Legacy

I have in front of a me a six-page document in old fashioned typewriting. Its cover page is entitled 'My Life by John Cameron'. Below that is typed: Born.. 12th April, 1855  Died..20th March, 1939. It was typed by his daughter Kata, my great aunt. John Cameron was my great grandfather.

Whenever I am feeling unmotivated and the thought of sitting in front of the computer seems less than enticing, I think of this document. It describes my grandfather's life on the railways in the Highlands of Scotland: "I was on the mind of joining the railway service, and in my 19th year, on the 22nd June, 1874, I was appointed porter at Stromeferry at 14 shillings per week and a suit of uniform per annum."

He goes on to describe his marriage: "Well I was thinking of getting married now. I had a pay of 23 shillings a week and I thought I would manage to keep a wife, and the intended wife thought so also." He talks briefly of his seven children and the heartbreak of having to send two of his grandchildren away when they became orphans: "I had to part with Marie and Joan. At the time Marie went to Drummond with a Mrs Corbett and as she was fond of her I left her."

He describes in unemotional prose, but all the more powerful for its lack of gushing sentimentality, the death of one of his four sons, Alexander Angus Ewen, in the very last days of the First World War: "He was killed about 7 a.m. on the 21st September, 1918. He was a very fine lad of 23 years, upright in all his actions."

There is a note at the end from Kata: "The Life is as Dada wrote it (in pencil on the pages of a penny exercise book) except that I have paragraphed it for easier reading."

His was a simple life, full of hardship and yet he took the time to write it down in his little notebook. Why? To make his mark, to prove he had lived, to record things. I don't know. But the point is that he did it. And so I am left with this reminder of him and of a family all gone, but immortalised in his pencil written journal, transcribed by my great aunt, whom I also never met.

She left me her typewriter in her will. It is now at my mother's house, although I intend bringing it here to Italy at some point. It's an old machine with round black keys and a red and black ribbon. I can't recall the make now – maybe a Remington. You can see the indentations of things she typed on the ribbon. I like to think her legacy to me was a symbolic gesture. I got it, to my great surprise, many years ago when I was a little girl. An aunt I had never met had left me her precious typewriter. She could not possibly have known I would be making my living now as a writer.

And so when I feel the Monday morning blues and sigh as I look at the blank screen, I remember my grandfather and his little notebook, my aunt and her typewriter and think about how lucky I am.

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