Happy Birthday to Betty McGovern, who would have celebrated her 90th Birthday today.
Betty, a mother of four, Charlie, Anne-Marie, Andy and Eddie, and a grandmother of five, passed away yesterday after a long struggle with illness.
Born in the Gorbals in a bottom floor tenement, the daughter of a seamstress, Agnes, and Peter McGuire, a builders labourer, Betty became fatherless at the age of two when Peter sadly succumbed to the respiratory injuries he had received some years previously from the inhalation of mustard gas in the trenches around Ypres during the ‘Great’ War.
A competent reader by the age of six, thanks to a drawer full of the classics left to her mother by an aunt, Betty left school at twelve to start work in the local soap factory. Her mother, now unemployed, used Betty’s income, along with her dressmaking skills to work from home for a few shillings a week, to keep the wolf from the door.
The early 1940’s saw Betty move on to working in the munitions factory where as a teenager she met her man, the love of her life, wee Phil McGovern. Phil,formerly a stoker in the merchant navy was known to be fond of the ladies and prone to the odd foot in the mouth comment, but once he’d clapped eyes on Betty, he was smitten.
Marriage came, with a honeymoon overnight trip to a boarding house in Aberdeen where Betty felt awkward being served breakfast at the table by the stern looking landlady, never having been accustomed to such service before.
Along came the kids, and Betty managed to hold down a full time job on a textile production line at the same time as bringing up her weans, Phil having traded in his maritime career for mining and the daily long commute out of the city for a 12 hour shift underground.
Courageous was not the word to describe the way Betty handled the tragedy of her first child’s sudden demise as a result of pneumonia at the age of five. Charlie had gone. Her world was shattered, but for the sake of the others, and in those days you either endured or gave up, she chose to endure, and survive. She pulled her children to her breast and hugged them tight, and she moved on.
The early 1970’s saw the family move out to a high rise on a ‘reservation’ as young Eddie, a keen follower of cowboy fiction, described it. You could see the countryside and breathe the fresh air from the 18th storey window.
Leaving school with some qualifications behind her Anne-Marie took an office job with an engineering firm. Betty was pleased, a job for life.
The 1980’s seemed to hit the family like a wave, The mine in which Phil worked, having been on short time for a lengthy period, then on strike, closed shortly after the extended industrial action had ceased, despite assurances from management and politicians that it wouldn’t.
Eddie and Andrew, both already on the broo, spent their days digging holes and filling them in on “The Manpower” for a few extra pounds in their giro. Eddie fed up with this eventually took the bold step of accepting the smiling army careers corporal’s advice in the toon centre and signed up on the dotted line.
It was then when Phil first started to show signs that he was failing. The routine morning cough, which he’d made light of, was indeed something more serious. Nobody would say the word, as if it was a curse, everybody trying to keep cheerful, treatment followed, not a big man, the weight fell from him, and he was gone.
Betty was struck by a double hammer blow when Anne-Marie announced shortly after her father’s funeral that she and Marky, her fiancé, were off to Canada, for a new life with opportunity. Betty was devastated.
1990 saw further tragedy strike as a Land Rover Eddie was travelling in across the desert of Iraq,with four other members of his highland regiment,was hit by an allied missile in a so called “friendly fire” incident. They brought Eddie home as a hero. Betty was taken aback as she recalled the local streets packed as the funeral cortège passed.
Andy, well Andy could take no more, spiralling deeper into a world of drink and then later drugs, as a means to escape the past. For many years Betty dealt with his binges, his outrageous behaviour and his anger, always caring for him, always giving him a roof, always giving him her unconditional love.
In 1996 Andy met Sarah, a God-send. They instantly hit it off. Hard though it was he managed to get himself clean. They had a son, and then a daughter, and Andy got work as a delivery driver, shortly afterwards becoming a supervisor, Betty was happy……
The day before yesterday Betty felt a hand reach for hers, bringing her out of a sleepy doze, in her care home, and was astonished to see Anne-Marie reach down and kiss her forehead. She’s home,she thought as the tears came.
A photograph was taken on that afternoon of Betty, her daughter, and her surviving son, and their children, all together at the same time in the same place for the first time. A treasured photograph which will not be gushed over by millions, but is more precious than wealth and status could ever be.
Happy 90th Birthday Betty x
( A work of fiction, perhaps)