Breenja reviewed The Wooden Rose
A great read: compelling plot, engaging characters – This was a lovely read: refreshingly different. The author leads us through a tragedy in a traditional Romany community through to its long reaching repercussions in today’s modern world. You reluctantly leave the ancient traditions of the charming rural community only to be rewarded by the twists and turns faced by our modern heroine. The characters are beautifully observed and the sentiments within are strong but never overdone. I couldn’t put it down and look forward to reading more of this author’s work. Brenda Frew
Elizabeth Holzke reviewed The Wooden Rose. A must read. Fabulous book…. I started reading this book and soon found myself being transported into the storyline. A very well written book that you find difficult.to put down.
Michelle McGhee reviewed The Wooden Rose -Most amazing book I’ve read in a long time. I couldn’t put this book down! Went to bed and dreamt about Rosa! Most amazing book I’ve read in a long time! Can’t wait for the next one!!
Book 1 of The Rose Trilogy – Coming Soon Before the Rose, the Gypsy’s Curse
Read the first 7 chapters
The Wooden Rose -A symbol of love, a mystery unravelled…
Copyright © 2015 Soraya
All rights reserved.
Chapter 1 – 1889 A Travellers’ Camp near Glasgow Green
“Hurry Rosa yir Da wants tae leave in ten minutes”
“Ah’m hurryin Ma, ah’m goin as fast as ah can,” said Rosa. She could hardly think straight as she hopped about pulling on her black boots and fastening the laces. She was excited at the thought of seeing Eddie again. Tall handsome Eddie with his dark curly hair, she couldn’t remember the first time that she saw him but she had known all her life that he was hers. The last time they had met was at Musselburgh Fair when all the travellers got together to reunite, share good times, meet up with family and friends, and trade with each other.
She was sixteen now, her raven black hair came half way down her back and her green eyes shone under long dark eyelashes. Soon she would marry and the only boy she would marry was Eddie. Her young heart fluttered when she thought of him. Eddie was so clever with his hands. He was an artist with wood, he didn’t just make things; he made beautiful things. He made shelves for his mam’s precious ornaments and he had carved the shapes himself and painted flowers and ivy down the sides. He made clothes pegs to sell round the doors too but that was different.
Rosa carried a wooden token in her pocket. When no one was watching, she would take the token out of her pocket, look at it, and think of Eddie. Her Eddie had made it for her when he was fourteen and she was only ten. He had carved a lovely rose on the surface of it and each time she looked at it or held it in her pocket, she thought of her Eddie. It was just a simple piece of wood, flat about two inches across and half an inch thick but she could feel the love in it. She was never without it and had never shown it to anyone. It was something special to her and Eddie.
“Hurry up lass” her father called as he hitched the horses to the front of the wagon.
“Stop yer day dreamin and get up on the wagon.”
She loved her Da; he was a big strong man with black curly hair, arms like tree trunks and hands like shovels. They were taking horses he had bred and trained to trade at the fair.
They were leaving Glasgow today and it would be two or three days before they would reach Musselburgh. Soon they would meet up with friends and family. There would be horseracing and reunions. The young girls would be posing and showing off new dresses that their mothers or grannies had sewn for them and young men, boys really, would be strutting and acting manly. Everything had to be perfect in this very proud culture and each family would vie to be and have the best. Everyone went to Musselburgh Fair; it was tradition.
Mary, her Ma, had taught her how to scrub, clean stack and stow everything that they needed in, on and around the big wagon. Pots and pans hung from the sides of the wagon and sang a merry note as they travelled. Everything was spic and span for they were fussy about cleanliness.
Each night after a long day in the wagon, John would stop in the same that his family had done for generations before him. There were trees to shelter the tent that they would put down to sleep in because the wagon would be full of things that they needed when they were travelling and things that they could sell or swop. There was lush grass for the horses to graze on and a running stream nearby for fresh water.
As soon as the wagon stopped, Mary and Rosa would jump down and begin to unpack the things they would need. They always carried wood to start the fire and Rosa would set that out. Mary would gather the slats from where they were stored under the wagon and she would use these to build a floor for their tent. They often erected their big tent if they were staying somewhere for a week or more but when they were travelling; the smaller tent was fine for their needs.
With the fire started, Rosa helped her mother while John roped off an area and untied the trading horses from the wagon before turning them loose in the secured space. The lead horses were unhitched and turned loose with the others.
Their two terriers ran around excited to be free but their big lurcher Suzie was tethered safely with just enough rope to wander a short distance otherwise she would have been off exploring and hunting for game. Mary set up the chitty prop, a three legged cast iron pyramid shape with a large hook for holding a pot over a fire, as Rosa fetched the water. Fire lit, kettle on to boil water for tea, and animals tended to, they could now sit and rest a while under the stars.
This is how they travelled; always following familiar routes and stopping at familiar places, each place would hold memories of previous times and previous journeys. Each morning they would rise early, feed the animals and stow all their belongings back in and around the wagon and continue on their journey.
As they neared Musselburgh, they would catch sight of others travelling to the fair and there was a stir of excitement in the air. Finally, they arrived and lined up in a queue to enter the grassy field. They waved and called to other families arriving or queuing. They could see the Morrison’s, the Wilson’s, and the Boswell’s and there were others approaching that they would know and some of their own family, their second cousins, the Stewarts would be there too.
Rosa could hardly contain herself.
“Mind yir ane business Rosa and dinnae let yir Da catch you ey’in up these boys.” her mother whispered.
Rosa was horrified and embarrassed “I’m no ey’in up boys, ah wis jist lookin for…”
“I know who yir lookin for,” replied her mother “It’s that Eddie McGuigan. A guid boy mind yae, but dinnae show yer keen.”
Rosa blushed and her ears were burning with embarrassment.
“I like him Ma, he asked me to remember him last year.”
“Wheesht, here’s yir Da!”
It was a hard life being a traveller but it was a good life and a life that they loved. Mary, Rosa’s mother was a good-looking woman of average height and build but it was her dark hair and eyes and her self-confidence that made her stand out. She always knew what to do and got on with doing it. There was nothing shy or retiring about Mary and that was what her husband Johnny loved most about her.
Mary always got what she wanted and in her younger days she had had a nasty mean streak about her but that was before she and John got together. She was more understanding and tolerant as an adult than she had ever been before she and John got together. He was known everywhere for his knowledge and skill with the horses and it was probably that same skill that he used on Mary, settling her when she was about to fly off in a tantrum or calming her when she was agitated.
Mary had two loves in her life; Rosa her darling daughter and John her big strong husband who in spite of his outward stern appearance, had a soft kindly heart and would do anything to help another. John didn’t take any nonsense from anyone though and could drive a hard bargain making sure that he got the best of any deal.
The sun was shining as Johnny was unhitching his horses from the wagon while Mary and Rosa began to fetch the makings for their tent. They unloaded slats of wood from underneath the wagon for the big tent and with the help of nearby children; they began to put it together.
The wooden shapes for the floor went down first to establish the hexagon shape leaving an uncovered space in the centre for the stove that they carried with. Other children would dash in to help and each would hold a length of wood while Mary and Rosa secured poles to the tops holding the frame together and maintaining the shape.
There was lots of laughing, and teasing as the children supported the frame, then Rosa and Mary, standing on either side of the frame began to throw and catch a big tarpaulin cover up and over. The tarpaulin had pull cords attached at various point to make the job of pulling the cover over easier.
Often they collapsed on the ground laughing and rubbing their aching arms from the effort of the task. Coloured cloths were fetched from the wagon and draped on the inside walls and rugs were laid on the boards.
Finally, the stove was set up in the middle of the floor and a long pipe attached to fit directly under the smoke hole at the top of the tent. The stove would keep them warm at night and with a kettle at the ready, there was always a cuppa for anyone who called in.
Outside, Mary set up the chitty prop, and young Rosa fetched the wood to start the fire. Before long, a large cast iron pot of soup or stew would be hanging from the chitty prop. Food, always cooked outside kept the tent free from smells and spills. There was always plenty to share among friends and family members.
The muscles in Eddie’s arms bulged below the rolled up sleeves of his red and black checked shirt as he set up at the fair though he was oblivious to the admiring glances from some of the young girls. Thick dark hair framed his handsome face tanned with the summer sun. All he could think about was seeing his Rosa.
Eddie was a hard worker and talented too, he just put his head down and got on with things and when he was working with wood his mind would drift off into his plans for the future, the future he saw with Rosa. He knew that he was going to marry Rosa and that they would make a family together.
He could see it in his mind’s eye as though it had already happened. A big family, boys, and girls; the girls would help their Mam and marry well and the boys, well they would work with him. He would teach them how to look at a windfall tree trunk that others would pass by and he would show them how to read the wood and see what things they could make from it. He would teach his sons how to create beautiful pieces of work that the wealthy would have on show in their fancy homes.
He was twenty now and had been learning to hone his gift for carpentry since he was a child, starting off just whittling bits of wood into little ornaments, making clothes pegs and selling them door to door. Eddie progressed to making three legged stools and by the time he was in his teens, he was making special pieces; wooden spoons for stirring the pot, bowls, beautifully turned, carved and polished, containers with lids for sugar and tea, children’s pull along toys, garden furniture, and wooden ornaments that the wealthy were happy to purchase. He had made good money and saved every penny he could. He was going to speak to Rosa’s Da when he saw him next. He knew he could give her a good life with the money he had put by and his plans for the future.
Rosa was helping her mother to set up their camp when out of the corner of her eye she saw Eddie approaching. She glanced quickly at her mother as her cheeks began to glow bright red.
“Ma.” she whispered
“I see him.”
Rosa kept her eyes downcast as Eddie approached and not once did Eddie look in her direction.
“Excuse me Aunty Mary,” he said, as was the custom in his culture “Could ah speak tae Uncle John?”
“You’ve never had a problem speakin tae him before Eddie, dae ye think ye might have wan the noo.”
Eddie shuffled his feet showing his discomfort but he could see that Mary was teasing him. Just at that moment Uncle John appeared back from chatting to other family members who had just arrived.
“Eddie” he said looking at Eddie sternly under heavy dark bushy eyebrows. Eddie’s stomach might have been churning but that was no comparison to what John was feeling. He knew in his soul what was coming but he wasn’t ready to let the apple of his eye, his little Rosa, go that easily.
“Uncle John, a word.”
“Well, spit it out and ah’m warnin ye, ah’m nae in the best o moods”
Eddie bristled at John’s sharp tone. “I could come back an’ see ye”
“Jist git on wae it lad ah’ve things tae dae.”
Eddie drew himself up to his full height, stuck out his chin and his chest, looked his uncle in the eye, and said.
“It’s an important thing ah wish tae speak tae ye about but if ye huvnae time tae be civil ah’ll come back.”
“Jist hawd yer horses’ lad ye got me on the wrong foot. Ah feel a know whit ye want to speak tae me about an it’s churnin in ma stomach. Say yer piece.”
John stepped closer to Eddie to put his arm over his shoulder. Surprised by the fact that Eddie was taller than he thought; he wondered why he hadn’t noticed, he was dealing with a full-grown man now but in his mind and heart, to John, Eddie was still a lad. He did what any other proud man would do to avoid his embarrassment and stuck his hands in his pockets.
“Let’s take a walk,” he said to the young man.
They walked in silence away from the hustle and bustle of everyone chatting and setting up for the fair. Both men were a generation apart, but both with the same person in mind. Finally, Eddie stopped, looked his uncle in the eye as he looked back at him, he took a deep breath, and said,
“Ah’ve loved yer lass since ah wus wee, an’ she wus just a babe. Ah’ve watched her grow and become the beautiful lass like the flower ye named her fur. The past four years ah’ve worked and saved and every penny is for Rosa’s future.”
His uncle fixed his gaze on him, just stared at him silently saying nothing while his mind went into overdrive.
The words poured out of Eddie like a desperate plea. “Ah’m askin ye fur her hand man,” he almost shouted.
John stared at him, the fear becoming a reality, the pain of that reality written on his face.
“Same time, same place, next year, if ye still feel the same ye can ask her yersel an if she agrees ye can marry on the first day of May at the Tinkers Heart.”
Eddie’s face lit up, he punched the air and did a dance right there in front of John.
“She’ll say aye, I know it.”
Eddie ran off back to his pitch and as John walked back to his wagon he watched Rosa helping her mother.
“Ah’ve jist seen that young Eddie” he said to no one in particular, but really so that Rosa could hear. “Turned into a fine man.” he said and climbed into his wagon where he poured himself a whisky, sat down and stared at the wall in front of him seeing nothing but the memories of his daughter’s birth and early years. Thinking of her blossoming into a beautiful woman, he wondered how he would feel to let her go, to start her own life. When Mary came in his face was wet with tears; she sat beside him and reached over, placed her hand in his and gave it a comforting squeeze. No words were necessary between them for she understood how he felt.
The atmosphere at the Musselburgh Fair was electric and exciting. Friends and families merged and mingled, lurchers and terriers barked, children played, and the men did what men do. They traded horses, ponies, and dogs, showed their Persian rugs, tin pots and other crafts and looked on proudly at their sons and daughters. They exchanged wares and ideas on how to make a living, places to go to sell their wares, and places to avoid.
The men were a sight to see, all wearing jackets, flat caps, and often waistcoats below. Shirts tucked into dark trousers were clean and white with no collars but a colourful patterned scarf at the neck. They all stood in a group making loud exchanges as they performed the almost religious ceremony of trading and bargaining. With each offer or counter offer, the men would slap hands but even that had a specific format. A spit on the palm and a full-handed slap was a deal but if only fingertips slapped then the bargaining would continue. The seller held his hand out asking and the buyer would state his offer and slap. The men had idiosyncrasies that would give each other clues to what they were thinking. Some would touch their caps between slaps. Some would turn and pretend to be walking away. Others would complain loudly and throw accusations but there was always a bargain sealed.
A horse buyer would gradually make his way around so that he could stand directly in front of the horse seller and pretend to be mildly interested. He might stroke the horse, have a look at its teeth pick up a leg, and feel its joints. The seller would know by this that a sale was imminent and the bargaining would begin.
“Gid enough horse.” (Slap)
“What’ll ye offer?” (Slap)
“Forty and not a penny more.” (Slap)
“Ah yir jokin man; Sixty an’ not a penny less” (Slap)
“Sixty? Yer a robber ah’ll give forty-five.” (Slap)
“Fifty an yeh huv a deal.” A spit on the palm and a hand held out; a spit on the palm and a full-handed slap and the deal done.
“Now gimme a penny back for luck.” The buyer would say and as was the custom, the seller would give the buyer a coin or two and the bargain was sealed.
Young men would stand by and watch the exchanges learning the craft and then they would discuss among themselves the skills or failings that they had witnessed.
“Aye eh couldha got cheaper.” Or
“He couldha got more if he hung oot a bit.”
They in their way would take on board lessons that they had learned, that they would use themselves when their time came. Overloaded with testosterone they rode their horses bareback, raced each other, and performed tricks to impress the girls. The girls giggled and looked coy and pretended to be unimpressed by the boys.
In the middle of all this, the women gossiped and bragged about their children while they skinned hares for the pot. Some chopped vegetables and fetched split peas and lentils that had been soaked overnight. Dumplings and potatoes added to the stew ensured that there was plenty of filling food all.
Everyone gathered around the campfires and shared the food that had been prepared earlier in the day and then out would come the pipes and the tobacco for a relaxing smoke. Some of the old grannies would smoke a clay pipe and ponder while they remembered and shared stories about their own younger days.
Those that could play a tune would fetch a musical instrument, fiddles would be fine-tuned, flutes prepared, and box accordions stretched and squeezed. Some would have the traditional Celtic drum the bodhran and others would be happy with a tambourine or a set of spoons. Others still, with no instrument would sit open legged on a wooden box and tap a rhythm on the box to accompany the music.
The women and girls would dance and twirl on boards laid out for the purpose; boxes were set out around the space for others to sit on and participate playing an instrument or singing or just enjoying the spectacle. The atmosphere was warm, friendly and exciting, the smell of wood smoke from the fire scented the air, and the night was clear and bright under the full of the moon.
Eddie and Rosa sat side by side quietly chatting. She felt pretty in her new dress with its full drindle skirt that she had helped her mother to sew. With her head down, she studied the bright blues and reds of the fabric as she wondered what to say to Eddie. They both felt different now that Eddie had declared his intentions. He told Rosa what her father had said. For now, they could to sit together or hold hands, perhaps even sneak a kiss if no one was watching but all eyes would be on them now for it’s the traveller’s way to be chaste before marriage.
After the fair the only way that they could communicate would be by messages passed by word of mouth, or for those that could read and write, and at that time there were only a few with this skill, a note. It would be twenty years before a public telephone appeared but there were so many of their kind that it was always possible to pass a message from one to another by those who were moving from place to place.
“Ah’m sixteen now, next August when we come to the fair next year ah’ll be seventeen an if ma Da says we can marry on the first of May ah’ll be nearly eighteen an’ you’ll be nearly twenty-two. It all seems so far away.” She said as she looked into his dark brown eyes. His dark curly hair fell over his brow and curled over his collar at the back. They were so entranced with each other that at first they were unaware of the chant.
“Rosa, Rosa, Rosa, give us a dance”
She giggled and got up and moved to the centre of the circle and gave an exaggerated bow. Everyone knew Rosa loved to dance, and had she not be so engrossed in conversation with Eddie, she would have been the first to start the dancing.
The fiddle stuck up, the flutes joined, and the circle of folk began to clap in time to the music. The bodhran beat out the rhythm as Rosa’s feet matched the rhythm on the boards, throwing her head back with a laugh Rosa began to dance a jig. She held her skirts up a tiny bit and her black laced boots were visible below them. Round and round the circle she danced, skipping and twirling, the sound of her heels joining the beat of the music, her dark hair flying behind her and then she began to pull other girls into the circle where they joined in the fun of the dance. She was so happy that she wished she was married to Eddie now and that this could be the beginning of their life together.
As the night ended, a singing voice filled the air and Rosie knew that it was her Da. He was singing the song that his Da used to sing to his Ma.
Johnny wis born in a mansion doon in the county o’ Clare
Rosie wis born by a roadside somewhere in County Kildare
Destiny brought them together on the road to Killorglan
One day in her bright tasty shawl, she was singing
And she stole his young heart away
for she sang…
Meet me tonight by the campfire
Come with me over the hill.
Let us be married tomorrow
Please let me whisper ‘I will’
What if the neighbours are talkin
Who cares if your friends stop and stare
You’ll be proud to be married to Rosie,
Who was reared on the roads of Kildare.
Think of the parents who reared ye
Think of the family name
How can you marry a gypsy?
Oh whit a terrible shame
Parents and friends stop your pleading
Don’t worry about my affair
For I’ve fallen in love with a gypsy
Who was reared on the roads of Kildare.
Johnny went down from his mansion
Just as the sun had gone down
Turning his back on his kinfolk
Likewise his dear native town
Facing the roads of old Ireland
With a gypsy he loved so sincere
When he came to the light of the campfire
These are the words he did hear
Meet me tonight by the campfire
Come with me over the hill.
Let us be married tomorrow
Please let me whisper ‘I will’
What if the neighbours are talkin
Who cares if yir friends stop and stare
You’ll be proud to be married to Rosie,
Who wus reared on the roads of Kildare
Travelling families rarely built their own wagons but Eddie’s skills with wood enabled him to do just that and he wanted Rosa to have the best that he could make. A farmer on the outskirts of Glasgow sold him a small piece of land; Eddie fenced it and built a shed. Whenever he passed a wood yard or sawmill on his travels, he would call in to see what they had. From time to time, he purchased timbers to lay aside so that he could build a wagon for Rosa that he would present to her on their wedding day.
Most of the wagons that he was familiar with had a narrow floors and sides that sloped outwards but he had seen some showmen at one of the fairs. Their wagons had a wider floor, were taller with a slightly pitched roof, and windows on both sides. He was going to build that style of wagon for himself and Rosa to begin their new life. He had been gathering oak, ash, walnut, and pine and he would use all of it to make the finest wagon that anyone had ever seen. In his mind’s eye, he could see the travelling home he would build. It might take a year or more but he would work night and day if he had to.
Eddie shared his parent’s wagon, and he was proud of the work that he had done on it, taking it from a standard style to something that turned heads wherever they went. Their wagon had a narrow floor encased between tall wheels making it safer for travelling over streams and rough ground.
The original body of the wagon had curved support struts covered in a thick canvas. Eddie had remodelled the original interior making cabinets for storage from the floor to waist height. In the centre of the cabinets, he fitted a small potbellied stove with a chimney flue running up to the top emerging from one side to allow smoke from the stove to escape.
Eddie fashioned the canvas cover, cutting it into sections that overlapped for protection from the weather and on fine days, sections could be tied back to let in light and air. At the front and back, he added porches with carved side brackets and then painted fancy scroll patterns along the brackets. He cut the door in two halves allowing the top half of the door to be open while the bottom remained closed and the addition of strong ropes to the steps allowed the family to raise or lower them at will. Pots, pans, and other necessities hung from racks he fitted along the outsides. The intricately carved wood was brightly painted and polished until it shone like glass. Gold leaf added the final additions to his work of art.
Eddie’s parents, Edward and Nellie were very proud of their only child. Eddie travelled with his parents but he had his own horse and cart that he used to carry his wares. He spent his days going from door to door selling what he had and when they weren’t travelling to fairs; he would ride over to his shed and work until late, building the wagon for his Rosa.
Eddie and Rosa managed to see each other now and then when they were attending the same fairs but Rosa was sad every time they had to part. By the following August when they returned to Musselburgh Fair Eddie had finished building the wagon and he would spend the next months after the fair, painting and decorating the outside so that it would be completed in time for their wedding in May.
Rosa was watching for him coming, her stomach churning with eager anticipation. She caught sight of him as he jumped down from his cart and they ran to each other. He picked her up in his arms and swung her around in a circle before setting her down and looking into her eyes.
“Aye lass, yir as beautiful as I remember, huv ye missed me?”
“Oh Eddie, ah thought of ye every day.”
The thought of parting even for a moment was unbearable for both of them.
Later that day, when everyone had seen to their horses and set up their tents, Eddie took Rosa for a walk along the River Esk. The sat on a log by a tree on the banks of the river and Eddie took Rosa’s hands in his and looked into her eyes.
“On the first of May next year we’ll marry above Loch Fyne at the Tinkers Heart and ah promise ah’ll love ye forever Rosa if ye’ll huv me.”
He reached into his pocket, took out a beautiful gold ring with tiny diamonds in the shape of a flower, and placed the ring on her finger.
“Aye Eddie, ah will marry ye,” Rosa said and he kissed the happy tears on her face.
The festive air was richer that night by the announcement that Rosa Stewart was to marry Eddie McGuigan and people came up to offer their best wishes to the happy couple. Many promised that they would make the long journey to The Tinkers Heart at Loch Fyne to share and witness the marriage between the two families. When the fair was over the loving couple had to part and go their separate ways and it was likely that the next time that they would see each other would be at the Tinkers Heart on their wedding day
Rosa spent the following months gathering and making things for her bottom drawer. Every girl had to have a bottom drawer, more often it was a trunk, and she would keep things in it for her own travelling home when she married.
She would often open it and look through her things handling them with love and care and thinking of what it would be like to be Eddie’s wife. Inside her trunk were white linen pillowcases and sheets hand laced by pulling the ten weft threads an inch below the hems and then gathering the warp threads together using embroidery silks creating patterns of little crosses around each edge.
She knew how to do that too now that her Ma had taught her. Another set of linen trimmed with lace lay in the trunk and she knew that when she married there would be more gifts from travelling families everywhere. There was a lovely china tea set handed down to use for very special occasions and some small ornaments that she had collected over the years.
Pride of place among her things was a box that Eddie had made and given to her when they parted on the last day of the Musselburgh Fair. It was about eight inches long, four inches wide, and four inches deep. Eddie had carved the top of the box with fancy scrollwork and anyone seeing it would recognise Eddie’s work immediately. It was a beautiful keepsake and looking at it reminded Rosa how much they loved each other.
As Rosa thought of Eddie, his mind would drift to her while he concentrated on painting the new wagon. Inside he had built storage cupboards in every conceivable space.
His cousin Tam had given him a hand to position the cast iron stove that he built against a wall, which he had faced with tiles to prevent the wood from overheating. The flue ran up the wall and out at the top of the side and a tiled slab beneath the stove protected the floor. The top of the stove had a flat surface so that Rosa could boil a pot of soup or a kettle for tea on the colder days for in the summer time a campfire outside and the chitty pot was preferred.
Eddie had thought everything through before he started his build and he was not disappointed with the result. It was just one large room, but Eddie had created pull out panels so that the room would divide into sections. There was plenty of room for two comfortable chairs and a table. He could see himself and Rosa sitting there enjoying a chat or a cuppa after a days’ work.
He carved and painted the facings on the shelves and cupboards with several coats of paint and the outside of the wagon was similarly carved, decorated, and finished with gold leaf.
Boxes and racks fitted to the sides meant they could carry or store their wares, their cooking utensils, and anything else that they would need while they were on the road.
Eddie had cleverly created an overhang at the front of the wagon so that whoever was leading the horses wouldn’t get wet on rainy days and another at the back so that anyone sitting at the back would benefit from the shelter. He would hitch a trailer behind the wagon filled with the tools of his trade, horse feed and their tent.
He was very proud of his achievement and planned to present it to Rosa during the festivities after the wedding ceremony. He tried to picture her reaction to seeing it for the first time. On the journey to Loch Fyne the new wagon would be concealed under a heavy tarpaulin so that Rosa would be the first to see it.
Four weeks before the wedding Mary brought out a box and opened it to reveal the dress that she had worn on her wedding day. The fine, cotton lawn fabric, was a very pale blue colour with tiny sprigs of white daisies all over it. The scooped neckline had a delicate blue ribbon drawstring and was finished with a trim of hand-made lace and this matched the cuffs of the long sleeves. Rosa tried it on and looked down at herself. The hem of the dress came to just above her ankles and over the dress was a white lace pinafore, which came to a point at the front just above the hem.
Smiling and with tears in her eyes Mary unwrapped a brown paper parcel to reveal a long net veil which was trimmed from top to bottom in the same lace which matched the dress. A circlet of tiny handmade flowers held the veil in place. Mary held a looking glass in front of Rosa and she gazed at her reflection.
“Oh Ma, ah look … ah look beautiful.” She said this as though she had no idea how lovely she was.
“Ye ur that Rosa yer the most bonny bride ah huv ever seen. Quick now tak it awe aff afore yer da comes back and ah’ll get it all ready for yur big day.”
There was no need for wedding invitations in the travelling community; by now, everyone would know that they were to be married at the Tinkers Heart and as was the custom, hundreds of travellers began to make the journey during the last week in April. Some would make their way over the ‘Rest and be Thankful’ turning into Gleann Mor and over Hells Glen to reach the Tinkers Heart and those that came from the direction of Inveraray would come by Cairndow and the shores of Loch Fyne.
When the camp was set up everyone prepared for the feasting and celebration. They had all brought gifts for Rosa and Eddie; some brought linen, rugs, pots and pans or dishes, others would give the couple an envelope filled with cash to give them a good start in life.
On the first morning of May, Eddie led the way, they all climbed to the top of the hill, and up to the Tinkers Heart, which had quartz crystals laid out on the ground to form the heart shape. There was an air of celebration and laughter and some sang as they climbed.
There were herrin’ heeds an’ bits o’ breed,
Herrin’ heeds an’ haddies O,
Herrin’ heeds an’ bits o’ breed,
To carry on the weddin O
Voices rang out the chorus line
Drum-mer a-doo a-doo a-day,
Drum-mer a-doo a dad-din O
Drum-mer a-doo a-doo a-day,
Hurrah for the Tinker’s weddin O
It was a fine day, the sun was shining as Rosa and her da followed the party climbing through the gorse, and the heather, with the scent of bog myrtle filling the air as their clothes brushed past the wild shrubs. John held Rosa’s hand in his firm grip as they climbed the hill. Lizzie, Rosa’s cousin and bridesmaid, walked behind holding up Rosa’s delicate veil to protect it from the wild gorse or brambles that grew on the hillside.
“Ah’m so proud oh ye lass, ye look mer beautiful the day than a huv ever seen ye. A cannae tell ye how much yer ma an me are gonna miss ye lass but Eddie’s a gid lad an it’s aye been you an’ him. He’ll luk after ye of that ah’m sure”
“Ah know Da, ah know, ah’ll miss you an’ Ma an ‘all. Ah’ve aye known we’d be married Da”
From the top of the hill, they looked across at the opposite shore where they could see Dunderave Castle and over to the west lay Inveraray. Cairndow was at the bottom of the hill where the vicar had come from to perform the ceremony.
As they walked between fellow travellers, friends and families Rosa caught sight of Eddie for the first time and her heart skipped a beat. So handsome he was standing there, his piercing brown eyes filled with love as he stared at her. He looked fine in a new brown suit and his dark hair curled over the collar of his white shirt. Her da led her towards Eddie who was standing at the tip of the quartz heart, he placed her hand in Eddie’s and with a lump in his throat and a tear in his eye, he stepped back to join Mary. Tam, Eddie’s cousin, stood by his side performing the duty of best man, and he carried the gold ring that Eddie would place on her finger never to be taken off.
After the ceremony, they all gathered back at the camp in the field by the loch and the celebrations began. There was feasting on jugged hare stew, roasted suckling pig, fresh caught wild salmon, and brown trout. After the feasting, out came the flutes, fiddles and squeezeboxes and the dancing and singing began in earnest.
I ken ye dinnae like it lass, the winter here in toon
For the scaldies a miscaw us, and they try tae bring us doon
And it’s hard tae raise three bairns, in a single flae box room
But all tak ye on the road again, when the yella’s on the broom
When the yella’s on the broom, when the yella’s on the broom
I’ll tak ye on the road again, when the yella’s on the broom
The scaldies ca us tinker dirt, and they spurn oor bairn’s in school
But fa cares fit the scaldies think, for the scaldies but a fool
They never hear the yarlin’s song, nor see the flaxen bloom
For they’re cooped up in hooses when the yella’s on the bloom
Nae sale for pegs or baskets noo that used to bide our lives
But I seem to work at scaldies jobs, from nine o’ clock till five
But we ca’ nae man oor maister, when we own the warld roon
And I’ll bid fareweel tae Breechin, when the yella’s on the broom
I’m weary for the springtime, when we tak the road aince mair
Tae the plantin and the fermin, and the berry fields O Blair
When we meet up wae oor kin-folk, frae a the country roon
And we yarn aboot wha’ll tak the road when the yella’s on the broom
Unbeknown to Rosa, as planned Eddie’s cousin Tam had driven the new wagon, concealed under a tarpaulin, all the way to Loch Fyne. Eddie asked Rosa to wait where she was as he had something to do. Rosa was puzzled but she agreed and sat with her family and friends while Eddie went off to fetch the wagon.
A short while later, when she heard the commotion, she turned and there was Eddie driving the covered wagon led by two fine horses. He jumped down from the wagon as everyone watched. Tam and Eddie drew back the tarpaulin amid admiring gasps and cheers from the party goers. Tam and Eddie drew back the tarpaulin amid admiring gasps and cheers from the partygoers.
“This is for you ma darling, a weddin present tae start oor life the gether, this is yer new home.”
It was the biggest most beautifully decorated wagon she had ever seen. A proud helped Rosa up onto the wagon while everybody was cheering, banging posts and shouting good wishes to the happy couple. There were murmurs of appreciation as everyone crowded around to admire Eddies handy work and later several of the guests spoke to Eddie asking if he could build similar wagons for them. Eddie could see that this would be another good way to make a living doing something he loved doing with Rosa by his side. Much later Eddie and Rosa proudly seated at the front of the wagon, left the wedding amid cheers, well wishes, and laughter, to camp further down the on the loch side.
Mary and John had given Eddie Rosa’s trunk and he had set it to one side in the wagon for her to find. When they arrived at the loch side, while Eddie unhitched the horses and set out food and water for them, Rosa went into the wagon.
The first thing she saw was her precious trunk. She knelt on the floor and opened it. Looking at her things made her think of her Ma and her Da and although she was blissfully happy she was also a little sad knowing that she was leaving her childhood behind and becoming a wife.
By the time Eddie came back in from seeing to the horses, Rosa had set a small fire in the stove with the kettle on the hot plate. There was a slight chill to the night air but the wagon was nice and warm.
“Would yae like some tea Eddie?”
“I lass that I would.”
Both Rosa and Eddie were nervous but the simple act of having a cup of tea settled them. For a short while, they chatted about how much everyone had enjoyed and participated in the wedding and their lovely gifts.
Before too long Rosa was wrapped in Eddies embrace, he was gentle and caring as he drew her into his arms and kissed her tenderly. Such was their passion that night that his seed took hold and within a few weeks, Rosa began to notice the changes in her body. She knew immediately that a new life was growing inside her. Eddie was overjoyed when she told him and he picked her up, swung her around, and kissed her face over and over again.
“Oh ma love, ma lass. Yae huv made me the happiest man alive.”
Soon they were into their own routine travelling from place to place where Eddie sold his woodcraft and took orders from customers and Rosa spent her time organising and cleaning her new home and cooking a meal for Eddies return. There was always time to spare and Ross used that time to make small posies of dried flowers and lace doilies to sell round doors in villages they came across.
They planned to spend their first year travelling from place to place setting up camp, selling their wares and meeting friends and families far afield that had not been able to travel to their wedding. They would return to camp near Glasgow Green at the end of October so that they could be close to Mary and John before the baby was due.
Rosa did not have an easy time in her pregnancy; in the beginning it was just morning sickness and usually Eddie was gone before it took hold of her but as the weeks passed she wondered how other woman coped as those that she knew seemed to take it in their stride
By the time Rosa was five months pregnant she was plagued with headaches and sometimes, dizzy spells overwhelmed her and she would have to lie down till the feeling passed. Her face hands feet and legs were very swollen and she was always tired. Eddie was worried about her and did his best to look after her, but she never admitted to him how badly she felt.
This was her first child and she did not realise that these things were not normal. She stoically carried on with her daily chores of cleaning and cooking but as each day passed she found it harder and harder to get out of bed. She was embarrassed and didn’t want to admit that she wasn’t coping. She was afraid that others would think she was just complaining for the sake of it.
“Women have babies all the time,” she thought.
When they arrived back at the camp in Glasgow at the end of October she was seven months pregnant. Mary took one look at her and cried in dismay.
“Oh my God Rosa, look at you. Yer so swollen, that’s no normal. Quick John get Eddie get this wean tae the hospital”
Eddie came running in “Whit’s wrang”
“She’s sick son, ah think she’s got the toxins. We need to get her tae the hospital at Castle Street.”
Eddie and John hitched a small cart and made it ready to carry Rosa and Mary to the hospital but by the time they reached it Rosa was as white as a sheet, and barely conscious.
“Whit’s wrong wae her Ma, will she be aw’right,” Eddie said
“Rosa darlin, speak to me, why did ye no tell me ye wur nae well.”
She reached out and held his hand as tears ran down her face
“Save ma baby.” she said “Save ma baby an’ call her Rosie”
“No Rosa, no wur nearly there yer gonna be aw’right”
Tears ran down Eddie’s face as he held Rosa in his arms. John ran into the hospital and came back seconds later with nurses and a trolley. They helped to lift Rosa on to the trolley and whisked her away from them. Mary John and Eddie followed the trolley as far as the labour ward and sat in the cold corridor clutching hands and crying together praying that Rosa and the baby would be all right. Doctors and nurses hurried in and out of the door that they had taken Rosa through and all they could do was sit and pray in silence. A nurse took them into a side room and brought them hot sweet tea.
An hour passed before they heard the faintest whimper, the first cry of baby Rosie. They rushed into the corridor with a sigh of relief until they saw the doctor coming towards them, his green scrubs covered in blood and a grim expression on his face. This was not the face of someone bearing good news. Something was wrong. He started the conversation with,
“I am very, very, sorry”
At that, two grown men fell to their knees, Mary screamed at the top of her voice
“Nooooo” she screamed “Nooooo,” and she fell to the floor at the doctor’s feet in a dead faint. Little did they know that later they would all feel that pain again, much, much, later.
Baby Rosie was very premature and at first, they did not think that she would survive but she rallied quickly and the doctors agreed to release her to the care of her granny. Night and day, hardly sleeping, she sat with her, caring for her and loving her, pouring the same love that she had for Rosa into the tiny baby. Friends and neighbours from the community gathered, as is their way, to look after things while Mary cared for her grandchild.
The dreadful day arrived when Rosa was to be put into the ground. The family gathered with Eddie leading the procession with his cousin Tam supporting him as he carried his tiny baby in his arms. Mary and John with Eddie’s parents came next and all the members of their immediate community followed in two’s three’s and fours.
Along the way, travellers joined them, word of mouth having told them of the tragedy. Hundreds followed the sombre group as they made their way on this sad journey. A specially constructed cart, drawn by four white horses, carried Rosa’s flower covered coffin to Janefield Cemetery in the Gallowgate.
Hundreds of travellers all wearing black, with their heads bowed in sorrow were already gathered to meet the procession that walked behind the hearse. The Glasgow streets were crowded with people who lived nearby as they stood along the pavements watching and whispering quietly.
Rosa’s casket was lowered into the ground, and the mourners filed past dropping tokens into the grave onto Rosa’s casket. Some dropped ivy leaves, others a piece of lace made into a flower shape. Others dropped small posies or a handful of soil.
At the end of the ceremony, Rosa’s grave was completely dressed in wreaths and flower garlands and the mourners stood in silence remembering beautiful Rosa, dancing at the Musselburgh Fairs and on her wedding day at the Tinkers Heart.
Sadder still was the sight of Eddie holding the tiny baby wrapped warmly in a white hand crocheted woollen shawl and wearing a warm hat and mittens. He looked like a broken man tears coursing down his face, supported as he was by John, Mary, and his own parents.
“It was the toxins that got her” people were saying.
Some would later know it as preeclampsia.
“She mighta lived had she known it wisna normal”
“Aye it’s too late noo”
“When its yer time its yer time”
“Look at that poor lad, it’s a shame, it saddens yer heart it does.”
“How will he manage that bairn?”
“Mary will mind the bairn; Eddie’s Ma’s no fit. Mary an’ John will see them aw’right.”
“Eddies a canny lad, he’s got a bit put by”
Eddie had asked Mary and John if they would move into his wagon to help care for baby Rosie. Since his wagon was big enough for the four of them and they were spending most of their time there anyway the decision was an easy one. Mary and John traded their wagon to another family and from then on they all travelled together.
Time passes as time does and day by day the pain that Eddie and the family felt began to become bearable. Eddie worked hard giving all his time to building wagons for those that could afford his prices. The money he made was for Rosie’s future but he seldom said a word to anyone least of all his daughter but he looked at her. He watched her as she grew and played with other children; every time he looked at her, he could see Rosa in her and the pain was hard to bear. He found himself choked with grief any time he tried to talk to her. It was easier to walk away.
Granny Mary and Pa John on the other hand lavished the child with love and attention. She was often with one or the other and anything she wanted she got though she seldom asked for anything other than to be around them all the time chatting and fussing and asking questions. She seldom went near her da, her young mind sensing something and assuming that he had no time for her.
Eddie often spoke with his Rosa in his heart and sometimes he was sure he could hear her voice. She would talk to him about the child and chide him for his tears.
“Let me go Eddie” he would hear her say
“Mind the bairn Eddie”
“Find another wife Eddie”
“Never” he would say aloud and end his secret conversation.
In 1914, when war was declared Eddie was among the first of his family and community to volunteer. This was a sad and worrying time for everyone not just for the travelling community. Those within the community that were too old or unfit took their women and children further into the country for safety sake.
Many of the travelling women joined the land girls working on farms, ploughing fields using horse drawn ploughs, tending to animals, getting up at five in the morning for milking, and mucking out cowsheds.
Those travelling men that did return came back changed men forever. Some of these lads received medals for their services to King and country, but all of them had scars that would never heal, some in mind and some in body. It was a frightening time for everyone.
Mary was heartbroken that her John never made it home, but Eddie came back wounded in the leg but he was alive and home and that was the main thing. He never spoke of the things he had seen or the friends and family members that had been lost but he carried the sadness on his face as most folk did.
Tam came back; he had been one of the lucky ones, if anyone could be considered lucky. During a battle, his officer’s horse panicked and threw the officer to the ground almost trampling him. Tam jumped forward, grabbed the frightened horse, and calmed it. He then assisted his officer to his feet and made sure that he was uninjured.
The officer was shaken but unhurt and he asked Tam where he got his horse skills. Tam explained his background and experience breeding and training horses and within week’s he was shipped back to England to train horses for the war effort. His time oversees had affected him badly though and working with the horses he loved helped him to recover from the trauma he had experienced.
When the war was over and it was safe to go back to their normal camp by Gretna Green so many things had changed. Builders were building new homes and engineers were planning new roads to accommodate the cars that were now becoming more common. The old was beginning to merge with the new and soon enough everyone began to settle into this new lifestyle.
Some travellers wanted to settle in houses when they returned but most still loved the life of freedom and fresh air, living on and from the land. Eddie picked up his business where he left off and once more, those that could would go from door to door selling their wares, sharpening knives and odd jobbing wherever they could.
One day, when Rosie was about fourteen she asked her Granny about a box that was on one of the high shelves. She had noticed it before but had never thought to ask about it.
“whit’s in that box Granny?”
There was a silence
“Granny, whit’s in that box?”
Mary knew the day would come and here it was.
“It’s some things belangin tae yir mother”
“Whit things, are they mine, can ah see? Please Granny let me see the box”
Mary reached up and handed the box to Rosie who took it reverently, placed it on the table, and sat down staring at it. She stroked her hands across the top of the box, and then she looked up at her granny,
“Did ma Da make it?”
“Aye, he did.”
“Did he make it fur ma Ma?”
She stroked the wooden box again passing her hands over the delicately carved roses and the etched pattern that ran all around the outside edges.
“whit’s in it Granny?”
“Precious things hinny.”
“Can ah open it?”
Rosie slowly opened it. Inside was a piece of lace from Rosa’s wedding dress, all that was left of it for she had been dressed in it for her burial. Her wedding ring had remained on her finger but her engagement ring was in the box along with a small circle of wood with a rose carved in the centre. Rosie picked up the ring and tried it on each of her fingers.
“One day when ah’m bigger this might fit me; ah’ll be able tae wear it.”
Mary glanced at her fondly.
“Aye ye will.”
She put the ring back in the box and picked up the wooden carving. She pensively stroked a finger over the rose.
“He’s clever ma Da tae make this.”
“He made it when he wis just a lad and gave it tae yer Ma when she wis jist a lass. She carried it awe the time an, thought nae body knew she had it but yer Pa an me, we knew.”
Rosie held it tightly in her hand and thought about the mother that she had never known. She loved her Granny but she missed her Ma with a soreness that she couldn’t put into words.
“Was she pretty Granny?”
“She wus right bonnie an’ she could sing an’ dance better than the rest.”
“Dae ah look like her Granny?”
Mary eyes were full of tears when she answered.
“Aye lass, yer her double. See fur yersel, there’s a wee picture there.”
Rosie picked up the small square photograph and there was her Da, younger and happier than she had ever seen him looking down at her Ma.
“She’s beautiful granny.”
She studied the images before her and thought of the mother she had never known. The sadness and emptiness inside her made her quiet for a while with her thoughts. She put the picture back in the box and picked up the wooden rose once more. She looked at her granny.
“Can a huv it Granny?”
“I don’t know lass yae’ll huv tae ask yer Da”
“He’s outside. Will ah ask him the noo?”
Mary looked outside to see Eddie feeding the horses.
“Go on then if ye like”
Rosie ran outside “Da Da can ah speak tae ye”
Eddie turned and looked down at her as she held up the carved wooden rose. She watched the colour drain from his face and then watched it come back until he was bright red with anger.
“Whur did ye git that. Never mind” he said and stormed off away from the camp.
Rosie felt the tears welling in her throat. The pain in her heart was unbearable. She thought her father hated her so much that he couldn’t bear to talk to her but she needed him. She needed to talk to him and she was going to if he liked it or not. She gathered her courage and followed the path that her father had taken and caught sight of him sitting on a log by a stream. She approached softly and stood just behind him.
“Ah’m sorry a killed ma Ma. Ah’m sorry that ye hate me Da, an ah’m sorry that ye canny love me”
He turned sharply and she was shocked to see tears coursing down his face. He stood and placed his hands on her shoulder and looking into her eyes he said,
“Whit dae ye mean, ye killed yer Ma. Ye never killed yer Ma.”
“But she died havin me” Rosie was crying too.
“No lass” he said as he drew her towards him and held her in his arms for the first time since she was a baby.
“Yer ma was dyin when we got to the hospital an’ there was nuthin we could dae but the last thing she said tae me wis ‘Save ma baby, call her Rosie’, she wanted you tae live.”
He choked on his words, swallowing his tears, he said
“An Rosie ah dae love ye, ah love ye wae awe ma heart, it’s jist every time ah see ye ah blame ma’sel for no understandin that yer Ma was aw’fa sick. If ah had known maybe she could ha been saved.”
They held each other tight, both cried cathartic tears, and then they talked as they had never talked before.
Rosie knew that she loved her Da but knowing that he loved her and that her ma’s death wasn’t her fault filled her with a new deeper love for her Da and a happiness that she could not put into words. She looked at his tanned handsome face lined with worry as he spoke to her and for the first time he told her stories about himself and her mother.
He told her about the little wooden rose remembering when he had carved it and remembering the day that he had given it to her.
“Ah’m glad yer Granny kept some stuff fur ye an ah’m heart sorry that a could’na tell ye aboot hur afore the noo.”
Together they looked at the token that Rosie held in her hand.
“Can ah carry it in ma’ pocket Da. Ah’ll be careful wi it ah promise?”
“Aye off course ye can, yer Ma wid be happy aboot that.”
As they walked, back towards the wagon Mary looked out of her window and cried “Oh” as the tears poured from her eyes. There was Eddie, hand in hand with Rosie, she looking up at him and him looking down at her and both of them happy and smiling at each other.
“Well ah never, an’ not afore time” Mary though.
She moved away from the window and sat at the table, opened the box, took out the picture of Rosa and Eddie on their wedding day, put it in a frame, and hung it on one of the shelves.
Read what happens to Rosie and how the family search for her click here to follow the journey of the wooden rose from the past to the present day
I could never have written this story without the old lady that often appeared in my thoughts. I don’t know who she was but I am sure she had a hand in the creation of the wooden rose.
For the songs, I have to admit that I used artistic licence because some of them did not exist until much later than the period that I have used them for.
The Tinkers Wedding was written by William Watt of Peeblesshire and first published in 1835.
The Yellow on the Broom was written by Adam McNaughton, a Glasgow songwriter and published in 1979.
John Duggan who was a presenter on MID West Radio wrote the Road to Kildare. He began writing songs while working as a Garda in Glenamaddy in the 1970s.
Thanks also to Jim Patterson the director of Clyde Commercial Diving who took time out of his busy schedule to explain the procedures concerning the recovery of remains in the Clyde