A folktale from Scotland retold by Hazel Lennox.
I first heard the story from Taffy Thomas, who said that he heard the story from a well-known teller in Scotland, Betty White, who had died only a few weeks before. This is an excellent story for young people who are exploring their own sexuality, and also for older folk who too often fall into ways of thinking that are rigid.
It was the end of the harvest. All the fruits and grains were gathered in, and the Laird — that’s the name for the man who owns all the land — was throwing a big party for the workers. The tables were groaning with food and drink, and everyone was making merry.
The Laird stood up and an expectant hush fell on the company. “Now,” he said, “ye see this bag of gold. This is for whichever one of ye can tell the best story of the night. And,” he continued, pointing his finger around the room, “a’body [everybody] has to participate. If ye canna tell a story, sing a song, or show your bum, then oot ye gan.”
Sandy was sitting in the corner. He looked around the room and didn’t see a room full of friendly faces; he saw a room full of people he would have to work with, possibly the rest of his life. He thought to himself, “A canna dae it [I can’t do it]. Ah just canna get up and tell a story.” For you know, it takes a bit of nerve to get up and tell a story. Rising to his feet, Sandy exclaimed, “Ah canna dae it. Ah canna tell a story.”
“Then,” thundered the Laird, pointing to the door, “oot ye gan.” (Bosses can be like that, you know.) Sandy heard the big door slam shut behind him. There he was on the outside and there everyone else was on the inside, having fun. Disconsolately, he began to walk down the path, scuffing his feet and pondering the injustices of life, and he found himself walking alongside the river. Spotting an old boat pulled up on the bank, Sandy wandered down and, taking out his pocket knife, began to pick the moss off the outside — for it was his job to look after the boats. Then, lifting one tackety boot up after the other, he stepped into the boat and sat down on the seat. Reaching under the seat, he pulled out a tin can used for the very purpose of bailing and began to bail water out of the boat. Suddenly the boat gave a jolt and began to drift away from the bank. There were no oars, no sail, and no wind, yet the boat was moving inexorably into the middle of the river.
Sandy was most distraught and didn’t know what to do, and he put his head into his hands. Just then he caught a glimpse of a reflection in the water, and she had long black eyelashes and rosy red cheeks, and looking down — and feeling down — he saw that things had changed. She saw a long silver dress and silver slippers.
By the time she reached the other side, she was in a complete state of confusion. She was struggling to pull the heavy boat onto the shore when a young man happened to come along, and seeing her struggling with the boat, he ran down to help and bent his back and pulled the boat onto the shore. Seeing that the young woman was in a distressed state, he suggested that she go to his wee cottage until she calmed down. He sat her down by the fire and gave her a nice bowl of tattie (potato) soup and a cup of tea, and she became a little more composed. Night was falling, and there was nowhere else for her to go, so he suggested that she stay there the night, and he gave her his own straw bed in the loft while he slept by the fire. The next day she just sort of stayed around, and days became weeks and weeks became months and didn’t they fall in love. (And this is where we all get to say “Aaaah” and I hold my hands over my heart.) And then didn’t they have a baby! (I’m missing out a few details here for you to fill in yourselves.)
One day, they were out pushing the pram along the river path and the same old boat was pulled up on the shore. With a laugh, the young woman ran down to the boat and began to pick at the moss on the outside. Then, lifting one silver slipper after the other, she stepped into the boat, sat down on the seat. Reaching under the seat, she pulled out a tin can used for the very purpose of bailing out the water and began to bail out the boat.
Suddenly, she felt a jolt and the boat began to drift away from the bank. There were no oars, no sail, and no wind, yet the boat began to drift inexorably into the middle of the river. She leaped to her feet and reached out her arms to the shore and was crying, “Oh my man, oh my child! Oh my man, oh my child!”
The young man raced down to the side of the river and stretched his arms out as far as he could, and she stretched her arms out as far as she could, yet they could not touch, they could not reach. She was most distraught and didn’t know what to do, and she put her head into her hands and felt rough curls and a stubbly chin, and looking down — and feeling down — she saw that things had changed. He saw a pair of moleskin trousers and big tackety boots. Sandy reached the other side and pulled the boat onto shore and he was still shrieking, “Oh my man, oh my child! Oh my man, oh my child!” And he ran up the path to the big house and burst in the door — and the party was still going on. I know it’s surprising, but it’s true. And he was still shouting, “Oh my man, oh my child! Oh my man, oh my child!” Startled, the Laird looked at Sandy and noted his disheveled hair and the wild look in his eye and said, “Sandy, lad, whatever are ye haverin’ on aboot?”
So Sandy went in and told them the story — just as I’ve told it to you — and at the end of it, the Laird fixed him with a hard look and said, “Sandy, if you’re saying ye’ve been to the other side of the river, where none of us has ever been, then it’s the best story I’ve heard all night. Here’s the bag of gold to ye.” Sandy took the gold and went over to the corner and sat down again, and he never said another word all night.
Contributed by Hazel Lennox