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Toonhill Redemption

Ma hero is a ghost. He walks by ma side every day. He’s in me an aw aroond me. He’s the spirit that helps me struggle through anythin life throws at me.

He’s the fists that punch ma way through the muck o the grave an the hands that claw ma way upwards tae the light. He’s the fingers that tear up bits o paper, pick up new bits, an start aw over again. He’s the one red liquid flash o settin sun on the leaf ootside ma windae. He’s the steam that rises off the deer’s back, doon there, at the corner; at the edge o the wids.

He wis born in nineteen twenty-one. His faimly wis fae Lanark. Efter his faither died when he wis a bairn he started deliverin coal wi his uncle. He worked doon the pits at fifteen. He built up a haulage business wi his mother an his brothers. It wis based in Toonhill, jist ootside Dunfermline. He wis ma grandfather. His name wis Robert Wilson. Ah eywis called him Popsie.

Ma name’s Robbie, so Ah had a lot tae live up tae. In some ways though, Ah never tried. Ah’m no a businessman, so Ah couldnae emulate him that way. Ah’m a fighter though; an he taught me tae fight. The business he built, the money he made, the car he had: they wirnae important; no tae me anyway. What’s important is his spirit, his defiance, his endurance. He eywis talked aboot the ‘hungry boxer’. That wis his mentality. When ye have tae fight tae eat, tae fight tae live, it makes ye a different calibre o person. Ah never wanted for anythin; dinnae get me wrong, but Ah’ve had ma ain struggles; real fights tae keep control o ma mind, ma soul, ma spirit. Ah’ve fought tae be free tae be who Ah am, tae believe what Ah believe, tae keep control o ma faculties an live ma life the way Ah want tae live it. When Ah wis wee, Ah started tae get bullied at the school. Part o it wis because o Popsie. Well, it wis really because o what some folk though o him: what they thought o me an ma faimly. Ma faimly taught me tae treat everyone equal: tae treat them the way they treated me. Some o the folk in the village were nice an some o them wirnae. The ones that wirnae started tae call me names- they sez Ah wis spoilt, fat, an cowardly. Ah telt Popsie aboot it. He taen me doon tae the boxin club in Toonhill. Ah wis nine year auld. In one way or another, Ah’ve been fightin ever since.

At the back o his hoose, he had a wee garden. It let him escape fae the pressures o his business. He grew totties, tomatoes an gooseberries. Ah kin still mind him showin me how tae howk the totties up wi the fork an shake the dirt off them. Ah kin still smell the fresh tomatoes; their tops cut off an salt poured intae the flesh. Ah kin still taste the tang o the gooseberries, an feel the smack o bittersweetness on ma lips. He used tae take me walks up the wids an tell me stories aboot the different kinds o trees an birds. We picked wild rasps an blaeberries. He telt me aw aboot the cowboys an Indians.

Sometimes, we found Indian trails. He sez there wis an Indian village somewhere up there. Ah wis a bit feart, cos Ah thought Ah wis a cowboy, an they might lowp at me if they caught me. Popsie telt me no tae worry though. He made me a bow an arrow. He cut his hand carvin them.

When he passed them tae me, his blood dripped on ma hands. He winked… an telt me Ah wis an Indian.

Ah started tae grow up. Ah didnae go up the wids much anymair. Ah still saw Popsie aw the time though. Ma Gran an Popsie’s hoose wis the heart o ma faimly. Ah used tae lie doon next tae his dug at the coal fire an fall asleep. It wis the best dug’s life ye kin imagine. Ma favourite time wis Christmas time. No for the presents sae much ; jist for bein the gether. Popsie used tae tell us tae look oot for Santa’s sledge. Ah’m sure Ah saw it a couple o times: trailin stars across the rooftops as it swooshed through the sky over the wids.

Popsie wis really happy at Christmas, like a big bairn. He wis happy in oor happiness.

When Ah wis thirteen, he had a stroke. At the same time, ma Gran got cancer. She had it tougher than anyone really. She wis a great fighter as well. It wis really hard seein Popsie in a wheelchair like, strugglin tae speak. His eyes were still shinin wi plans an dreams. He minded how tae swear though, that’s the funny thing. He wis expected tae last a wee while. One night, ma Mum asked if Ah wanted tae visit him in hospital; he wis in for somethin quite routine. Ah didnae go, cos Ah though he’d be oot the next day. He never came back. Ah mind ma Gran wis in pieces when we telt her. Ah couldnae listen tae her cryin. So, me an ma sister an ma cousin went away up the wids. We climbed up the bing, where he used tae take us years ago. In the field below it, we saw seven deer runnin doon the hill, in a perfect row. They snorted in the air, an sweat shone slick on their backs as steam curled off in wisps intae the sky. No long after that, ma Gran died. She died on ma fourteenth birthday. We aw said goodbye tae her, an telt her we loved her. Ah mind her takin her last breath. We had tea an toast afterwards, an that seemed funny tae me. Right at that moment though, it sounds daft but, it did help a bit, ken?

So, Ah went through secondary school withoot Gran an Popsie tae look oot for me. Ah never felt they left me though. Ah didnae like school much. Ah did quite well, but it wisnae for me. Ah learned mair in the wids wi Popsie. Ah learned mair aboot the world aroond me, aboot life. Ah eywis minded the hungry boxer an it helped me through a lot o tough times. Ah’ve never been a big person physically an neither wis Popsie. But Ah mind what his mother telt him – ‘son, there’s mair steel in a penknife than there is in a gully’. When Ah mind that, Ah feel big: in body an in spirit. Ah feel Ah kin dae anything. Ah feel fearless. Ah feel transcendent.

An, as a got older, Ah realised a lot o folk in Toonhill loved Popsie as well. An a lot o them knew Ah wis alright too. An Ah stopped carin aboot the folk that dinnae like me or care aboot me. Ah’ve got great pals an faimly, an Ah’ll trust their judgement mair than anyone else’s. Ah stopped listenin tae other folk tellin me what Ah could an couldnae achieve in ma life an jist kept pushin onwards. Ah learned tae caw canny, but caw awa.

Ah’m no the same person as Popsie. Some things Ah believe in, he wouldnae believe in, an vice versa. But, he wis eywis open minded. He opened ma mind tae what’s in me an what’s aroond me. He taught me aboot love , he taught me aboot determination. He taught me aboot resilience, endurance an defiance. He taught me tae believe in masel. He taught me tae keep fightin an tae stay hungry: tae have a hunger for knowledge, freedom, truth, an love.

Ma life an ma path are different tae his, but he geen me a compass that guides me anywhere.

The thing Ah miss the maist is his voice. When someone dies, it’s the first thing ye forget. Ah feel him aroond me aw the time though. He’s in ma blood an ma spirit. We walk through life the gether : cos Ah’m a ghost as well, ken? Ah jist walk in the flesh the noo.

His number plate is pinned above the frame o ma bedroom door. It sez ‘RAB 757’. Every time Ah leave ma room early in the mornin , Ah slap ma hand on it an clench ma fist. Welcome tae ma world: Ah’m ready for anythin.

So… here’s tae ma hero, Robert Russell Wilson. Here’s tae the hungry boxer. Here’s tae the penknife. Here’s tae the raw sting o frost in the mornin. Here’s tae the sunlight through the trees. Here’s tae the good times an the bad times; if it hurts, ye’re still livin. Here’s tae ma Popsie. Here’s tae the Toonhill Redemption.