Road to Glenbogle
by James Gilbert
as published by Marcia Landa
On the Train
If life is a journey then we travel on roads that consist mostly of twisty little paths that turn into each other. For the most part, no matter which path we choose, we will revisit the same junctures over and over again and have a chance to see where another route might take us. However, at other times we come to a crossroad, where the path we choose has a profound impact on the rest of our lives, and maybe for generations to come.
Or so it seems to me now as I sit in an overnight train speeding from London to the Scottish Highlands. I am a world traveler, adventurer, and writer by profession, but I had never made the trip to Scotland before. My mother had made two such round trips, within a short space of time, 37 years ago. The first time she was accompanied by her husband. They were returning from their honeymoon. It would be the first time she would see the house and vast estate that was to be her home for what she thought was the rest of her life.
A mere 3 weeks later she was headed back for London, vowing never to return. Marrying Hector MacDonald, she concluded, had been the biggest mistake she had made in her young life. She was isolated and lonely in her new surroundings. Hector, who seemed so loving when he courted her in London, now seemed fonder of his dogs and his golf game than he did of her. She had gazed into the crystal ball of her mind and concluded that many more years with this man would turn her into a lonely, bitter, old shrew. This vision was not to her liking.
It was raining when my mother left quietly early one morning for the Glenbogle Station for the train that would take her home. It was raining when she arrived in London too, but she felt the joy of a sunny day. For six delicious weeks she reveled in her newly regained freedom. She had studied art, but found a job modeling. She was offered a small part in a film. She picked up where she had left off with her old art school friends and other bohemian types. She probably would have remained one of the smart set and trend setters for some time to come if it weren't for her discovery that she was pregnant with me.
Why her pregnancy prompted her to return to her husband and a life she hated, I haven't been able to determine. It was 1965, and although abortion was still illegal, one could be arranged easily enough. Also, as a married woman, she could have raised me on her own without any serious stigma attached to it.
For whatever reasons, my mother turned her life around once again and boarded the train to Glenbogle. From the Glenbogle station she took a cab to Glenbogle House. She stepped out of the cab to be greeted by one her husband's grounds workers. He told her that Hector was out riding and was expected back soon. He suggested she wait inside, but my mother preferred to walk in the garden.
My mother smiled at the thought of Hector riding, as it was one of the few activities they both enjoyed in the vast wasteland of the countryside that she would once more, try to make home. There hadn't been a horse for her to ride when she first arrived, but Hector had purchased a silver dappled bay with a lovely white face. It was in fact, supposed to be delivered the day she left. She wondered how long she would be able to continue riding in her condition? She went out to the back Garden and headed towards the stables to meet her husband. She expected to see the bay waiting idly in it's stall.
Instead, before she reached the stables, as she had come upon a clump of trees, she saw two riders return. Hector was on his dark brown stallion. Somebody else, a woman, was on the dappled bay. The woman wore a long thick auburn braid down her back, and dismounted her horse gracefully, as she smiled at Hector. Hector was smiling too. When he dismounted he let go of the reins and embraced the woman long and passionately.
My mother nearly fainted. Her predominant feeling was one of humiliation rather than betrayal. After all, she was the one who had left Hector. She had beaus of her own in London. How could she be so foolish to think that he would be waiting, like Penelope, for her to come back, when she had said she would never return?
She ran back round to the front of the house. The grounds man was still there, and when she saw his sympathetic face, she knew that he knew what she knew, and that he had known all along.
"Would you call me a cab, please" she said with as much dignity as she could muster. "I won't be staying, after all."
"I can drive you to the station, myself," the man offered. "It will be quicker."
"Thank you," she said. She stepped into his battered truck and they drove off. The both were silent for awhile.
"I'm sorry," the man said. "I would have warned him. It might have been different. He still cares for you, I'm certain of that."
"Maybe this is for the best," she said bravely. "Please don't tell Mr. MacDonald I was here. It would be better if we could both just forget."
This was the last time she was in Scotland and one of the few times since that she has been to Britain. She decided to go to Paris to live with her Aunt Elizabeth while she sorted out her life. As it turns out, she made a life for herself there.
I tell you this by way of introducing myself: a man who grew up without a father, who learned of his father's identity only recently on his mother's deathbed, and who is now making a journey with the hopes of meeting that father.
I should say here that I had a full and happy childhood, never lacking for material comforts or adult attention and affection. I never missed what I didn't have. However, now that I know my mother's story and the beginning of mine, I can't help but wonder how things might have been for us if she had never taken that road back to London, or if upon returning to Glenbogle, she had decided to stay with her husband - with me there, to change the balance of things.
One never knows what lies at the end of the road one is on, let alone the road not taken. But I am a traveler and it is my inclination to go down as many roads as I can. Who knows what I will gain or lose by traveling this road? A new family? An article on the Highlands for a travel magazine? Or rejection from someone who didn't know I existed and would rather I didn't? Only time will tell.