We Only Know – A Christmas Story by Maggie Graham, Glasgow Writer

We Only Know.

By Maggie Graham.

George Square Christmas FairHail Hail

I don’t know what possessed me to come to the Barras.

Mum used to bring me here on Saturdays when Dad was at the match. It would be dark by the time we got home  and we’d get fish and chips for our tea.  Dad was never home for his. Always headed straight for the pub, then back with a carry-out. Belting out the songs, foot stamping every line.           

the Celts ur here

I don’t know how Mum put up with it

I’m supposed to be clearing out Dad’s house today but I cant face it. Not that there’s much, some cheap furniture and a few tacky ornaments.

My inheritance. That’s a laugh.

I was surprised that he’d kept up the payments on the insurance policy, although that was barely enough to bury him. There was never a tomorrow as far as Dad was concerned.

“You die if you worry and you die if you don’t.”

“ Och, there’s nae pockets in a shroud, Darlin.”

Every Christmas present I got as a child came from the Barras, knocked down to next-to-nothing, last thing on Christmas Eve. Isa next door would would come in and sit with me and I’d lie awake listening for the muffled whispers and giggles when they got home.

 “Get your knocked-off Marks n Spenser’s undies he-ur”

That wee man’s been here for ever. I’ll bet they’re not Marks and Spenser at all. Not that I care; I get mine from Fraser’s.

 Whit the….

Jim offered to give me a hand today but I told him just to go to his golf. He’s been so good, driving back and forward to the hospital, then arranging the funeral. I must admit at was surprised at the turn-out. You couldn’t have fitted another person in that church. I never thought  Dad knew so many people; there was standing room only at the back. And it wasn’t all worthies; there was a lot of decent folk there.   

The boys are away to the match, of course. Celtic mad.  Dad would come back and haunt them if they missed a game. They even ordered a green, white and gold wreath for the grave. Tasteful though, nothing tacky. It almost broke my heart seeing them in their suits and black ties, shouldering the coffin.

do we care….

They didn’t mind carrying their grandfather, though. After all, they’d carried him home from the pub often enough. 

whit the…..

“There’s yer green bath towels, aw youse snobs wi the avocado bathroom suites.”

Really! What am I doing here? I should’ve gone to Princess Square.

…do we care?

Oh no, there’s Isa,  ladened with cheap carrier bags, the kind that paralyses your fingers and fall to bits before you’re half-way home. I hope she hasn’t spotted me.

“Hello, Heather. I didnie expect to see you here.”

“Oh Isa, I didn’t see you there. I’m just browsing, there’s some nice antique stalls.

            “Aye, if you’ve won the lottery” she says.


She lays her hand on my arm; an aged hand, lined with years of hard work. There’s no need for that; my mother always kept rubber gloves and hand lotion next to the sink and she’d beautiful hands. But then, she was never old.

            “How are you”, Isa says.

            “I’m fine….I’m okay”

“Isa says, It canny be easy, hen”

It should be easy. He was an old man, after all. It was Mum who died young, Mum who never smoked or drank in her life. And all he did was bounce back and forth from pub to bookie’s to football match all his days.

a grand auld team

Isa says, “He was a awfy man, Mick. A gentle man, though.”

Poor Isa. I remember as a child lying in bed listening to her screams through the wall.  Sometimes I had to share my bed with her daughters, wee shivering things, whilst my mother tended Isa’s wounds and failed to persuade her to call the police. Dad always made himself scarce when that was goin on.

 “Jist like yer ain man” Isa says. “Yer a lucky lassie”

Dad didn’t have a lot in common with Jim, a man with no interest in football, a man who played golf, a man who drank wine that wasn’t fortified. But Jim would sit down with him after Sunday dinner and Dad would tell him his tales of the war. He told Jim how his ship was torpedeod twice and about the time his brother, who was in the military police, had to arrest him for drunken conduct on shore leave, stories I’d never heard.  Jim would listen and laugh in all the right places. And every Sunday night, Dad would tell all the boys in the bar.

 “Aye, she’s got herself a good yin, there. Quiet fella, though”.

Isa lays down her bags and dabs at her eyes with a rumpled tissue.

  “It was a lovely send-off you gave him, hen.”

to play for

I say, “I was a bit worried about asking the priest. Dad hadn’t set foot in that church since my boys were christened.”

“Och, she says. “Father Byrne’s no like that; he takes folk as they come. Wis it no lovely, whit he said about the wee bank?”

            A bank in the shape of a white chapel, that had been Mum’s. After she died,  Dad kept on saving all his twenty pence pieces, handing the money in to the priest’s housekeeper every month.

“Michael never asked what use the money would be put to,” the priest said. “A truly charitable man, he simply gave without need of thanks”

 grand old team to know

Isa shoves her hanky in her pocket.

“And whit a night we had. “Mick wid be that raging he wisnie there to lead the sing-song. Whit a lovely voice he had.”

honky-tonk angels.

Yes, it was certainly a good wake. Dad’s wee pal Jazza sitting in the corner of the Blanefield lounge, glass raised, tears pouring down his face.

“Here’s tae Mick, ma best pal”.

It was the quietest I’d ever seen Jazza. Normally he’d be all go, playing the pub jukebox, feet tapping, fingers popping. Him and Dad were a right double act.

“Wan o these nights I’m gonny nail your feet tae the flair and put ten Elvis Presley records oan”

“See when you’re deid, I’’ll scatter yer ashes at Ibrox”.

 Isa and those mad daughters of hers up dancing on the pool table. Our Steven, Daniel and Michael, black ties loosened, singing the songs their Grandpa’d taught them when they were only wee boys.

When you know their histo reee

He had them as daft as himself.

“I’ll have you know I fought and died in the war for the likes of you”

Three pairs of big blue eyes.

“Did you really, Granda?”

Isa hefts her bags full of bargain butcher meat. I dread to think where it comes from.

 “I’ll miss him, so I will.  You couldnie’ve found a better friend than Mick. Bought my lassies their Christmas every year.”

“ He what?”

“Aye, you didnie know that, did you? And handed in a bag of messages and a packet of fags every pay day. There wis times me and my weans would’ve starved if it wisnie for yer faither, seein that waister I married wid neither work nor want.”

wild side of life

She starts coughing, bent double with a cough that would frighten the French, as Dad would’ve said. I’ll bet there’s a box of cigarettes in one of those bags, though. I wait till she stops and straightens up.

“Aye, another clean shirt’ll dae me” she grins.

I say, How is your husband? I didn’t see him at the funeral.”

 “Auld Wullie can hardly get out the chair these days” she says.

She comes closer and whispers.

“I’ll tell you something, hen. I’ve never been so happy since he took a stroke.”

enough to make your heart

“I can dae whait I like and the auld swine canny lift a finger tae stop me. I’m away hame noo tae a peaceful hoose. You’ve nae idea whit that feels like, hen.”

go oah oh oh oh

“I’m glad, Isa” I say, Take care of yourself”

“Bet yer bottom dollar, Darlin” she says. “You tae.”

I watch her weave her way through the crowd with her bags of contraband, going home to a man she despises.

we don’t care

I don’t believe Dad never once lifted his hand to Mum. And the only times he disturbed the peace was with his singing and foot-stamping.

What was it the priest said? “A man who lived for his family, his friends and his beloved Celtic football club.”

Even when he was ill he never missed a game; the boys took turns driving him there and back. The first time our Michael turned up in his new car, Dad had tears in his eyes.  He never got over it, the boys he’d bought new strips for every season.

“ Dae whit yer Mammy tells you. And stick in at the school.”

When they were growing up he forever slipping them fivers. And if they tried to refuse, he’d go in a huff.

“Take a tellin, wid ye. I’ll have you know I fought and died in the war fur the likes o you”.  

“Aye right, Granda.”

sweet as shalimar

Even when they were working and earning salaries he could only dream of, two of them had to hold him down so the third one could buy him a drink.

One day our Daniel bought himself three hot bridies in the pub.

Dad roared from the other side of the bar.

“Haw Danny Boy, you’d be cheaper emigrating tae Forfar, son”

The boys could hardly tell me for laughing.

forty shades of green

            I’m not in the mood for antiques and there’s nothing else but cheap tat here. I mean, look at that, a whole stall filled with gaudy hair baubles and bows.

Scarlet ribbons

“That’s a good lassie. Into bed, now”

“You forgot to take my pigtails out, daddy”

He’d loosen my ribbons, smooth them and lay them over the back of the chair for morning. And he’d sing as he brushed my hair, then he’d tuck me in and kiss me goodnight.

for her hair

I must be coming down with a cold; my eyes are burning and I can barely swallow. It’s all the stress; it lowers your immune system. I’ll take some echinecea and make a pot of Rosehip tea as soon as I get home.

What are all these people going? I can’t get through. A man in a Burberry baseball steps aside and ushers me forward.

“I hope you’re no gaun for a bus, doll.”

Doll? Honestly.

I fight my way out to find a sea of green and white flowing down London Road.

A young boy says, “Ya dancer. They done it.”

“Did it, I say. Did what?”

“Where’ve you been, Missus? Won the League, that’s aw”

for we only know

            Hundreds of roaring singing, dancing, prancing men and boys. And mine’ll be among them.

            There’s our Steven, half-way up a lamp post, waving his scarf. He’ll break his neck. And Daniel. Oh no, he’s dancing with a police woman, twirling her about. He’ll get himself arrested. But look, she’s laughing.

Where’s our Michael?  

I never meant to call him after Dad.  The day he was born he and Mum came to the hospital. I watched them walking up the ward, hand in hand. Had they always done that, held hands? I placed the baby in Mum’s arms.

“Look, Mick, our grandson” she said.

“Aye, he’s a right wee smasher” Dad said, but he wasn’t looking at the baby; his eyes never left Mum’s face.

Mum said “What will you call him?”

I’d been so sure I was having a girl: Rosalind or Juliet, a delicate daughter who’d play by my side. Instead I had a nine-pound boy who melted my heart at first sight. And he was the spitting image of my father.

“His name’s Michael,” I’d said. I don’t know why; it was out before I knew it. When they were leaving, Dad kissed me and whispered.

“Thanks, darlin. He’ll want for nothin; I’ll make sure of that”

As if he would’ve.

Mum died when Michael was barely a year old and I was already expecting the twins; I never had time to grieve.

Dad would watch the three boys, tumbling about and creating mayhem.

 “She would’ve been that proud, Darlin” he’d say.

A elderly woman clutches at my sleeve.

“I need to get across, hen. But I’m that feart.”

“ Hold on to my arm”, I say. “I’ll take you”

I head out on to the road, with her clinging to me like grim death. I try to dart in and out of the crowd but she’s as slow as a week in the jail.

I say, You don’t need to be scared; I’ve got you.

Suddenly our Michael’s standing in front of me, right in the middle of the road, holding up his hand. The sea of bodies parts and I walk the wee woman across to roars and cheers from the crowd.

there’s gonnie be a show

“See? I say. These boys’ll not harm you”

Michael swaggers down the middle of the road, still holding up the traffic, then he darts back and plants a kiss on my cheek.

“See you later, Gorgeous”

 Daft as a brush; I wonder who he takes after?

My inheritance. All that you’ve left me, Daddy. A wee white chapel, a head full of songs I don’t admit to knowing, and my roarin boys.

            Your grandsons.

and the Glasgow Celtic will be there.

By Maggie Graham, www.glasgowwestend.co.uk/maggie-graham-glasgow-writer/


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This section: Christmas Poems , Stories and Winter Tales

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Avatar of PatByrne Publisher of Pat's Guide to Glasgow West End; the community guide to the West End of Glasgow. Fiction and non-fiction writer.

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