this (penitent) life
When I was a lad growing up in the 1950s in the Glasgow tenements, my friends and I regularly used to raid the garden of the only large house in our area for pears, gooseberries, apples — whatever was growing.
The house was inhabited by a Mr Gartside, who was in charge of the Glasgow Parks and Gardens. We talked of this place as though it were an orchard, but it was just a big garden.
Our activities were naughty, and we knew it, but it was fun for wee boys who didn’t have gardens themselves. Most of the fruit wasn’t ripe; that didn’t matter, the excitement was the thing.
One day, a few of us went on a lunchtime raid. We must have made a lot of noise — like a herd of elephants coming through the yard.
The gardener appeared and we all scarpered, but I was caught. He got me by the scruff of the neck, extracted my name and address, and marched me unceremoniously down the road to our tenement, in the full and embarrassing view of the neighbourhood.
My mother was so angry she didn’t speak at first. Her look said it all. She sent me away to get washed and changed into my Sunday best. I was then marched back to the “large house”, again in full view of our neighbours, and as we approached the front door I was terrified.
I was made to knock on the door and ask to speak to the “lady of the house”. When she appeared, I stumblingly apologised, promising never to steal from her garden again. It was a promise I never broke. In retrospect, I’m sure the adults were all having a quiet little giggle about the turn of events. Wee boys nicking fruit; it’s not exactly the crime of the century.
However, it was an important silent message for me. Nothing was said, no whacks or beltings delivered. I was just made to realise I had done the wrong thing.
What Dad said that night when he came home from work I don’t remember. I was rightly made to feel that I’d shamed the family, although it was never said explicitly.
My friends and I stopped our garden raids forthwith, though I’m sure we found other mischief to become involved in.
Of course, there was no police involvement, and I have no stain on my record. I don’t even think we had social workers back then. What would happen nowadays would be rather different, of course.
I received no counselling for trauma. Why the heck should I? My mother didn’t speak to me for the rest of the day. This had a great effect on me, which I now know was the point. I’ve never forgotten it.
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