It appears to be Thursday – so time for Jack’s Wednesday guest post –
Among the things I love about bookstores are the quirky things that are often displayed on high shelves, or hanging from ceilings or just pinned to any spare wall spaces. We’re no exception – we have paintings and posters, tea towels and even a bag from a Chicago Borders branch the day they closed for good. Hanging from the ceiling of our ‘Mystery and detective room’ are model planes I’ve built over the years.
Mingled in are family photographs, including two of my Granpa, Peter Ferguson, and they are very frequently the subject of conversation with customers. Because he was a coalminer from the time he left school (aged fourteen) until his mid-twenties. This is a coalmining area and so is the place I come from – just one of the many connections and parallels between Scotland and Appalachia.
Granpa worked in a number of deep mines in my home county of Fife in the late 1800s and early 1900s, going down a deep shaft in a cage then walking, often for over a mile before crawling on hands and knees to the coalface. Eventually he had some kind of accident and decided he’d had enough. He got a job delivering lemonade to corner shops around the area and continued to do that until he retired. First of all he used a horse and cart, then an early truck with an open cab and solid tires before finally graduating to something more modern.
When his wife died just before I was born at the beginning of WW2 he moved in with us, as my Dad had joined the RAF and had been posted to Egypt. So he was my father figure for the first years of my life and I remember him with great affection. He walked me to and from elementary school, supplied us with fresh vegetables and made great oatcakes and scones. He provided our first TV and first washing machine.
One of the reasons he got us a TV was because he was an avid reader of western novels and had discovered that the lone ranger was a serial on this new-fangled thing. Later he upgraded us when the Virginian came along! I remember clearly him sitting in his favorite chair either reading or singing to himself. He had two special very traditional songs he rotated – The Wee Cooper o Fife and The Muckin o Geordie’s Byre. I’ve often said that his voice was in my head when I started to sing these kind of songs many years later.
Sadly towards the end of his life he developed a cough and was diagnosed with ‘black lung’ – a legacy that finally caught up with him and he died in the bedroom that we shared.
What I remember isn’t the sick old man but the friendly guy who had a lot of time for this kid. And that special bond that sometimes develops between those who skip a generation. He was my first best friend.