In honor of Mother's Day (U.S.) here is a chapter about my mother.

                                                                    Chapter 6


After living on the Gask estate for about a year, we returned to the Brax farm. 

Some lighter memories of Mam are the shirt, the motorbike, and the swarthy onion seller stories. Our clothes were always hung on the line to dry. In the winter, they usually froze and looked like cardboard cutouts, and the drying was “finished” by hanging them on two back-to-back kitchen chairs.  

I loved “breaking” them up as they thawed. 

These chairs were used in a similar fashion when she and my older sisters made marmalade or strawberry jam in the summer. A clean cheesecloth was stretched between them so that the liquid from the boiled fruit would seep through. The process included sterilizing jars which took days to complete. 

I was barred from the kitchen during this process.

One windy Spring Day, Mam stormed in through the back door of the Brax cottage. She was livid because a sheep in the pasture next to our clothesline had managed to catch Dad’s shirttail as it waved in the wind, and the animal enjoyed a good chew. Of course, Jock and I thought it was really funny. 

Even funnier to us kids was the incident with Dad’s motorbike and sidecar. We went off somewhere, probably on a Saturday shopping trip to Arbroath. Jock and I were in the sidecar and Mam was riding on the back of the bike. Suddenly  Dad stopped; we thought the bike had broken down. Mam had fallen off!  

She saw the humor in this incident because she hadn’t been hurt and there was no need to do or buy anything, whereas Dad’s otherwise fine, now tailless shirt,  would have to be replaced. 

We had new clothes once a year for school - and only because we were growing, and the age gap with our older siblings was too great for hand-me-downs. Adults got something new for a wedding or similar special occasion. A  family can only do so much on 10 a week.  

Dad handed Mam his brown wage packet every Friday; she gave him back enough for his fags, (cigarettes) a  pint, and the football pool, which benefitted medical research for children born with disabilities. 

Occasionally, door-to-door salesmen came to our front door trying to sell us exotic trinkets, less common vegetables,  and bolts of cloth. Apparently, they were from the Continent, or North Africa, and very persuasive. 

When she saw them approaching, Mam would make me hide with her beneath the window of the living room. I sat beside the pedal of her mother’s Singer sewing machine, which abutted a huge floor planter. 

This was the same planter that produced beautiful tulips of all colors from the bulbs buried in its dark rich soil,  which I enjoyed mixing with my hands. 

We stayed hidden until the seller left. She was worried about being forced into buying something we didn’t need and then having to explain it to Dad. Also, for whatever reason, we were always suspicious of people who used our front door.

I also remember watching Woman’s Hour with her during school vacations and enjoying afternoon shows like Bill & Ben, the Flowerpot Men, and their friend the “Little  Weed.” The Woodentops was another favorite.  

The Romper Room broadcast from Aberdeen by Grampian television appeared a few years later; Miss Anne never saw “Marilyn” in her magic mirror. 

An occasional special treat was a six-penny bar of  Cadbury dairy milk chocolate from the traveling grocery truck, a common sight in the Scottish countryside. These days, I often have a square or two of chocolate, 70% cocoa, which is somewhat diabetic-friendly and stirs those old memories. 

Our only indoor pets were budgies or budgerigars,  small versions of the Parakeet breed of bird. We had different colors over the years: yellow, green, and blue. I  was okay with them in their cage, and I was able to change their food and water. I was less thrilled when they were allowed to fly 

around the living room. They terrified me when they landed on my head and scratched at my scalp. My brother and Dad thought it was funny, but it annoyed Mam. She was protective of me, not always condoning their boyish ways.


She was one of the few protectors in my life. She and a couple of my teachers gave me hope; showing me that I  might not always be tormented. 

Jock looked after rabbits feeding them used tea leaves. Replacing them for a while when they would escape from their simple hutch. At one farm behind our cottage, there was a pigsty. We fed the pig slop, leftovers that had outlived human consumption, and broken or misshapen biscuits  (cookies) that we got free from a factory and often intercepted.  Guess who else got to eat some of those custard creams? 


The pig was the closest we ever got to a sex talk.  While Mam was feeding the animal, I asked her  “What’s the difference between a man and a woman pig?” Without even looking up she said, “Same as us.” I have no memory of playing with either the pig or the rabbits. They, nor the birds, were ever named. I do remember, however, some meals of rabbit, hare, and partridge. Our ham and eggs were specifically ham and not bacon.

While the National Health Service covered dental work, Dad had a better idea! 

Whether in Scotland or America, Dads always have a better idea. 

String, not much thicker than dental floss, wrapped around the loose tooth with the other end of it around the open doorknob.  

Slam the door shut! Done.  

That night the Tooth Fairy brought me a shiny silver six-pence piece. 

In late 2021, my youngest grandson, Alexander, started losing baby teeth. These days the tooth fairy is much more generous, dropping off $5.00 or more per tooth. 

Somewhere around this time, Sandy and his wife Lena, and their two kids Alan and Lena left for Australia. They traveled by boat; it cost £10 per person and took about six weeks. The Australian government was anxious to have as many workers as possible from the United Kingdom. 

It was our family’s habit to listen to the radio on Sunday afternoons. A popular music request show “Family  Favorites” and Spike Milligan and the “Goon Show” were always enjoyed.  

One Sunday, August 5th, 1962, one of the shows was interrupted with a news flash; Marilyn Monroe had died the previous evening in Brentwood, Los Angeles. 

I felt my hair stand on end - my namesake, dead! 

Late in the evening of Sunday, November 19, 1962,  Mam complained of being dizzy and short of breath, and she was perspiring heavily. This had happened twice in the past year. This time an ambulance came, and she was admitted to Arbroath Infirmary. 

Dad visited her early each morning before going to work. One of my sisters had come to help; the adults knew the likely outcome. As was the custom then, no one told me of the severity of the situation. 

After nearly a week, Mam succumbed in the early hours of Thursday, November 22, 1962. 

I was sitting by the fire in Dad’s chair. A brown leather straight-backed cushioned seat type that had seen better days.  

He came in the back door and spoke briefly to my  sister who, her back to me, was making porridge. I couldn’t hear what he had said to her, but instinctively I knew it was something important.  

He then stepped into the living room. 

Dad was standing on his heels. The only other time I saw him do that was when he came home on a Friday or  Saturday night from the pub.


Staring off into the distance, careful not to make eye contact, all he said was “Well, Mam’s away.” 

My verbal response was something like “Oh”! 

My immediate thought was that I still had one parent left.

To this day, I do not understand that thought. Can children be that mercenary? 

I said nothing out loud. I also do not recall us ever speaking about her after that. 

I have never cried for her. In the years since I have  cried about all the things that happened that might not have  if there was a permanent mother's presence. Even if I was unaware, that was often the true source of my problems. 

I was allowed to stay home from school that day.  Dad had to still feed the cattle, of course. 

As I reminisce, I realize I never have missed her or the others…really. I guess that might require real therapy, and not be solved by just writing this book. 

Despite that mother-daughter relationship missing  from my life, I can cherish witnessing how close my  daughter and granddaughter are and thank God for their  bond. 

When I was fourteen, I attempted to express some grief  and to let “someone in” regarding being motherless. Our class was given a project requiring a poem or lyrics for a song. I wrote an emotional version of “Honey, I Miss You,” made  popular by Bobby Goldsboro. I replaced the word “Honey”  with “Mommy.” 

The male student teacher took it from me, looked at it  for a moment, and, saying nothing, locked it in his lectern. I  was crushed and close to tears. I thought it was brilliant. 

Of course, now I realize the young teacher was  unqualified to offer solace. 

Tales from my Yellow Room is available from

Here is another snippet...

I met a lovely man about my own age in a hotel bar in London. Yes, I went to bars alone and out to eat - otherwise, I never would have gone anywhere.

It was charming that he brought his bicycle with him to make traveling around the country easier. We became buddies, with no real romance, and it was decided I should visit him in Dallas as soon as I could.

Despite my disability and societal norms, I had been lucky to travel quite a bit in my twenties.

I visited Italy, Holland, Madrid, Copenhagen, and Dublin, for business purposes, when I worked for Grand Metropolitan Hotels Ltd., based in London. These were places where we had satellite offices, and I trained people on how to use our new reservation system.

This was a plumb job, which I held onto despite a major error on my part! Prior to the launch of the reservation system, I was charged with sending information to each of our overseas offices.

Unfortunately, I neglected to make sure to send materials in the appropriate language to the various offices. There was yelling!

On my own, I spent time in France, the Canary Islands, Gibraltar, Morocco, and, of course, Germany. Germany, however, was subsidized by my work for Ralph Secretan’s firm.

These trips were possible because my rent and other living expenses were relatively modest and the rate of exchange for the British pound was advantageous.

I had slim times too, of course. I remember eating semolina pudding, homemade, each day for a week.

Tales from my Yellow Room (c) 2023 Marilyn Grunwald

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