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Ours, Yours and Mines
A family sage set in the miners' rows of Ayrshire, Scotland in the mid-1800s to early 1900s.
You will read of the family's friendship with well-known union activist Keir Hardie. It is a story about the struggles of the miners and their families - the men who slaved away underground facing daily dangers, and the women who worked hard, bearing and raising large families and praying that their men would return unharmed from the pits. It is a story that relates to many people of the time. We often read statistics about the decimation of families due to disease, but there are few acounts of how the loss of family members, and the poor living conditions, must have affected them (particularly the women) emotionally and physically.
Ours, Yours and Mines in a tribute to them all.
CHAPTER 28 (1888)
Another Light Fades
Perhaps it was prophetic that Jane didn’t see a future for herself. In the Summer of 1888 Mary noticed that Jane had a persistent cough, and it struck fear into her heart. Though the address had changed, the living conditions hadn’t and the house at Barrhill Road was also damp and mildewy, despite Mary’s regimen of cleanliness. Over the next twelve months Jane’s health deteriorated. She lost weight from her already slender frame and the much-admired pale translucent skin became a tell-tale sign that she was suffering from tuberculosis.
By the Spring of 1890 Jane was bedridden and weak and Mary began to accept what she hoped she would never have to face again. Her only surviving daughter would not live to know the joys of marriage or have a family of her own. In the last weeks of Jane’s life, Mary read to her daughter, bathed her wasting body and tried to get some sustenance into her. She tried to give her own strength to her daughter and when Jane was able, they talked about life – and death.
“I know I’m not long for this world, mither,” Jane said as she gazed into her mother’s eyes. “Don’t be afraid, for I am not. I know that faither and the two wee Margarets and baby Andrew will be waiting in heaven to greet me, so you see I’ll no’ be alone. It is you mither I worry for. It is you who has seen such loss and you’ve still so much work to do to raise Andrew and William. But if I can, I’ll take some of the burden away from you. Just think of me and somehow I know that I’ll be able to hear your thoughts and be by your side.”
As Mary started to cry, Jane reached out for her hand. “Come now mither,” she said. “Be brave.”
Those two words from her beloved daughter cut Mary to the core. She knew she had to be brave, but she was tired of being brave, tired of accepting every cross that she had to bear. ‘What harm has Janie ever done anyone,’ she thought as she sat by Jane’s bed one long, last night.
Tuberculosis had gained the reputation of being a spiritual experience, as though its sufferers simply wasted away ethereally. It was dreaded, but somehow romanticised by those whose families had not been touched by the disease. In reality, it was a long slow death for the sufferer and heart-breaking for loved ones to watch. Day after day, night after night, in cramped quarters, Jane coughed up blood-tinged sputum and sweated till the bed sheets were wringing wet. There was nothing romantic about tuberculosis.
On that last night as Mary sat by her daughter’s bedside, Jane, though emaciated and weak, managed to look at her mother with a lasting intensity, unable to speak. It was as though she was trying to give her last bit of strength to her mother, before she faded away.
With her mother and brothers by her side, on May 2, 1890, aged just 22, Jane Percy McMurdo died at the family home at Barrhill Rd after suffering for nearly two years with tuberculosis.
The family burial plot in Muirkirk cemetery was becoming crowded and Mary spent more and more time by the graves of her husband and four children. She cut a lonely figure as she moved through the headstones dressed from head to toe in black, her lined face devoid of emotion. As she sat by the freshly dug earth under which her daughter’s coffin had been placed, she looked around at the headstones in the kirkyard – some ostentatious and reaching for heaven and others more modest in size. Her family deserved a headstone, she thought, ‘something to show the world that they once walked among the living’. She vowed to save every spare penny to pay for the headstone, and the project gave her a renewed sense of purpose.