The Street Where She Was Born

King Street, Port Glasgow, Scotland

Walking up and down King Street in the smirr [1]A smirr is a Scottish word for a fine rain drizzle., I imagined her birth cry echoing beyond the flat where her lungs first breathed in oxygen. After a long labor, her mother’s painful wails became joyful laughter of her mother at first sight of her beloved Elizabeth.

Or so I imagine. I know so little about this part of who I am.

My Grandmother’s birth record does not record her street address, so I walked up and down the street trying to intuit where and what it was like here 165 years ago. As I did, I noticed a happy child and a smiling baby through a window. Families still occupy these buildings in central Port Glasgow.

I know so little about the maternal side of my family. I’ve heard stories about Great Granny on my father’s side. I even have a foggy image of her and remember the piano she handed to my dad. We always sang around it on Christmas Eve.

But my maternal Great Grandmother (and Grandfather, her son) are hidden from me. My mother cut off her relationship with her father as she escaped to college. The death of her mother exacerbated his alcoholism and abuse. As a result, I had little connection with my maternal lineage.

King Street, Port Glasgow, Scotland

As I have explored the genealogical record over the last several years, I imagine obscurity into an image through a mirror dimly. Family must have been important to her; she named her babies after her parents and other family members. My Grandfather, her son, who emigrated to the United States at seventeen, journeyed with siblings she named after her family members. He was named after her father.

I deeply yearn to know more about this part of who I am. My mother held her family history close. Every hint was that it was painful. Though I ache for my mother’s grief, I hope such was not the experience of her seanmhair [2]Seanmhair is Scottish Gaelic for Grandmother., my Great-Grandmother.

King Street, Port Glasgow, Scotland

I hope she was happy and filled with joy and laughter playing in the street outside her flat on King Street. As people passed by and glanced through the window, could my Grandmother be seen smiling, singing, and laughing as she helped out with family chores?

I want to think so, but I suspect my imagination is biased by twenty-first-century views of childhood. She had an extremely short life dying at 34 years old, two months after giving birth to my Grandfather. As she married and moved to nearby Greenock, was she filled with hope and satisfaction in those few years she had?

I know so little about this part of who I am.

Walking King Street, where the woman whose blood flows in my veins was born, vague feelings of connection manifest as near tears. I want to reach out and hug her, get to know her, and know myself. I yearn for her spirit and wisdom. But, for now, I walk in the place she walked. I imagine the sounds of the families and children who lived on this street.


1 A smirr is a Scottish word for a fine rain drizzle.
2 Seanmhair is Scottish Gaelic for Grandmother.


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