A Deep Yearning for Connection; Finding Joy in Cobblestones

Sitting on my couch in Oregon, I opened the digital birth record from Scotland’s People. [1]Scotland’s People is a source of public documents such as birth, marriage, and Scottish census records. Was this one it? Hesitant to get excited too quickly (having had false finds before), I controlled my excitement. I cross-checked names, locations, and dates not once but several times. Could it be? Maybe…yes…I think so…YES! After years of searching, I finally found it!

***

I immediately recognized the spot where my maternal Grandfather was born thanks to Google Map’s Street View, not that there was much to see. Since the day I found my Grandfather’s birth record while sitting on my couch, I’ve looked up the address again and again. There are no residential buildings along this stretch of Port Glasgow Road. A hedge line on one side blocks the view between modern housing and industry. Along the other side is an industrial packaging company. My efforts to determine when the buildings were demolished have been fruitless so far. I have a pet theory they were destroyed in the Greenock Blitz, but the age of the housing in the area is newer than the post-war period.

I yearn for a connection. I know so little about this part of who I am.

Though there was little to see, I stopped the car and got out. I ache for a connection to my maternal lineage. I can remember the sound of my paternal grandfather’s voice and the feeling of my paternal grandmother’s hugs. But I never knew my maternal grandparents. I didn’t even hear stories about them.

I can’t explain why my Grandfather’s birth location matters so much, but it does. I spent hours and hours trying to track down when the buildings came down, to find photos or information, with little success. My deep desire to see something concrete motivates my research. And so the inability to find the place of birth – house or flat – adds to the pain of not knowing the features or expressions of his face.

I yearn for a connection. I know so little about this part of who I am.

Cobblestone peeks out from beneath the asphalt.

Ambiguity is hard when you ache for something – someone – to hold onto. I know he was a redhead. I know intuitively that he was deeply hurting. How could he not be? My Grandfather grew up without his mother, who died just months after his birth. As an adult, he lost two children on either side of my mother (one at two, one at birth), and his wife died only two decades later. I want to hug him and hold his pain with him.

My Scottish Grandfather was alcoholic and abusive. I imagine he was angry at a hard life and sought to deaden the pain. I certainly don’t blame my mother for severing ties and leaving home as a teenager. His pain was misdirected at her when his 36-year-old wife, my Grandmother, died.

I wonder when he started drinking excessively and when pain determined his path. Did he begin drinking early from survivor’s guilt when his mother, my Great Grandmother, died two months after his birth? [2]See The Street Where She Was Born

Did he start drinking when he lost a child to whooping cough, or did he hold it together until after another child died at birth? Maybe it wasn’t until his wife – my maternal Grandmother died of illness at 36 that he found solace in alcohol dependence. Perhaps it doesn’t matter. Yet I want to know more about him than the death surrounding him.

I ache to know his face and the sound of his voice. I know so little about this part of who I am. I never felt his rough hand wrapped around my soft small childhood hand or his arms around me. He never told me stories of growing up in Greenock. I know even less about his siblings, who emigrated with him in the early twentieth century.

Outside of ginger hair, I don’t even know what he looked like! My mom took delight in my red hair as a baby. Did I ever remind her of him? Did this add or make worse the complicated grief of losing her mother to death and her father to alcohol and his pain? She never said.

Though there was nothing to see, I got out of the car and walked on Port Glasgow Road in Greenock. I compared what I saw with old photos of the road shared with me by my Airbnb host. That was when it began to come together, however hazily. The difference was dramatic between the photos and the present, but they fit. Wandering the street, I guessed where #103, the address where he was born, would have stood. I imagined what the house or flat might have looked like with images from the photos in mind.

And then I saw it!

Peeking out from under the asphalt was cobblestone. I felt a twinge of joy! However tenuous, the old bricks are a physical connection with my Grandfather. They would have been here when he was born. As he grew he may have walked over the very stones, I walked on today.

Though not much, I choose joy in this small find!

References

References
1 Scotland’s People is a source of public documents such as birth, marriage, and Scottish census records.
2 See The Street Where She Was Born

One comment

  1. Tim, I found this very interesting indeed. I think the house that your grandfather lived in was a flat in a row of houses. Those types can be seen along the main road in Adrassson leading to the ferry on the west coast going to Arran. I always thought it was a dreary place with no green spaces and and no flowers, or gardens in the front. They may have had a back garden with flowers but I doubt it. Life was hard and dreary in those days in Scotland. It may have been like that with lower class people everywhere. I can understand your longing for your grandfather and some connection to him.
    When my father would have turned 100 in l992, I went looking for traces of him in DeKalb County in MO. I found HIM and all of my family. I was able to establish lots of connections. I felt like was honoring Daddy by doing that. Keep looking and feel comforted in the fact that you have red hair. That is a real gift. I wish you peace and comfort in your looking.
    Nancy Robb

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