The Changeling

“Hush, Mam!” gulped Tessa. “Finn is not a changeling.”  Long held in tears welled over and Tessa sank into the fireside chair.  With concern, Tessa’s mother, turned her attention to her beloved daughter.  Her skin had a ghostly pallor and she was exhausted from the long journey from Inverselkie to her home village of Auchnagatt. “Let’s get you to bed,” said Mam “and I will look after the wee cratur.” Silently, Mam thought that she wasn’t ready to call the baby Finn or even accept him.

Tessa’s mother took her out of the damp clothes and gently helped her into the spare bed with a warming pan in it.  Tessa sighed with pleasure at the warm bed with the well-remembered eiderdown quilts.  The sheets were soft from many years washing and smelled of fresh northern air.  Within minutes she had fallen into a deep sleep.  Finn had begun fussing on the table and Mam could tell he was about to let out a wail of distress.  She rushed to comfort him so as not to wake Tessa.

“Let me give you a bosie,” and snuggled Finn into her ample bosom.  As she inhaled the precious smell of the beautiful baby, her heart began to grow tender.  Finn raised his big brown eyes to look at this new person and grasped onto her breast with fat little fingers. “Look at those eyes, ma wee bairnie!” she softly gasped, falling under his spell.  Finn gently smiled, at peace after such a stressful time.  Just then, the latch on the door turned and Tessa’s father walked in, covered in freshly fallen snow.

He cast an eye to his daughter asleep in the bed and then looked quizzically at his wife holding a strange baby. “Sit down Dad, and I will tell you everything,” entreated Mam.  Meanwhile she emptied her sewing box and filled it with her softest blankets.  Mam gently placed Finn in the box who settled down like a cat.  Over supper, Mam filled in the gaps with Dad.  His eyes widened when she told him that Finn was left in a basket outside Tessa and Thom’s door. “I think he might be a changeling,” whispered Mam.

“Ach, Mam!” exclaimed Dad with exasperation, “That’s nonsense.”  Dad persuaded Mam that it was much more likely that some unmarried woman left him at the door.  Perhaps flaxen haired Finn did have ancestor from the Viking lands? “Thom and Tessa came up with a plausible tale and we should support them,” said Dad with a note of finality.  Mam knew better to argue with Dad who was a village elder. “How is Tessa?” he asked.  Mam confided that she looked terrible and that as soon as she recovered from the arduous carriage journey, they should take her to cousin Elspeth who was a healer in the next valley.  As soon as they had received the note from Thom about Tessa contracting the White Plague again, they had sent a messenger to Elspeth to make ready.

The next morning, Tessa woke up with a start.  It took her a moment to figure out where she was.  She looked through the door and saw her father polishing up her old crib for Finn.  It had been sitting in the barn for so many years – Tessa’s eyes filled with happy tears.  Rather unsteadily, she walked into the living room and fell into her father’s welcoming open arms.  Tessa heard a gurgling and turned around to see her mother feeding a bottle of warm goats’ milk to Finn.  He was holding onto Mam’s curly hair and gazing up at her as though she was an Earth Mother.  A fleeting jab of jealousy touched Tessa but she smiled openly at the love between them.

“Granny’s wee bairnie is so hungry,” laughed Mam, spellbound by an unexpected grandchild.  Over the next few days, Tessa’s parents fed her and Finn so much food that they were visibly putting on much needed weight.  Mam was a plain but excellent cook.  Dad was a hunter so their house was filled with plenty.  Tessa eagerly ate the food of her childhood.  Jugged hare, fresh strawberry jam, porridge made with thick cream.  Finn, too, was eagerly eating everything he could lay his fat little hands on.  His new Granny’s knitting fingers flew and in no time, he had a winter layette.  Knitted breeches in all the colors of the countryside – moss green, yellow gorse and rowan red.  Tessa’s needlework skills were matched by her Mam’s knitting expertise.

Tessa had perked up with the comforts of home but she was still coughing up blood into her handkerchief.  Mam and Dad starting packing the horse and wagon and all too soon, they were ready to leave for Cousin Elspeth’s house.  Dad would accompany Tessa but Mam would stay at home with baby Finn.  As Tessa stood at the door, ready to leave, she hugged Finn a little too tightly.  He cried at the ferocity of the hug and the tension in his mother’s body.

“Come awa to Granny,” beseeched Mam, reaching out for Finn.  Somewhat reluctantly, Tessa gently handed him over, knowing that she wouldn’t see him for some months.  The White Plague treatment required months of convalescence.  Finn was oblivious to her as he happily grasped onto his Granny’s bosom.  Dad helped her into the wagon and Mam waved Finn’s little hand to say farewell to his mother.  Tessa blew kisses to him until she couldn’t see them anymore.  Her heart ached with love for Finn but she knew that he could not be in better hands.  Dad gently patted her shoulder in comfort and the next stage of Tessa’s journey began.

Postscript

This is the third chapter of a series The Fairy Gift and The Malady

My husband’s adoptive granny was ambivalent about his arrival because, after they took him home and he was unswaddled, they noticed he had an opening at the bottom of his spine – most commonly seen in spina bifida patients.  They immediately took him to the doctor who diagnosed a small abnormality of the coccyx and said it would heal if he was left unswaddled.  It completely healed but he had to have some padding on his tailbone during certain sports. Granny had beautiful brown eyes and felt a kinship to her only brown eyed grandson.  Their love was enhanced by Granny looking after him while his Mum was in the TB ward.

There is a real village of Auchnagatt in north east Scotland. We lived there in an old house in the late 1980s. The name of the village is derived from Gaelic meaning Field of the Cat/Witch. We had our first three cats – one was definitely a witch…

60 years of Vaccinations

LITTLE KERRY’S FIRST VACCINATION PASSPORT

The first prototype vaccinations for smallpox are believed to have occurred in the 16th century but the first vaccine is attributed to Edward Jenner, an English physician in 1796.  The 60 years in the title refers to my own history of vaccination.  They eradicated smallpox in 1972 but I still have the mark from my inoculation.  Can you imagine how brave the first people to accept the smallpox vaccination were or was the sight of death enough for acceptance?  I was provoked to write the post on finding out that people have not been showing up to their vaccination appointments in Texas.  It’s the only free healthcare I have ever received in the USA!  I was so relieved to receive the 2nd vaccination last week – just two weeks until full inoculation.

As a baby boomer, vaccinations have readily accepted by me because most of us saw what happened when you didn’t get inoculated.  Childhood deaths from illnesses that most of us have forgotten were common.  The ravages of Polio were there for all to see in the survivors – limps and calipers or an iron lung.  Teddy had Scarlet Fever twice; his adoptive mum feared for his much longed for life.  She and my mum had their own battle with Tuberculosis or consumption.  My mum was sent to relatives in the country and my mum in law spent months in hospital.  Newly adopted Teddy’s Granny had to look after him while she was in the sanitarium.  It was a strange blessing as they bonded in a special way.  I think he was always her favorite. My mum and I were unable to return back to the USA in 1967 because my mum was diagnosed with TB for the third time.  This time they had an antibiotic treatment – streptomycin – and she fully recovered but mentally collapsed with the end of her American dream.

Vaccination has become a taboo subject in recent times with the much-refuted claim that a particular vaccine can cause autism in children.  Perhaps seeing death and illness in your every day life made it easier for our parents to allow vaccination in previous decades.  I can’t claim to know much about autism but I am certain that it was underdiagnosed in previous years.  Every area in Scotland had a special school where children with mental and physical disabilities were lumped together for what was often a sub-standard education.  It was a necessity when I was a child because at our little Catholic Primary School, we had two full classes of Primary 1 and there were 40 kids in each class.  No teacher would be able to cope with special needs children in addition.  I can still remember a little boy, called Andrew, who undoubtedly had ADD or something similar – that diagnosis was not used then.  We could tell that he couldn’t help himself but it was so upsetting when he disturbed our learning cycle.  The teacher had the patience of a saint.

WHOO-HOO – SECOND COVID INOCULATION!

Vaccinations were staggered as they are today and the last, I recall at school, was for TB when we were about 13 years old.  Both Teddy and I tested positive that indicated that we had TB or the antibodies – both of us had been vaccinated earlier than usual because our mum’s had TB.  Years passed, Teddy and Bunny married and had our honeymoon in Peterhead to meet my new relatives…  A couple of years later we booked a caravan holiday to south of France.  Unbelievably, there was a typhoid outbreak in La Sud and we had to get new vaccinations just before our trip.  We were vaccinated on our bums but then had a 24-hour bus trip to our destination – oh how we ached!

As our vacations got more exotic, so did the vaccinations.  Teddy had to get the Yellow Fever vaccine for a work trip to Africa.  In between all that you kept up with your tetanus vaccinations, especially if you lived in an agricultural area like we did.  Then we moved to Egypt in 2002 and I felt like a pin cushion.  Most of the childhood vaccines had to be repeated as illness such as polio are still endemic in third world countries.  We also had rabies vaccines which I am not sure were entirely necessary but it gave me free rein to work with street animals so another blessing, perhaps.  A tiny kitten nearly killed me with septicemia from a bite, so I guess death is always lurking around the corner in one form or another.  The only thing we didn’t have to worry about in Egypt was terrorist attacks!  You had to be careful on boats in the Nile in case you got Nile water splashed in your mouth.  Bilharzia is a very common disease; my Egyptian friend’s Dad was dying of liver failure caused by Bilharzia, a parasite you can ingest when drink untreated Nile water.

I DON’T EVEN KNOW WHAT SOME OF THESE VACCINES FOR EGYPT WERE???

So, we reach 2021 and by some miracle scientists were able to create a vaccine at Warp Speed.  There hasn’t been much time for trial but it is a global pandemic of unimaginable scale.  Almost 3 million people worldwide have died of Covid-19 but the true number is probably much higher.  Herd immunity is a long way off, so turn up for your vaccine appointment!  My eyes have gone square from looking at the TV and Internet too much during this weird time but I loved this funny video that I found some months ago.  Yes, cat fur and hot dog water sounds just fine to me…