in a Morris Minor, Jimmy the Fishman and two Jehovah's Witnesses in a Standard 10, the cortege (fancy word, eh!) continued at full steam up Fisher Street to Bayview.

"Bangin a left" There are a lot of people still alive today, who owe it to the fact that Wellesley Road was a fine, wide road in those days. The situation would be very different nowadays. The taxi swung round to the left, closely followed by the Willmax bus. Swinging wide, the district nurse was about to overtake the bus, when suddenly, the bus driver cut across, and nearly put her through the door of the Wizard Cleaners. Meanwhile, the two Witnesses slipped by on the inside, singing hymns, so some folk say. Jimmy the Fishman trailed behind in a dismal but safe, last place. With the taxi still in the lead, Jeanette now confidently in fourth gear, and Big Mary giving directions, it was 'Crem! Here we come!' As they passed the White Swan Hotel, Jimmy the Fishman tried to chicken out. But the Swan Brae runs the wrong way, and as he tried to take Denbeath Brig on the railway side, all he managed to do was land on top of a coal wagon on its way to the washers at the Wellesley.

Neck and neck, along the road past the Wellesley pit. An ambulance, pulling out of the Randolph Wemyss Memorial Hospital, stripped its gearbox in a desperate effort to pull back off the road. Afterward, both ambulancemen agreed that, even if they had to pay for the gearbox, it had still been worth it.

Collecting a van from Stuarts, the Bakers, and anyone else who was visiting Buckhaven that day, the ever lengthening procession gathered speed. They briefly swept up a terrified 'auld boy', heading for Buckhynd on his 'bing bike'. It didn't have any tyres, but it was doing a fair speed as he disappeared into a hedge at Muiredge.

"What way, now?" "Tak th next richt, an we'll go along th Staunin Stane Road." "Bangin a right" "Hey" said Mary "You're understaunin evry word ah'm sayin!" "Well, if you shout it loud enough, an often enough, even us Yankees can pick up what you are saying." "C'n ah butt in a minute?" Ina prodded Jeanette's shoulder. "Are they level crossin gates no shut?" As Jeanette stuck her head out of the window, the chicken hat started to take flight. "Could be. Could be." "An is that no wan o thae Wemyss Railway pugs comin along th line?" Ina was starting to sound just a bit strained. "Ay-uh. Could be. Could be." Big Mary would put up with no backsliding. "Pit yer fit doon, woman! They'll open th gates fur us." She pointed to the train of conscripted mourners behind them.

The gatekeeper had arrived at the same conclusion. One locomotive was nothing compared to the horde rushin up the road towards the crossing. One of them had a chicken tied to her head, and the wings were still flapping. He rapidly spun the big operating wheel. Up went the big white pole, and not a second too soon. The steam locomotive driver was blowing his whistle and setting the throttle into reverse, as a taxi, a pink and green bus, the district nurse and two boys in a Standard 10, singing hymns, all shot across in front of the locomotive. The baker's van swerved into the vertical gatepost with an almighty bang, and two hundred cream and fancy cakes exploded across the inside of the windscreen. Th locomotive continued on its way untouched, and the rest of the procession poured over the track behind him.

"Whit wis that aw aboot?" the driver thought, then noticed two rhubarb tarts sittin on the coal at the back of the locomotive. Ten minutes later, when he got to the Wellesley, he was good enough to share them with Jimmy the Fishman. And good enough not to ask why Jimmy's van was sitting on top of a coal wagon.

Once on the Staunin Stane Road, things eased off a bit. Ina had spotted the hearse up ahead, and Jeanette was experienced enough by now, to slip smoothly in behind it, and slow down to a more dignified pace. Funerals must always be dignified. The bus slowed down too. So did everybody else. As they rolled along the road (with great respect and dignity, because you never overtake a hearse. Ever!), the passengers took the chance to set themselves to right. Hats were straightened. Teeth re-inserted. Corsets re-adjusted. Shoes were swapped around until everyone was wearing the correct pair. They were going to get to the Crematorium in time. No bother.

A funeral procession is a grand thing. It gives people time to ponder, to reflect on the life of the deceased. To try and remember what they looked like. And if the ceremony is over quickly, there might be the opportunity to nip down to Kirkcaldy for a bit of shopping. Or a pint.

Nobody had much to say as they arrived at the Crematorium. One last chance to get your stays comfortable before you had to sit quietly. Scratching and squirming was a definite 'no-no'. Not dignified. The taxi driver, he'd seen enough of dignity. First chance he got, he would be off. Sell the taxi. Emigrate. Anything!

Jeannette, Ina, and Big Mary surrounded the man 'in charge' (for want of a better word). "You'll be th faimly o th deceased, ah take it. Ah wis not expecting quite so many. None at all, in fact. I thought th deceased wis ..." Big Mary didn't fancy him at all. A bit shifty. A bit of a sweetie wife. "Whit d'ye mean! You sayin we w'dnae be here fur th ceremony?" Wilting under the glare of the female trinity, he fell back on to that old male ploy, used in all such circumstances. Abject surrender! "No. No. Ah take it that one of you ladies will be sayin a few words?" "Try stoap us!" went Mary. "Ah think it should be Jeanette" Ina put in, before the poor man was roasted alive. "Ye'll want tae say somethin, hen." I think that Ina had just noticed the hat, or it could have been simply an unfortunate choice of words.

"Richt" cried Mary. "Awboddy tak yer places. Jeanette's gaun say a few words." Jeanette stood up, and looked at the audience. "I'd like tae thank awboddy that's here today. So many have come. My gramma must have been very popular." The two men from the hearse looked at each other. "Whit did she say?" "Wheesht!" ordered Mary. "I would just like to say my grammas favourite poem." The man in charge looked at the two men from the hearse. "Gramma always loved a bit of verse, an she taught mah mutha who taught it to me." "But ..." "Will you lot no shut up, an show a bit o respect" hissed Mary. "Aye, let th lassie speak!" Ina joined in. The three men let their heads slump down into their shoulders. "You cairry on hen" urged Ina.

"Gramma's poem".

You cannot choose the rose of life
no matter how you're born
For some will touch the dew crossed bud
While others catch the thorn

You have no right to sacrifice
another for the flower
To take it all is purest greed
And evil in its power

And yet you have a duty, plain
If come before, to warn
And fore the hand of innocence
Place yours across the thorn.

"Gramma. Ah surely miss you."

Ina knuckled away a tear. "That wis awfy guid, lass" Mary put on her hard face, but you could tell that she was moved. "That wis a braw poem. Ye must've learnt English special, jist fur that."

Everybody moved in closer to share the moment. "That wis jist hoo ah remember it. Ye h'd th words jist richt." "Nettie?" "Gramma?" "You're no supposed tae be here" shot in Mary. "You're supposed tae be daed!" "Dinnae be daft. Ah'm no daed! Ah've jist come here fur mah weekly funeral." Nettie looked round at everybody else as if they were daft. "Weekly funeral?" Ina looked baffled. "Aye. Ah like tae come along tae a funeral. Jist the wans that disnae hae a lot o faimly. Bit o' company fur th send off." "Gramma?" Jeanette looked down at Nettie. "But this is your funeral?" "Oh, dae be daft. Do ah look dead?" Big Mary started casting around. No man was going to make a fool of her. But the two men with the hearse were doing 100 miles per hour, back along the Staunin Stane. The man in charge had run out of 'charge' and had gone 'out'. "Whit'll we do now?" asked Mary. "C'n we still sing th hymn?" returned Nettie. "Ah ayeways liked th hymns." So they did.

Many years later, we all sang that same hymn at Nettie's funeral. Her second, and as far as we know, her last one.

Everybody was in agreement, though. Nettie's first was the best!

   Go to Chapters ...
An American Abroad
The Funeral

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