Dona was much the same age as my older sister and was born in 1959, on the cusp of The Swinging Sixties. Nineteen men died in a whisky explosion at a warehouse on Anderston Quay the following year, one of Scotland’s worst fires. Real Madrid were Kings of Europe after the Spanish champions went a goal down, but beat Eintracht Frankfurt 7-3 at Hampden in front of 127 000 mostly Scottish fans. Hearts were Scottish champions. A packet of fags cost around three shillings and sixpence. A pint of beer a shilling and fivepence. To post a letter cost threepence. And if you wanted buy a car it would cost you around £700. Dona wasn’t big on cars. She never learned how to drive and left that kinda stuff to her older brother Leo. Fags and beer, well that was a different story, and more to her liking.
I only saw Dona in denims and t-shirt and a jacket, she didn’t dress up. A smidgen of lipstick for special occasions. Often she’d have a fag in her hand, her ginger frizz a fox’s tail that gathered around her face. She looked the world square in the eye and spoke bluntly, but not unkindly.
Beauty she left that to her daughters Michelle and Cheryl to fuss about. Men were like tortoises, a bit slow, easy to pick up, but harder to get rid of. She’d a soft spot for the underdog. The kind of drunk guy that couldn’t find his pockets. Candidates for the last train home. That would argue with the train guard that they’d moved Dalmuir to the wrong place, and he could call the police if he liked, he wasn’t for moving. Donna was father and mother to her children.
Michelle was born during the mass furore of Thatcherism and the introduction of the Poll Tax. Only one of them was wanted. Fags were hammered by tax and cost almost £2 for twenty and a pint was almost a pound. Phone calls cost ten pence.
‘I’m gonnae kill that Cheryl,’ Dona’d say.
She used to bring Cheryl into the Drop Inn in her stroller to play a game of pool and have a pint. Her youngest girl with her shiny long hair, big smile and knee-length skirts soon had the run of the place. Dazzled by the lights of the fruit machines, crisps in hand. Wheeling and dealing, coming back, knowing her mum was there for her—always there for her—filled with grace, but crushable. She knew how to press the buttons in the machine and what the jackpot was. When all the coins tumbled out, the world was hers to divide.
Dona made a bit of money cleaning the stairs in the tenements around Castle Street where I lived and the other tenements in Dalmuir. The cash-in-hand job my own mum had done, and generations of mothers before that. Dona liked to keep busy and worked hard.
The high flat beside the station. An island in which her daughters Michelle and Cheryl also had houses. An enclave of Dona-ness. Mother and granny. Her girls got her and she got her girls and grandchildren. That was enough.
Dona’s friends and muckers were special to her. She wouldn’t let you down, but if you let yourself down, well, there was that shrug. But injustice left her fizzing. Especially, against women. Everybody in Dalmuir has at least one fight with Rab Adair. I’d punched him with a pint glass in my hand and cut the meat of my hand. He picked up a ball from the pool table. Donna just knocked him out in The Horse and Barge, which made me laugh.
When Dona’s brother Leo died in Thailand there was nothing much she could do, but bring him home to be buried. Just the same as she’s been buried with honour and dignity.
Dona wouldn’t thank you for sympathy or allow you to look down on her. Last time I saw her, I did just that at the Co-op, beside her flat. She was in a wheelchair. But, hey, it was the same old Dona, bright as a brass button with warmth in her voice. She was always glad to see you. I’m sorry to see her go. RIP.