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- Robert Burns




Incredible Journey


It was about ten in the morning, Saturday, July 26th 1958. At that time I was happily living in the township of Elyria in the State of Ohio, about 20 miles to the west side of the city of Cleveland. The sun was shining, the birds were singing, the corn and the tomatoes in the garden were  growing like crazy. Everything was in place. My first job for the day was to cut the grass to make the place look spick and span for the weekend. I was in the process of filling up the mower when a van drove into the driveway. A  man got out,  verified the address, then handed me a telegram that had been sent from my brother John in Earlsferry, Scotland. "This is to let you know that Tom, (our father) died on Thursday morning."  


My dad Tom and Jill


What could I do?  Send flowers to my mother? I was thousands of miles away and on the other side of the Atlantic ocean. After I collected my thoughts I had the impulse that I had to go, but how. Knowing the Scottish custom as to time of burial I reasoned that the funeral would be at 3 o'clock on Sunday afternoon and it would be in the family burial plot in the churchyard of the Auld Kirk at St. Monans. With the time difference that would actually be 23 hours away on the clock. An impossible situation. I was standing in my old clothes for working in the garden. Other than the normal amount of on-hand money I had no other money and the banks did not open on Saturdays. This was in the era before credit cards. ---Flash back---. About a year before, I had attended a ball game in the Cleveland Browns stadium. Sitting next to me was another long time ex Scotsman who owned a small travel agency business called The Rob Roy Travel Agency, located about ten miles to the east of Cleveland. For another Scotsman it was an unforgettable name. The name flashed in front of me and I placed a call to tell of my plight and desire. When the phone was picked up I recognized the Scottish burr right away. "Yes, I remember you, how can I help?" I explained my desire and my situation as to no on-hand money. " Give me a minute and I'll call you right back." He did. He remembered that I was not a citizen of the U.S. and non U.S. citizens could not exit the country at short notice unless they had a document to prove that they were current with paying their income tax, in case they didn't come back. On his call back he said, "as a non citizen you'll never get out of the country without the tax document but travel across the border into Canada and back is lax. There's a plane that leaves Montreal at 6 o'clock and I'm sure you will not have a problem in getting out of or back into the U.S. if you go by way of Canada."  No good. With that time of departure there was no way I could get there in time. I said ,"Thanks, but time wise that's no good." I explained that I would rather take my chances in getting out of the U.S. from New York and not being questioned. "Let me check again and I'll call you right back." "There's a plane that's leaving Cleveland for New York in 50 minutes. Change fast. Don't worry about a ticket or money. I'll close up shop. Meet me at the front door of the airport. Get someone to get you to the airport and I'll have the plane held up for you. Don't forget your passport." In less than 5 minutes we roared out on to the road and made it to the airport in record time. There, at the front door at the airport and awaiting me was my Rob Roy friend. "Here's a round trip ticket for you to come back in a week, and 500 dollars, give me your handshake. Call me when you get back". The plane was loaded, its engines were running and it was waiting for me to get on. Before I got on,  I found out when the connecting flight  from New York would be landing at Prestwick airport and I arranged for a telegram to be sent to my brother John to come to Prestwick to pick me up on Sunday morning at nine. The plane on the flight from Cleveland to the La Guardia, New York airport was a British Rolls-Royce turboprop Vickers Viscount. The skies were turbulent and it was a case of flying through solid cloud all the way. The plane developed a malfunction in that the air system developed a fault that caused vapour from the moisture laden clouds to be sucked into the cabin that for all the world looked like smoke and that the plane was on fire.  On the intercom the captain calmed and informed the alarmed passengers as to the problem and that we would keep going to La Guardia but we would be at least an hour late because of the bad weather. Planes attempting to land at La Guardia were stacked up high above the airport as to their order of landing which would cause further delay. My heart fell. The plane that I was on was already behind schedule and my transatlantic flight from NewYork's Idlewilde airport had less than an hour of ground time between my scheduled flights.  With arriving late from Cleveland and the time it would take to get from La Guardia to Idlewilde I'd never make it. As we approached New York the captain, I'm sure with some subterfuge, came on the intercom to inform the passengers that because of the problem of cloud vapour in the cabin we were to be given emergency and priority to land status. On getting nearer to New York the stewardess came to me and in a hushed voice she bent down and told me, "Mr. Reekie, your travel agent has been keeping informed as to the progress of this flight and he has requested that you be given every assistance in the getting off from this plane and transporting you to your connecting flight at Idlewilde. The captain has informed me that you will be the first to get off this plane and that a transportation vehicle will be awaiting you at the foot of the plane's steps to speed you to Idlewilde. He has requested that you be given one more hour to make your connecting flight  which has been approved." The vehicle sped through the city. When I got to Idlewilde the plane was almost an hour beyond its scheduled time of departure, its doors were closed and all four of its engines were running. Like magic a door opened to let me on.


The flight across the Atlantic from Idlewilde to Prestwick experienced strong headwinds all the way and we would be at least  another two hours late in getting to Prestwick on the west coast of Scotland.  I got off the plane and looked for my brother John but he was no where to be seen. I surmised, wrongly, that he was also late so I called home to let others know that I was on the way. To my grief John answered the phone. He had not received the telegram to let him know that I was coming. (It was delivered on Monday afternoon) John confirmed that the graveside internment was scheduled for 3 o' clock on Sunday afternoon and that friends and family were already gathering. I was a hundred miles away, afoot and on the other side of the country. There was nothing I could do but say, " You'll see me when you see me. Let Mum know I'm here." In these days on a Sunday in Scotland every business was closed. The few available taxis that I had seen had all departed. I remembered the name of a friend who lived in Glasgow and called him to see if he could help. After a minute of silence he said,  "Look around. Hitch-hike, beg, whatever, find someone who will take you to Glasgow. Meet me at the corner of George Square. I don't need my car for a while and you're welcome to borrow it. I'll have it full of petrol for you." As I exited the phone booth a man drove up to use the phone and I explained my dilemma. The man responded, "I have a short call to make. Hop in, I am going to Glasgow." We sped to Glasgow. At George Square my friend was waiting for me.  He handed me the keys and said, "Good luck but please drive carefully." From Glasgow to Elie, I cut every corner that I could. As I came flying down Park Place, the entry road into Elie, I could see ahead of me the funeral procession as it was passing the intersection at Adamson's corner.  I fell in behind. At the graveside, my mother's hazel eyes just sparkled when she saw me. She knew I'd be there. 


St. Monans Auld Kirk


I was in St. Monans, my ancestral home. Twenty three hours ago I was thousands of miles away on the other side of the Atlantic and leisurely going to cut the grass in Ohio. 


Home and family are indeed powerful magnets.


It's really amazing that every stranger on this whirlwind trip came through for me. No questions asked.


My mother, Katie Reekie