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Handwritten letter from night of dad’s birth makes Aberdeen writer love her ‘papa’ even more this Father’s Day

To honour granddads this special day, writer Lindsay Bruce shares a moving letter between her grandparents.

In honour of all grandfathers on Father's Day, Lindsay Bruce shares a letter from her papa to her gran.
In honour of all grandfathers on Father's Day, Lindsay Bruce shares a letter from her papa to her gran.

Growing up, Press & Journal writer Lindsay Bruce spent weekends with her grandparents. A child of divorce, the home of her dad’s parents provided a welcome distraction, and for Lindsay, unadulterated access to her beloved ‘papa’.

The man who taught her to ride her bike and to swim also became her greatest role model in life.

Today, she’s sharing the private letter sent by her papa, to her gran, the night she gave birth to Lindsay’s dad. Found after his death, she hopes to honour the important role of granddads this Father’s Day.

First ‘Father’s Day’

In July 1952 everything changed for joiner George Gould and his shop-girl wife “Wee Mag”.

Following her waters breaking – a shocking and entirely unexpected event for Margaret – she endured a week in active labour. George was told they may lose their firstborn son, and at times possibly even his young wife. When eventually Ian was born, “black and blue from top to bottom”, Margaret was hospitalised for weeks.

Overwhelmed on becoming a father George, who had served in the RAF, returned home to pen his bride a love letter.

George and Margaret Gould, nee Strachan, on their wedding day.

“To my dearest wee Mag,” he began, “I have come straight home to write you this letter. My heart is so full I don’t know what to say. I love you, with all my heart, I love you.

“Each time I see you I feel so helpless. I want to love and comfort you and after what you’ve come through this week you deserve all the love and comfort that I can give you. I am so proud of you.

“As the days passed during this past week I was positive that it wasn’t to be that we should ever have a family, and now we have a wee boy on whom we will lavish the love and care that up till now we have kept to ourselves.”

Loving him was easy

Exuding love and pride in his family is something he would continue throughout his life. After Ian came Janice, and in 1979 Margaret and George became my grandparents.

Though my parents separated while I was a newborn, and divorced shortly after, the one constant in my life was Friday nights at my Gran and Papa’s.

The “special letter” written by George Gould to his wife Margaret on the birth of their son.

By the time I was at primary school I would bound home in eager expectation that his 1980s grey Vauxhall Cavalier would be waiting for me. Singing for the whole half-hour journey back to theirs, our first stop was “the baths”, before a fly trip to the chip shop for fritters on strict instructions “not to tell my gran”.

‘I love wee footers’

Not for one moment of my life was George Henry Gould anything but wonderful. He taught me that generosity and justice go hand-in-hand. That some people are voiceless and those who can must speak up. He was fun and firm, comforting and confident.

A pillar of steadfastness under the shadow of which I have built my life.

He was so caring.

“You are the one I’m worrying about. You have come through more in one week than most people have to go through in a lifetime,” he wrote to my gran.

“Look after yourself – get your strength built up and look to the future. We have so much to look forward to.

Margaret Ferguson Lindsay Strachan Gould.

“As I write this I look into the bed and see all the things you have prepared. What a wee footer you are.

“Everything must be just right and I bet you have even got the safety pins. I love wee footers, that’s why I married you.”

In case that vernacular isn’t in with the Doric, “a footer” is like a fusspot; someone who is picky about detail, or in my case, according to my papa, footery about food.

Content with their lot

Him and my gran went on to have more than half a century of married life together.

“I wonder why you married me,” he joked in the letter. “It must have been for my money.”

George Gould, who was a trade union activist for UCATT.

In reality, George and Mag were content with very little. An electricity board joiner and trade union activist by the time I came along, George, unlike his best friend from Aberdeen, would never really have a lucrative career.

While his RAF chum John married George’s wee sister Janet and set up JB Duncan’s Butcher on Summerhill Drive, Geordie – as I often called him, was once asked to consider ministry in the Church of Scotland.

George, left, shown with an unknown friend, right and John Duncan, centre. John, known as Butch, came from Aberdeen and became his brother-in-law.

He refused in favour of pursuing his “calling” – working with his hands, for which I will always be grateful. I received all his wisdom and guidance from the back garden emporium that was his shed, instead of a pulpit.

He made being a great dad look easy

I just loved him. Every second with him.

I loved that he hid biscuits “oot the back” in a Tupperware box. I loved cuddling in and hearing the rattle of his chest from years with bad lungs. I loved going to Motherwell games with him, seeing him at all my school assemblies and dancing with him at my wedding.

Lindsay and her papa George on the beach in Aberdeen.

I love that when I briefly considered nursing he reminded me the pen is mightier than the sword and tearfully encouraged me to write instead.

He made loving and leading his family look easy. Though I now know at times it was anything but.

Keeping romance alive

In the letter he also discussed their romantic journey.

A first kiss, her “antics”, a honeymoon…

I was always entirely jealous of how much he loved my gran and would wedge my way between them when they snuggled on the sofa.

“Wee Mag” and George at a Labour Party conference with former Labour leader Neil Kinnock.

I wanted my papa all to myself but their flame still burned strong. When once my gran was in hospital in their 70s, I found him splashing on Cool Water aftershave to be at his best for visiting time.

Love and understanding

Pondering their strength of relationship he mused: “I wonder what it is that we have that others seem to lack?

“It can’t be money unless it’s the shortage of it.

“It can’t be freedom from worry, we have had our share of that.

George and Margaret Gould, at their granddaughter’s wedding.

“So what is it?” he asked.

“The two main things in life and we have got it abundantly – love and understanding.”

And then this endearing hope, “We are very lucky for in each other we can conquer anything.”

‘I love you papa’

The day my papa died I thought I’d never get my breath back.

It was six months after my wedding and days after a miscarriage.

I drove home on roads I’d travelled thousands of times before, and yet found myself taking a dozen wrong turns.

George Henry Gould, who came from Craigneuk, Wishaw.

I got there in time to wet his lips with an Irn-Bru soaked sponge (I blame him for my orange-stained insides!), and to say “I love you papa.”

His final words on earth were “I love you too.”

As my Gran sobbed “Don’t leave me George” we entered a new era of life after papa.

‘How do you like my writing?’

I found this letter in his bureau that now sits in my bedroom.

“How do you like my writing,” he wrote in it. “It’s two blank pages out of a book. I can’t find the writing paper, and don’t say it’s in the top drawer. I’ve looked.”

I can still smell him, and his forever leaky Indian ink pens, whenever I open that same top drawer, and in the tiny compartments where I now keep my art supplies and make-up.

For years after we lost him – more than 20 years ago now – I would pick up the phone to call him. When my children were born all I wanted was for him to hold them. But of course such a thing was impossible.

The second half of the letter Lindsay found and shared from her papa on Father’s Day.

Getting my job at the Press and Journal would have “tickled him with pride”. I can’t even pretend I didn’t yearn for his approval or felt sick at times, at a mere hint of disappointment.

I like to think he’s in the ‘great cloud of witnesses’ spoken of in the big Bible he carried to church each week.

Grandfathers make the world better

I wish I could articulate as well as he could, the value and impact having such an amazing grandfather had on my life, but it’s impossible.

But isn’t that the thing about grandas, papas, granddads, grandfathers and pops the country over? It’s just impossible to quantify the difference they make.

They offer the kind of admonishment that makes you better, the kind of adventures that only come in the freedom of retirement, and the kind of assurance that the passage of time has given them the confidence of.

Remembering all the papas on Father’s Day

As he ended that beautiful note to my gran he said these words: “I’ll close now dear.

“With lots of love to you both. Your loving wee hubby, Daddy Gould.”

From the second my dad existed, my papa took his role and responsibility seriously. And never offered me any less.

So here’s to all the good ones out there. I honour you this Father’s Day. Life would be so much less without you.