Family Legends - My great-great-grandfather "Big Rab Whiteford"
BBC Radio Scotland Newsdrive presenter Bill Whiteford shares this story about his great-great-grandfather "Big Rab Whiteford". Written in his "mither tongue" as part of the Family Legends short story competition:
It must hae bin aboot '61 or '62. It wis the talk o Dunlop and Stewarton. Fowk in Kilmarnock hid even heard it, an it made a grand tale, but ye never heard a bit o' it fae Big Rab Whiteford.
Big Rab wis close wi' his siller, and closer still wi' his talk. He fairmed at Gabrochill, above Neilston. The muirs up there where Ayrshire starts are soor, wersh-like land, but Rab limed it and drained it and kept coos. Ilk a morn, gie early, he'd mulk the kye and pit Auld Jock intae harness. Hale days micht gae by when Auld Jock and the coos were the only things Big Rab talked tae, bar the dairy lasses.
The horse wis his pride and joy: steady at the plough and easy on the e'e. Glossy black wi fine hocks, he wis big enough for the cairt, and sma' enough tae ride if needs be. Wi twa or three kirns in the cairt, fairmer and horse wad set off tae Glesga.
Noo, it's eleeven mile fae Gabrochill tae Pollockshaws, but it's doonhill when ye're laden, and uphill when ye're licht. Big Rab had a twa-wheeled cairt, really a gig. Easier tae win back up the braes, and sprung. Guid for trips tae the kirk or the shop at Dunlop.
They say it wis Jock and the gig that betimes caught the e'e o' Agnes, that mairrit Rab. But that's anither story.
Onywey, maist fairmers hid floats wi low flairs for heavy loads. Bit Rab, bein' a brawny chiel, could aye heeze the kirns ower the back o' the gig. Noo, the city wis biggin closer, an as the years went by mair o' the journey wis through toon streets. Auld Jock, he'd goat used tae the tollbooths, and the barefit bairns rinnin' through the streets. He didna' mind the ither horses either, nor yet the steam engines and factories. But he could tek a fleg at a dug, and that led tae an incident that'll tell ye something aboot Big Rab.
This wan dug cam oot at Jock regular. A muckle thing, it wad wait ahint a wa' ootside a well-tae-do hoose, whaur it must hae been left oot a' nicht. When the mulk cairt cam near, this brute wad come roarin' oot. Jock wad buck and rear, an' it was a' Rab could dae tae keep him in check. Never a man tae speak unless he had tae, Rab tholed this for near a week 'till he had words wi' the fowk o' the hoose. They were snooty and telt him tae look efter his ain beast afore flytin' wi thaim. They slammit the door on him.
Weel the next week, the dug wis there again. This time Big Rab stopped the gig, and soothed Auld Jock and telt him tae stand. He walked back and catchit the dug. Withoot a word he held it by the tail, and swung it roond his heid. Faster and faster, then BANG, he skelpit it aff the dyke. Deid as a kipper, he flang the corp o' that dug intae the yard, and quietly went his gate.
That gi'es ye a picture o' Big Rab: he could aye use his strength, but he mainly wanted jist tae be left alane. No' that he hated people. He'd nod at fowk he recognised on his wey, and he'd smile at the bit lassies in the dairy.
Now this day o' the story that made Big Rab sae famous he and Auld Jock hid made the trip same as ever to the dairy at Pollokshaws. It wis winter, aboot the New Year. Fine clear weather, wi' bitter frost. Rab was cheerier nor he hid been on ither days: he was weel happit, wi' thick hat and gloves; his mulk hadna gaed aff (it wis ower cauld); and this day he hid goat the week's money frae the dairy. The kye had mulked weel (for winter), and the price wis guid.
Forbye, the gate in frae the muirs hid bin quiet. Likely the fowk hid bin seein' in the New Year, an were cooryin' in their hooses. There were odd bods and traivellers in the streets, but nae mony. Rab hid noticed a shilpit-like craitur at ae corner. The rest of him wis ill-dressit, bit he hid on a richt fancy coat. In the style o' the day it wis blae velvet, lang , wi twa rows o' bricht siller buttons. "Must hae stole that, a shilpit wee smout like thon" thinks Big Rab tae hissel' as he passit by, and thinks nae mair on't.
Sae bye-an-bye, the cairt's unladen an' the twa friens are gaen' hame. Auld Jock's snorting and prancin, he kens he'll soon hae a nosebag. Rab's high oan the drivin' seat, wi' a purse o' siller in his weskit pooch. He's thinkin' he'll mibbes buy a wee bit pent, and brichten up the wagon. Or mibbes naw - it took a bit tae part Rab fae a coin.
Noo it chanced they hid tae pull up jist afore they left the last o' the hooses, and won the road tae the muirs. It wis near the place Rab hid seen the shilpit man, bit he wisna gan aboot noo.
Then sudden, there's a cry frae the back o' the cairt: "stand and deliver," says the droichlin man, wavin' a wee gun (whit they cry a piss-to-lay). Whit wad ye dae? Hand ower the siller? Try tae talk? Weel Big Rab Whiteford, never a word says he, e'en tho' he's ragin' inside that onybody wad fire a gun near Jock. Back he streetches, quick as an edder, and grabs this wee thief's fancy collar. He hauls him entire, piss-to-lay an a', aff the grun'. Ower the tail-gate he drags him, and "slam" gaes his heid oan the kirns. Oot cauld. Rab, he turns back tae the reins and wi' a quiet cluck bids Jock walk on.
The first the bobbies kent o' the hale business wis when Rab cam in wi' the knocket-oot robber, haudin' him at arms length, fancy coat flappin' aroon'. Wi' nary a word, Rab drops him like a deid dug ablow the sergeant's desk, and pits the piss-to-lay careful-like on tap. Then he turns oan his heel and strides oot wi' his big fairmer steps, and he's aff hame.
Weel, the bobbies wur pleased eneuch tae get the man brocht in (they kent weel a desperado wis aboot). The fowk o' the muir touns fun' oot aboot the story in course. They'd seen Rab wi' some fancy fasteners on his claes, and Auld Jock's cairt got that lick o' pent.
An' so for years efter in Stewarton, Dunlop an' even Kilmarnock ye'd see country fowk tellin' the tale. Wee groups wad be huddled thegethir. Gang closer, jist afore they burst oot lauchin', and ye micht hear the last line o' the story: "... an' the hale flair o' the gig wis covered wi' buttons. Siller buttons!"
Family Legends is a short story competition run by BBC Radio Scotland and the Scottish Book Trust which invites you to write a story about your family. If you'd like to contribute your story, then please visit our Family Legends page to find out more.