Two years ago, in a small suburb outside of Glasgow, I had an evening I’ll never forget.
It was reading week, 2019, and a close friend and I were on the second day of our week-long trip around the United Kingdom’s northern jewel. Tired after a day of walking through the vast expanse of Glasgow’s parks, museums, gardens, and neighbourhoods, I glanced at Google Maps to get a bearing of how best to get back to the Airbnb we’d rented for the night. Instead, by chance, I noticed we weren’t too far from a neighbourhood I’d been told of before I left Canada: Maryhill.
For most tourists, seeing the name Maryhill probably wouldn’t inspire any bit of excitement. But it did for me, and for one particular reason: it was where my maternal grandfather grew up.
Born in 1922, my grandfather, Stewart, lived in Maryhill until he joined the navy as a 20-something year-old. After earning a degree in engineering, he decided to pack his bags and make for Canada. Landing on the shores of my Toronto in 1947, he met my grandmother two months later at church. Sadly, he never returned to Scotland.
I didn’t have the chance to meet my grandfather, and considering I was the only other person besides one of my aunts to ever travel to his home country—let alone his own home city—I knew I had to do something to learn more about him. And there I was, standing in the middle of Glasgow’s botanical gardens with the name “Maryhill” on my phone screen.
We set off immediately. And far sooner than I liked to admit, the plan went a little awry.
First, Maryhill was located much farther away than we anticipated. Rather than a 10-minute walk, it was a 35-minute one, and though this wouldn’t have been a problem at any other point in the day, we’d set off for the neighbourhood in the late afternoon, right as the sun began to set. More problematic still was the fact that as we walked further outside the city’s centre, the neighbourhoods we passed through became distinctly less friendly. To top it off, right as we reached the bottom of the hill for which that neighbourhood was named after, my phone died. And, of course, my friend had opted to go without a data plan that covered anything besides texts and calls.
So, sitting on the outskirts of Maryhill with only one phone, no maps, and only a street address to go off of, night began to fall, and our situation was looking a bit dicey. But we persevered.
After another 15 minutes of combing through the maze of winding streets to find the street name which matched the one I had been given, we breathed a sigh of relief. Triumphantly, I began to stroll past the unending sets of tightly packed houses, carefully counting down the numbers to the address I was looking for: 24 Viewmount Drive.
As I got closer, counting the house numbers from 34 all the way down to 26, my smile widened, expecting to finally set my eyes on the house I was looking for. And then…
The houses stopped at 26. What came immediately after was a small building that was clearly not a house. Seeing that the house numbers continued past the small structure, I jogged to the next house, expecting to finally feast my eyes on what was once my grandfather’s home.
On it, it read: 22 Viewmount.
“You’ve got to be kidding me,” I thought.
I began to pace up and down the street, hoping the numbers would change after my second or third look. My friend started to press that it was getting dark, and we’d better call a cab before her phone died, too.
Ever obstinate, I asked her to hear me out one more time. By that point, we’d aroused some attention from one of the houses that sat quietly on the street, and as I saw its residents looking curiously at us from their living room window, I had an idea. I smiled and motioned enthusiastically for the people inside to come and out and talk to us.
Slowly but surely, a mother and daughter came out, asking if something was wrong. I explained the situation and asked whether they happened to know what had become of 24 Viewmount Drive. They answered without question:
“Oh yes, that address would have been torn down to make way for the school there. Well, it isn’t a school now, it was when it was first built. Now it’s just a bunch of flats.”
My heart sank.
As it turned out, though, there was one person on the street who might be able to offer some consolation to me. According to the pair, there was an elderly woman on Viewmount who had lived there her entire life, and, old as she was, she might have known my grandfather when he was growing up.
We went straight to her house. And after we’d knocked on her door a few times—to no result—I thought the whole endeavour was done for.
Yet, just as my friend got on the line with a local cab company, I saw a little head peek out from behind a set of curtains with a suspicious look. Noticing that she was speaking into a phone, I became worried that a set of cops might show up sooner than our cab, so I earnestly tried to signal that we were friendly.
Slowly, she came out. To our relief, she said that she had only been speaking with one of her close friends and was more than happy to chat with us about my grandfather.
Sadly, she too confirmed that his house had likely been torn down to make way for that school. To my further dismay, she said that she would have been just a girl when he left for Canada, so she didn’t know him personally. All the same, however, she did say that she travelled up his way fairly often when she was a toddler, so there was a chance that they once crossed paths.
Slightly defeated, I thanked her for time and wished her well. But just as we started to leave, she stopped us.
“Well, but would ya like to come in for a cuppa’ tea?”
So we did. And for the next three hours, we sat with her, and she told us about her life: how she had lived in Maryhill since the day she was born, how she’d met her late husband right down the street when she was just a teenager, and how she was never able to travel to North America like she wished.
It was an evening I’ll never forget. And although I was never able to learn more about my grandfather’s life in Maryhill, learning about Aileen’s—that was her name—was just as incredible as anything else I could have hoped for.
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