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My Grampa John Reekie


My Grampa John Reekie and me outside my Dad's, Tom Reekie's, Golf Shop.

I was about 4 years old.


My Grampa John was born in St. Monans in 1851. He died in our home, Viewforth, in Earlsferry in 1943 when he was 92 years of age. He was active and in good health almost till the time he died. To the best of my knowledge this is the only photo that was ever taken of him. The little boy beside him is me and I look like maybe I was four years old which would date the photo 1930. I'm wearing boots that would have had steel wear protector tackets  in the soles, long woollen stockings, knee length woollen trousers and a heavy woollen jersey buttoned at the neck. Garb typical of the times and good for the meanest of weather. The setting is in front of my dad's golf shop and workshop that stood to the west of the top of the Elie Golf Club House Lane in the village of Elie in the county of Fife Scotland. The shop looked out on to the 18th green, the 1st tee and the clubhouse. The bicycle on the left was my dad's means of transport from our home, The Cross, a half mile away, in Earlsferry. It was also mine. The back wheel had three inch long steel extensions to the axle whereon I stood as I held on to my dad's back as we traveled back and forth. At a very early age I helped out in the workshop by being generally useful. In the wintertime the workshop had a paraffin oil heater that made the workshop snug as my dad made his supply of clubs that would be sold the next year. 


Grampa John went to school in St. Monans and at an early age became a St. Monans fisherman for all of his working years. Several times when I was a boy I asked him if he knew where the name Reekie, which was quite a common name in the village of St. Monans, came from. The legend that he had was that at the time when Spain was a maritime force to be reckoned with, Spanish galleons had been wrecked in a great storm in the Firth of Forth and survivors had washed ashore at St. Monans where they settled, married and lived out their lives.

December 2009. I've just been made aware that in the 1970's an old barnacle and rust encrusted cannon was snagged in the net of a St Monans fishing boat and was brought ashore.


The St. Monans and East of Fife Reekie inhabitants that I know of had jet black hair. In the St. Monans graveyard are many old Reekie grave stones, some of which are almost completely eroded away. The earlier day male Reekies as per their grave stones appear to have been fishermen and/or boat builders. The prevalent spelling of the name today is Reekie but there are grave stones that have variations of the spelling such as Reikie and Riekie.


As a young boy grampa John signed on to become one of the crew of a St. Monans boat that fished the North Sea. The custom of the day was for fishing boats to go out on a Monday morning, fish all week, then to hopefully return to harbour on Friday to unload the catch. One thing that could delay departure for a day was if any one of the crew on his way to the harbour happened to meet the minister of the Auld Kirk. This was definitely a bad omen of disaster and was not to be taken lightly. "The Reaper", which is now a museum piece and is moored  against the harbour wall at Anstruther, is typical of the type of  St Monans fishing boats of that era.


The "Reaper" laying alongside the Anstruther Harbor wall.

(Across the roadway is the world famous Anstruther Fish Bar and The Scottish Fisheries Museum.)


The men who went out into the North Sea and fished in these boats faced everyday dangers  and hardships that we  people of today cannot imagine. Grampa John told me of many situations where the lives of all were in the balance as they battled rough seas and enormous waves. There was no protection for the crew from the weather and never any warm food. The story that most sticks with me is his telling me of the time that they were fishing off the coast at the Norfolk Broads in England. A huge wave knocked the boat on to its side, the cobblestone ballast shifted and the boat lay on to it's beam with the mast and the sail in the sea which then immediately filled with water. All clung to whatever they could get a hold of. As the storm raged they prayed for deliverance. As they did, another huge wave threw a heavy anchor overboard whereon it fell through the sail which then spilled enough water that allowed the boat to semi upright. In this condition the boat was finally driven on to the shore. All of the crew were saved. They returned to St. Monans to continue on with their lives as fishermen.


After my Grampa John retired he lived with our family.  He called me "Sood."  "Sood, what shall we do or where shall we go today?"  I became his shadow and I learned a lot from him including how to tie fishermen and seamen's knots. In my teenage years  I became the designated teacher of how to tie knots to the local cub scout and the boy scout troupes.


The following is the first verse of a long poem that Grampa John taught me. 

How happy is the fisherman,

his daily labours o'er,

he tak's his ease amongst the rocks 

and guards the rugged shore.

My Grampa John had a good voice and on Sundays he sang in the choir of the Auld Kirk at St. Monans.  The rest of the week when he was in our garden, at the top of his lungs, he would sing every hymn that was in the hymn book. He was a very happy man. Fishermen during their working years made very little money and when he lived with us he had few worldly possessions. The one thing I remember in his bedroom was his sea "kist," his wooden chest that held what possessions he had. St. Monans fishermen of these days had a commendable custom in that devoid of money as they might be, they kept in their sea chests a sufficient amount of money that at the time of their deaths would pay for their coffins and the other expenses of their funerals. No matter what the need, this money could and would not be touched or used for any other purpose. At time of their deaths they would never become a financial burden on their families. One day my Grampa  showed me his 50 gold sovereigns. Grampa John was 92 when he was called away to his happy reward. He outlived his wife Christina Easson by 32 years. Most every day of these 32 years he would bring up a memory of her.


At all times my Grampa carried his "nest" knife in his pocket that in later years he gave to me. This knife has a single 3 inch long blade and a riveted rose wood handle. The knife is called a nest knife because there is a picture of a bird's nest stamped into the blade. This knife is made of very good steel and can be sharpened to a keen edge. When he gave it to me his words were, "at all times keep it as sharp as you can make it."  On two occasions it saved my life because it was very sharp.


When I was a teenager my brother John made me a very fine sea sailing canoe. I had announced to my friends that my maiden voyage was to be on a certain Saturday. That day turned out to be overcast with a fairly strong wind that was blowing from the west. I should have known better than  to attempt to go to sea that day but I had more daring than sense. Before getting in I had set the sails to the degree that I thought was about right. At the Cockstail Rocks on the Earlsferry beach, with help from my pals, I climbed in and set off to sea. Immediately the canoe heeled over to an alarming degree and I knew I was in trouble. The sails did not have quick release fittings so I could not adjust the sails to release the wind. Fortunately for me I had my Grampa's knife in my pocket and while laying out flat  I managed to cut the sails loose which then trailed overboard. In just a few minutes the canoe was half full of water and there was nothing I could do but lay flat out and pray as the wind blew me along. Had the wind been a point or two more to the north I would have been blown out to the North Sea but I ended up running aground on to the beach  inside the Elie harbour. When I set off from the Cockstail Rocks policeman P.C. Wilson had known of my intended first sail and  from a discrete distance he had watched me go and  immediately get into difficulty. As I was blown along he sprinted along the curve of the bay to keep me in sight. He said there were times when I disappeared down into the troughs of the waves that he thought I was a goner. As I ran aground he waded into the surf to help me out. I was soaking wet and very cold.  P.C. Wilson was indeed my guardian angel.


Many years later when I was living in Oregon a friend who had a boat invited me and two others to go with him on a salmon fishing trip to fish in the Pacific Ocean at the mouth of the Columbia River. Our take off place was the village of Ilwaco about a mile up river from the sea. We set off  before it got daylight on a fast running outgoing tide. We were still in the river when a heavy fog descended to the degree that visibility was very limited. Now and again through the fog we glimpsed the  shore line as we sped seawards. We came to the conclusion that this was a very unsafe situation as we were in the shipping channel and we decided to anchor until visibility improved. For weight and balance purposes the anchor was stored in the stern of the boat but it was secured at the bow near the waterline. The anchor with it's 200 feet of attaching rope was dropped overboard but none of us had noticed that the rope had snagged around a cleat at the stern of the boat. As the anchor hooked on the bottom the rope became taut which caused the stern of the boat to be dragged under and the sea poured in.  For some reason I had my very sharp Grampa's knife in my hand. I was sitting at the stern of the boat at the side just opposite from the snagged cleat and I saw the event unfold. As I held on with my one hand and with the water pouring over me I reached out and managed to saw through the rope. The freed boat righted itself and like a cork it popped back up. Seconds more and the boat would have become swamped, dragged under and we would have been cast into the rapidly out flowing tide. First stop for our bodies would have been Hawaii.


Once again my grampa's knife saved my life-- and three others.


Grampa John  1851---1943