Your Great-Great-Great-Grandfathers were next door neighbors in Paisley. They both worked in the J.P. Coats textile factory. Dad and I went to their houses once. Most of the others in the area had been torn down by then, but theirs were still standing. Great-Great-Grandma Tillie was born on April 26, 1898 when Great-Great-Grandpa Robert was seventeen. I don’t imagine he thought much of her at first.
There was undoubtedly a great commotion on the Pearson side of the stone wall shared by the two homes. It was the fifth child to be born, but such events are always exciting. Robert’s mother, a little older and more experienced than Elizabeth, had gone over to help and support, and the baby’s father, Thomas, had gone down to the local pub to greet the news with celebratory drinks with his friends. Most of the Pearson children had been farmed out to various friends and neighbors at the first sign of labor.
Despite their proximity, Robert Brodie wasn’t really friends with any of the Pearson children. Little Tom would follow he and some of the neighborhood boys around sometimes and play sports with them when he begged, but that was about it. The Pearsons had an abundance of daughters and they were all younger than he. But his little sister Mary was best friends with the oldest Pearson girl, Lizzie, and the pair, just nine and ten, talked endlessly about the coming baby while carting around their rag dolls with all the solicitous care of new mothers.
It was a straightforward birth. Half a day later, Robert had a new neighbor. Despite Thomas Pearson’s hopes, it was another girl. Nevertheless, he celebrated with his friends and stood proudly by as another daughter was baptized in his home the next morning. With Little Tom as the only son in five children, Thomas had come to the conclusion that all children under age thirteen were basically the same. He wouldn’t leave much by way of inheritance and so why should it matter? Besides, his own mother, widowed at a young age, hadn’t let that stop her from running the farm just as well as his father had. He named his newest daughter Matilda and was glad to have her.
She was strong and willful, as had been her grandmother. She grew quickly in a fat cherubic daredevil, crawling everywhere her mother wished she wouldn’t and poking chubby fingers into all the things that her older sisters tried desperately to keep out of her reach. She followed her brother like a shadow, especially when he didn’t want her to, and, finding more males next door, insisted on inviting herself over to the Brodie home frequently.
Robert watched growing toddler with amusement. She was younger than his youngest sibling by nearly six years, but she didn’t let that stop her from intruding on all the activities of older girls who wish they were older still. It was even more entertaining to watch the child forcing her way into the games of he and his brothers.
Tillie was two when her mother sent her to the Brodie’s house overnight and then the next day had to audacity to present her with a younger sibling. The toddler was fine with the new baby until later that night when she realized the baby wasn’t just visiting; it was there to stay. When her mother wasn’t looking, Tillie pinched the child, yet another girl, and ran back to the Brodie home. Robert found her hiding under his brother William’s bed in the room they shared.
He heard her before he saw her. Getting down on his hands and knees, he was unsurprised to see her lying flat on her belly under the bed, sucking fiercely on two fingers.
“What’s the matter, Tillie?” he asked, careful to keep from smiling lest he should enrage her.
“She’s my mama.”
“I see,” he said, nodding solemnly. “But you already share her with Tom and the other girls.”
“Mine,” she insisted again, and then burst into tears.
Robert reached under the bed and pulled her out, sitting on his own bed and placing her on his knees. “Give it time,” he told her, wiping her tears away with his sleeve. “You’ll probably even like her in another couple months.”
“Never,” she swore.
Just as Robert predicted, she did grow a certain tolerance for little Jeanie over the passing months that eventually blossomed into fondness and even protective adoration. Whatever she felt for her younger sister, though, from that day forward, she was Robert’s little darling. It was rather endearing, occasionally annoying. She walked with him most days to work, at least until she had to start school, and Heaven help the poor girls she occasionally caught him showing any sort of interest in.
Just as she had as a baby, she grew quickly, getting into various forms of innocent trouble along the way. Watching her, her father once more reached the conclusion that all children under thirteen were the same; she had a penchant for mischief that rivaled and then surpassed her older brother. Nevertheless, her tough and assertive nature was tempered by a sweet disposition. She would never do anything that she knew would embarrass or disappoint her father or her Robert Brodie. She earned good marks in school which she proudly presented to each of them in turn, and was a blessing to her mother when there was hard labor to be performed.
Her cheeks were sunburned; her knees were bruised. She laughed loud and loved hard.
One night, Robert woke to a rapping on his window. A huddled form he immediately recognized was squatting outside the window. With a glance to Will, he crawled out of bed, rubbing the sleep from his eyes, and went to the window. He got about half way there before he was awake enough to realize that Tillie was on the roof. He hurried the rest of the way, shoved the window up and hissed, “Tillie, what are you doing? You’ll fall and die like the Foster boy.”
“I will not,” she insisted, offended at the suggestion. “I come up here all the time.”
He had to admit that, even unshod and in her nightclothes, she looked quite at home on the steep slope. He poked his head out the window, glancing over at the unlit window to her own room lying open. “What are you doing?” he asked again.
“Are you going to marry?” she demanded, accusation in her voice.
A little bewildered by the question, he admitted, “I suppose so, some day.”
“I don’t know yet. Why?”
“Mother said I’ll have to get married some day.”
“Most people do.”
“But I don’t want to!”
“You might some day. You won’t have to until you’re all grown up.”
“Are you all grown up?” she asked him, a little afraid he’d say yes.
“I suppose so. But I’m not getting married just yet.”
“Will you wait ‘til I’m grown up, too?” she asked quickly.
He laughed. He couldn’t help it.
Angry, she stood so suddenly that he was afraid for a moment that she was falling. He reached out, grabbing her arm, and pulled her back toward him. She tried to shake him loose, but he wouldn’t let go. “Merciful Heavens, Tillie! Would you go back inside?”
“Will you wait?” she asked again, still angry.
Will sat up suddenly, startling them both. “Would you please be quiet?” he demanded, glaring at them both.
Robert growled softly under his breath and pushed Tillie around the side of the window, further from the edge of the roof. Then he climbed out after her. The two of them went up to the ridge of their houses’ shared roof and Robert sat down.
Tillie refused to sit next to him, still waiting for his answer. Finally, she prompted, “It’s just that if I have to get married, I’d rather marry you. It’s better than Jimmy; he’s obnoxious.”
He wondered briefly who Jimmy was and if Tillie knew what the word obnoxious meant. He replied hesitantly, “How about when I’m thirty-”
“That’s almost as old as Mother!” she interrupted, knowing she was being put off.
“Not quite. Besides, I’m a lot older than you. You’d only be…” he trailed off, grimacing a little. Besides, he was nearly twenty-three; thirty wasn’t really that far off anymore. “Maybe when I’m forty. Is that better? I know it’s a long time, but then you’d be grown up.” He wasn’t sure how telling her to wait longer could possibly be better, but he hoped she wouldn’t notice.
“Then you’ll wait?” she asked, hopeful.
He hesitated; I doubt he had any intention of making the little neighbor girl his wife. It hadn’t really occurred to him that she might want him to. “I can’t promise you that, Tillie. But if I haven’t found anyone by then, I’ll come see you.”
Sighing heavily, she sat beside him and wrapped her arms around her knees, sulking. “I’m going to die before I’m kissed,” she pouted.
He fought the urge to laugh at her again. “Now why would you want to go around kissing people?”
“Lizzie kisses all sorts of people and she says it’s the best thing in the world.”
He did laugh at that. “She would, wouldn’t she?” The girl only frowned in response and he consolingly told her, “Matilda Pearson, I promise you will be kissed before you die.”
“I could die tomorrow,” she informed him.
He shook his head. “No, you won’t. You’ll live to be a cranky old lady. Now go back to bed.”
She didn’t want to, but she went without argument. He watched her until she was safely inside before crawling back through his own window frame, shaking his head.
Robert forgot about the conversation, although Tillie wouldn’t. Not long afterward, Robert’s family got a letter from his older brother James. He was coming home for a visit.
Records: Matilda Pearson Brodie’s obituary, 1881 Scottish Census, 1891 Scottish Census, memory of William Pearson