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Looking Back: Our Monday Visitor

June 1932

By Sheila Stuart

He is the tiniest miniature of a creature.

A little old man, in a coat several sizes too large for his shrunken form, with a short bit of stubbly grey beard, and a young expression on his tired features. His eyes are especially young. While his feet shuffle along, dragging a bit, his eyes dance gaily to his own tunes.

He plays a penny whistle. That is how we came to know him. Every Monday, rain or shine, he comes down our road, playing his pathetic little repertoire of airs, rather out of time, and so altered with variations and twirls and arpeggios as would certainly surprise their composers could they but hear. It was these false notes that first attracted us to him, that caused us to open the window and drop some coppers on the garden path – with not too kind a motive! – and now he comes regularly, and his little misplaced notes that grated so much in the beginning have now resolved themselves into an inharmonious harmony.

He is not of the modern school; jazz is unknown to him and his whistle. He inclines to old-fashioned hymns scarcely ever sung by this generation; hymns like, “When mothers of Salem” – that if you shut your eyes take you back down through the years to the days when you attended Sunday School in an old white-washed kirk, where you sat on a red-cushioned seat beside a blue stained-glass window and watched with fascinated gaze the boy who, half hid behind the a morsel of curtain, ‘blew’ the organ.

If his ear is not all it might be, our old man has a keen sense of rhythm. His ‘Onward Christian Soldiers’ is like a call to arms, and his psalm tunes, for all their faulty interjections, march at a dignified pace. ‘Covenanters’ is one of his favourites. Listen to the thin reedy notes and you have the picture of a hill conventicle ready made for you – the swaying lilt of it almost blows the caller air in your face: you can hear the long grasses whistle in the wind; and you can see the preacher at his improvised rock pulpit……But our old man has passed on to something gayer – ‘Over the sea to Skye’ maybe. We have it quite often, played, sometimes twice on end, in a jumpy fashion that perhaps reminds him of ‘the bonnie boat’.

Each Monday as he comes we have a delightful little piece of by-play. He knows before he has turned our corner that we have heard his whistle piping out some hymn tune, knows that we are watching at the window for him to come near, but he keeps up this little game of pretence that he is simply playing to the street at large in a quite impersonal fashion. Even when he is close up, and cannot but hear the creak of the window as we throw it up, he plays his own game, and does not look up. Sometimes he even turns his back for a minute.

The slowly he wheels round and looks up with an expression of the most complete astonishment, and his eyes dance as he comes pattering across the road into the garden.

“Thank you, sister – thank you!”

Off comes his cap – all the way – then with a friendly wave of the hand he shuffles off towards the next house, greeting them with ‘Shall we gather at the River?’

Good-bye old man – till next Monday!

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