Generation: C

Alexander MacDonald, I

Sarah Munro Mackay

Born: 1865 Died: 1947
Father: William Mackay
Mother: Janet Murray


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Sarah Munro Mackay. 1865-1947. (Mrs. Alexander Macdonald).

The ninth child in the family and the youngest of these formidable sisters. Her only daughter wrote to me thus: "My mother married my father, Alexander Macdonald, of Delney, Ross-shire on 30th December 1891. They had a child, Alexander, born in 1893, but who died in that same year while on a visit to Glasgow. My mother's married life was a short but happy one. My father died in 1905, after a year of illness, when I was 10 years old, and my mother 40. In those days when sickness came all wages stopped. My mother worked a day or two per week for 2/6 per day, while I delivered papers in the evenings for 2/6 per week, and magazines on Saturdays for 2/0. My mother said I wore out more shoe leather than the job was worth.

She sold off all her belongings in April 1907, borrowed some money from her younger brother, George, in Glasgow, and sailed with me for Canada, having paid her passage money of 8 for herself and 4 for me. She gave the wrong age for me, making me a year younger to save money. She landed with 2. I never forget the immigration officer asking her how much money she had. She stood silent. Then he said "50?". She said "Yes". Then hen we went to our room she said "What would we have done if he had asked me to show it?".

We arrived in Montreal after a two weeks voyage, at 10 a.m., and by 4 p.m. the same day had a job in a minister's house. There was hardly anything to eat in it. We stuck it for a month, got something better, and then moved along.

We left Canada in Sept. 1909 at her sister Kate's invitation, to live in New Jersey. A sad experience! We remained only a week, and then moved to New Rochelle and obtained a house of our own. My mother's early posts included housework, and later taking care of the historic house once occupied by the revolutionary Tom Payne, in New Rochelle. She received a dollar per day.

My mother was a wonderful person, determined to stand on her own, taking charity from no one. Her favourite expression was "We've never been beaten yet". My cousin, Janet Black, who was not happy in her parents' home in Glasgow, was looked after for quite a time in Aberdeen, by my mother. Janet was like a sister to me, but she did not read Gaelic as you thought. Janet (now married as Mrs. McCabe) visited us in Larchmont, and met her brother, Andrew Black in 1933 for the first time since she had left her Glasgow house in 1898. Andrew Black was a foreman at the Gas Department at Charlestown, North Carolina, and liked to come and see us."

Dr. John Buchanan and his sister Kate recall going down to the docks with their brother Neil, the postman, to see Jessie and her mother sail away. The fisher folk on the quay were singing "Will ye no come back again?".

Frank Macdonald of Aberfeldy: "Aunt Sarah was big and tough, and she had a hearty laugh. She also had the Gaelic. She took any kind of job when she landed in Canada, even cleaning offices, a job usually kept for coloureds. In these, she took an umbrella to defend herself."

Helen Buchanan told me that she often regrets her remote memory, and would be better without it. She last saw Sarah in 1907. She wrote: "Sarah hated old Ben Reay and all his works". She thought Sarah had not an alert sense of humour, and was a woman of great piety.

I have the impression that after leaving school Sarah helped her parents greatly in the family croft at Aisdale. When old Andrew and Elspeth had died, then in 1890 William and Janet took over Lonachuan, joining up with their niece, Margaret, the Cripple (Crupach) who became very friendly with Sarah. But very soon Sarah went to Aberdeen and married. About this time Janet Black was around Lonachuan too, a young girl then, and ready to join Sarah in Aberdeen anytime. There it would appear that Sarah's marriage did not arouse any serious comment in the family except from her oldest brother, who strongly believed that it was the duty of the youngest daughter to remain at home and look after ageing parents. At this time, William and Janet were not really old, only around 65/66 and still reasonably fit.

Sarah and her daughter had left for Canada in 1907, and they made their first return visit to Scotland thirteen years later, in 1920, going up to Bonar Bridge. It was Ben Reay's habit (doubtless built up by his years in the Police Force) to go down each day to the railway station, nearby, just to see who might be arriving by train, which came in about 1 or 2 p.m., or who might be departing. He knew all about the visit of Sarah and her daughter. Even when they departed he kept to one end of the platform, and refused to recognise them. Equally Sarah refused to recognise him! He never forgave Sarah for leaving her parents to get married. As Jessie Petterson said "He considered Mother's duty was to stay with her parents to THE END."

I have no clear recollection of Sarah's visit to our house before leaving for Canada, nor of her subsequent visit. But I often think of the Fourth Commandment (Is it the 4th? I'm not sure!) about honouring thy father and thy mother, etc. Anyway, Sarah's daughter Jessie, married at the age of 41 a gentleman, Mr. Petterson, who had been looking after his parents in their old age. And I begin to wonder if my Aunt Sarah had been coming round to adopting the view of her oldest brother in her advancing years. We'll never know!

Jessie Petterson is a mine of information about the family. Her address is c/o Osborn Memorial Home, 501, Theodore Fremd Avenue, Rye, New York 10580.

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