Thursday, 8 September 2011

The 'Sally Rod'

My Aunt Catherine had one of these ‘switches’ hanging over the fireplace.   Let’s be clear I’m not talking about an electricity switch – oh no.   This was a willow switch which was the threat in ever present sight against mis-behaviour.  
I was always disappearing and if not exploring then I’d be visiting the other houses round about.   No-one’s door was shut and indeed if you passed a door without going in to say hello and have a chat great offence was caused.    The visits were usually helped with a biscuit or slice of newly baked soda bread.   This usually meant that when Catherine sent me on an errand I would take absolutely ages as everybody’s door I passed had to be crossed.
One night my sister was also staying at Catherine’s so there was ‘double trouble’.
Catherine was one of 9 children and as was customary it was expected that one of the girls, usually the youngest, would stay at home to look after parents as they got older.   I know that Catherine had not always stayed at home I can remember my Mum saying that Catherine had left to go off to Aberdeen to work ‘on the fishing’ which meant working on gutting and preparing the fish for sale.   Six of the nine from my Dad’s family went off to work in Scotland / England (and one went off to Australia) as that was where the work was and money was needed to keep the home and farm together.
A story from my Mum which I think is sad and I like to think true, was that while Catherine was working in Aberdeen she met a young man.    One year when Catherine was back home visiting she was making arrangements for him to come over to meet the family so everyone was expecting an announcement.    Catherine was not the youngest daughter – the youngest was Sally.   The story goes that that same year Sally up sticks and left leaving no word as to where she was going.  
Catherine’s future changed that year and she became the daughter who stayed at home.
This digression from the ‘sally rod’ explains her lack of ‘knowing’ about lively children.
Anyway for some misdemeanour, lost in the mist of time, the rod came down off the shelf above the fireplace and my sister and I took flight as we thought she was really going to use it on us.   We ran out into what can only be described as the most ‘wuthering heights’ of wildest nights ever of thunder, lightening, rain and pitch darkness and I mean pitch the only sparkles of light were coming out of tiny windows in far off cottages.  
I was leading the way desperately trying to remember the pattern of fields between Catherine’s house and my Aunt Lizzie’s because that was where we were heading my sister was behind me holding on to my jumper at the back and both of us were trying to keep tears at bay while battling the wind.   I knew that one pattern involved taking a sharp right turn before heading straight again and that once we were on this straight bit we would come directly to Lizzie’s.   Outside Lizzie’s we could hear Rusty starting to bark which scared us even more as we didn’t think he would recognise us in the dark and we began shouting and crying.
Lizzie and my Mum came out to the sight of my sister and I absolutely soaking, terrified and telling the tale of Catherine with the ‘sally rod’ in between great gulping sobs.
Did I stay at Catherine’s again – yes all was forgotten.   Was the rod ever used – no I’m pleased to say and that wasn’t because I wasn’t trying!
This is a picture of my Aunt Catherine:


  1. An evocative story, beautifully told, Celia! Poor Catherine. I can just imagine you and your sister quivering and wet. How times change - it's really not so very long ago at all, is it. Axxx

  2. Love it Celia! As Annie said, evocative and really well written. You thought about doing an audio podcast of these tales eventually? I can see this as a radio series, or just captured for posterity. As it should be.


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