Saturday, September 12, 2009
Blessing Blackburn ~ The Sequel ~ Installment 8
“Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.” (Romans 12:15)
Guest Blogger ~ Marie Sheahan Brown
12:48 pm somewhere over the North Atlantic
By early Monday, just after midnight, Leslie and I had decided, “Why bother going to bed at normal Blackburn time?” We’d be flying back to America soon, where our body clocks were more aligned to the night-shift hours we’d been keeping.
Besides another fine Scottish breakfast, one other item hovered on the morning agenda. In my haste to get to Mass on Sunday, I had forgotten Leslie’s camera; hence, I hadn’t gotten a photo of the framed musical score.
I slipped into Susan’s church for the Communion service that about 20 parishioners take turns leading when the priest is on deck in other parishes. I was beginning to recognize faces of the regulars, including the silver-haired lady who’d stopped in to pray days before. They would be among Susan’s daily companions, decade after decade.
After the service, I approached the distinguished-looking man in charge this morning. Joe easily found The Gift in the vestry, and I took the photo. Then we chatted.
Leslie and I didn’t go to Blackburn as investigative reporters to pry about Susan, her family, or people who might be friends. We went to bless and be blessed, to experience, not to snoop. Nevertheless, when I told Joe about our reasons for being here, he noted his long friendship with Susan’s parents. In an interconnected village and church, families know each other long and well. Joe volunteered that Susan’s mother was a wonderful artist, which I had not heard before.
Joe’s internet-savvy, so I gave him the blog address. Hello, Joe, if you’re reading this! Thanks for your kind hospitality.
On return to the Burnview B and B, I thought, “Hmm. As long as my hours are weird anyway, I might as well take a morning nap” – which stretched into early afternoon. It was time to blog, and I needed coffee. Leslie said the library, Blackburn Connected, has a coffee machine – 50 pence a cup.
As I walked along the Bathgate-Blackburn road, two older gentlemen across the road hailed me over. Jim and Michael had seen me in church the day before. (See what I mean by everyone knowing everyone else? A new face really stands out!) They were a delightful pair, good pals for more than 50 years; their wives, too, I gathered. To me they represent the rich possibilities of life in a village.
We three kept walking toward “downtown.” They stopped to chat with some ladies waiting for the bus. I, personally, value this aspect of village life – having grown up and even spent recent years in a tiny forest community in Oregon. http://www.metoliusriver.com/. My casual daily encounters with friends on trails and at the store/post office provided connection and belonging, a pattern of life that I love. Susan would know the treasure of this, too.
At the library in the small mall, I realized that “Blackburn Connected” means more than connecting to the internet or printed sources. It’s another meeting place (besides the parish or the pubs) where the locals can connect just by showing up, no appointments needed. Even non-locals like Leslie and I could show up and feel welcome.
In fact, as I was blogging at Blackburn Connected, a steaming paper cup of espresso at hand, who should walk in but Hugh. “I thought I might find you or Leslie here,” he said. As usual, he offered perspicacious insights on local news. But his real reason was just to say, “Farewell, and have a safe journey.”
On April 10 this year, Leslie and I never imagined we would share budding friendships with people in West Lothian, Scotland, thanks to Susan and the remarkable connecting power of YouTube and the internet. Indeed, such connections can be faceless, impersonal, rude, exploitive, trashy, even dangerous. But with underlying motives of sincerity and goodness, most of us on worldwide fan sites dedicated to Susan Boyle are fostering genuine friendships with people we would love to meet one day – at a concert, a fan gathering, or even at Blackburn Connected.
We fans are experiencing the power of the written word for good or for harm; thus, our obligation to wield this power with sensitivity and respect. Our words present us to the world, a source of news and opinion. Now we all are journalists obligated to uphold the dignity and honor of our vocation.
In a while, Leslie showed up – and instantly recognized Kiera, the 11-year-old poet, who had come in with her mom to log on to the internet. How fortuitous! Leslie handed them Kiera’s much-folded poem about Susan and mentioned that several impressed fans, well known in our virtual community, want to write encouraging notes to her. Kiera’s mom gave us an email address to use, which she, the protective mom, always supervises. (Good on ye, mom!)
The library closed at 5:00 p.m. As Leslie and I left, the friendly but not-to-be-messed-with Mill Centre guard approached. During our Japanese TV interview, he had told us of visits to America, including San Francisco. He asked (as many had) how we were enjoying our stay. Of course, we were loving it!
We walked kitty-corner across the road to the Happy Valley for lemonade and, perhaps, a bit of pool. I’d read of Leslie’s sharkly exploits during her June visit. We hadn’t played pool together since our brother’s wedding in 2003. Was I a bit nervous? “Yea, sure, now!” Good thing her pal John was there, and his pool-playing-buddy Rob, who proposed a team match – like mixed doubles in tennis.
Ever notice that beginner’s luck can kick in again after a few years? Well, lucky for me, it did – for the first few shots. After that, it didn’t matter. At least I didn’t embarrass my twin by ripping the felt! She and John won graciously.
The village pubs don’t serve pub grub, and Leslie and I were hungry. We headed toward The Qualifryer Fish & Chicken Bar attached to The Mill Centre, and I was determined to try the Haggis Pudding. Alas, The Qualifryer was closed. Next time, perhaps.
Good fortune arrived on bicycle tires. Two of the sweet, lively girls Leslie and Del had met in June spotted us and rushed over to greet us. They offered to find the traveling chip trailer. Off they raced on their bikes, reminding us of ourselves at their age. After trawling the neighborhoods of Blackburn for 10 minutes, they returned – not a chip trailer in sight. We thanked them anyway for their efforts, and once again they hopped on their bikes.
We had opted for Chinese takeaway, just across the parking lot from The Qualifryer. The owner was sweeping the speck-less sidewalk as we approached. Chinese take-out menus seem much the same in San Francisco, New York City, and Blackburn, West Lothian, Scotland. Salivating at mental images of fried rice and mushroom chicken, we suddenly felt two presences beside us: our helpful little friends! The least we could do was spring for their favorites – chips and curry sauce.
Leslie and I asked for chopsticks, expecting packets of disposable wooden ones. The owner nodded, went back to the storeroom, and, after many minutes, returned with real chopsticks (for a small addition to our tab), which Leslie and I now keep as souvenirs.
We finally parted trails with our local scouts and headed back to the Burnview. Mmmm. Chinese takeaway never tasted better than on our tiny table between the twin beds.
Just then, Stevieboy49 arrived as planned. This was our last opportunity to check in at the Happy Valley Pub, to say, “adios amigos.” I also had a book to return to Delizia and a couple more Harper’s Bazaars for the denizens.
We were happy to find Jock the pool player there, along with his lovely bride, Debbie. We handed him his very own copy of HB, into which he immediately burrowed at the table next to Susan’s, fascinated and delighted by the article and pictures. Leslie got a priceless photo, which she has since emailed to Harper’s Bazaar.
Leslie and Del’s knowledgeable acquaintance Tony, who had regaled them on local history in June, had been out of town for a few days. Tonight, he was in the pub. He and Stevieboy49 had much in common to discuss, though monolithic their views were not. Tony operates from deep passion for the underdog, while Stevieboy49 mines history for truth from all perspectives. We can report, both men of passion live for goodness and justice.
I think that’s one reason both of them, and others, accept Leslie and me. It’s not that Leslie and I are so good; it’s that we care about what they care about, in our own ways. We both have found our life callings working alongside people who are underdogs. Currently, she heads a small non-profit ministry among recent Russian-speaking immigrants; I serve with the Society of St. Vincent de Paul in a program for women seeking new life after jail or prison.
Historically, many, including Susan’s parents, immigrated to Blackburn from Ireland and elsewhere. Perhaps through their own experiences or family stories, the locals we met can relate to the hardships Russian-speaking immigrants face, and how they might appreciate a Native American guide in Brooklyn, New York.
The Society of St. Vincent de Paul business card identifying my backpack served as a passport with some of the locals, including Tony. They know SVdP firsthand and even have a Frederic Ozanam Club in Susan’s church. The world of goodness is, indeed, a small world.
After Stevieboy49 deposited us at the Burnview B and B, Leslie and I tiptoed upstairs to our cozy Twin Room. It was after midnight, but neither of us wanted to sleep through the last few hours of our Twin Adventure in Blackburn. I drank hot Airborne while she drank tea. We began sorting through the day’s digital photos, reminiscing, thinking of captions. We caught up with the fan site and YouTube pub news. We typed a few blogthoughts for further development.
Sometime after 3:00 am, almost reluctantly, we curled up under our duvets for catnaps before dawn.