Full Circle

Seven summers ago, when I visited Kirriemuir, Scotland, for the first time, I hiked up to the Hill Cemetery hoping to locate at least some ancestors’ headstones. I found none.

This vast cemetery, which overlooks the beautiful, undulating Strathmore Valley, was opened in 1858 and has been the favored resting place for the town’s inhabitants ever since. Today the population of Kirriemuir is said to be approximately 6,000. My wild guess (since I was unable to find the exact figure in my research) is that the Hill Cemetery is home to about as many dearly departeds.

A view from the Hill Cemetery in Kirriemuir

On that first visit to Kirriemuir’s Hill Cemetery in 2011, I knew I wouldn’t find my great-grandparents’ gravesites because, according to my online research, they’d left Kirriemuir as newlyweds in the early 1880s to begin a new life in Natal, South Africa. Within three years of their arrival there, they both were dead, leaving an orphaned son (who was destined to become my grandfather) behind. The records of their deaths do not exist.

As I wandered among the headstones then I felt like a lost soul, filled with incessant, unanswerable questions. Why did they – Helen and William Black – leave what to me, at least at first glance, seemed to be a perfectly charming, friendly, and beautiful little Scottish town, in order to emigrate to Africa? What were they running from – or to? Why did they have to die so young, so far away – with no eulogies or proper burial or grave markers – so unmourned and forgotten? What could I do to change that?

My recent trip back to Kirriemuir brought me – and I like to think, Helen and William, too – full circle. In the years between that first visit and this one, I’ve tried my best to answer those gnawing questions. I listened to my heart, followed my muse (Helen herself?), did my homework, used my imagination, wrote and rewrote many drafts, and (finally) produced a novel based on their lives and deaths, titled Jamie’s Muse.

I returned to Kirriemuir this time to share this book with the locals who helped make it possible and to thank them for their kindness.

The audience at one of my book readings — at the Kirriemuir library
The audience at another of my readings — at Kirriemuir’s Gateway to the Glens Museum

And, miraculously, I feel, I was also able on this trip to see to it that Helen and William Black would find their rightful place in the Hill Cemetery. A friend in Kirriemuir agreed to inter a copy of my book in her family’s plot. Helen and Will will be laid to rest at last.

~ ~ ~

[For the whole dramatic story, please read Jamie’s Muse, available from www.amazon.com or direct from the publisher, www.nighthawkpress.com.]

25 thoughts on “Full Circle”

  1. Bonnie – that is the most touching essay you have ever written! I am teary as I write this! How lovely that you were able to bring Helen and William back to their home town…I can feel how it comforts you.
    And burying your book there? What an act of extraordinary kindness!

  2. Bonnie, what a lovely idea to bring them home via your book. I am intrigued to read the whole story.
    Take care,

  3. Looking at your audiences I can feel that you are looking at the descendants of people who knew Helen and William. Their ancestors probably went to school with them. If only DNA could speak. Quite a journey you took. Thanks for also taking us along.

  4. Such a magical story, dear Bonnie! These words about imagination, daring, and return make me well up thinking of all you’ve done to bring this baby to term. BRAVA!!!!

  5. A few of us are ordering the book together and saving on the shipping. Anyone in SMA want to join us, let me know. We’ll have them driven down from TX by a friend.

    Toni Roberts

    1. Great idea, Toni! The cost of shipping here can be prohibitive. The e-Book version of Jamie’s Muse should be available SOON, I’m told. That’ll be another affordable option.

  6. I recently had a conversation with a friend about why some people crave travel and adventure and others just want to stay at home. My conclusion is that we are born with a certain nature and spirit – and perhaps Helen’s nature drew her to travel and adventure. She perhaps was a very curious person who wanted to experience life in different ways than the folks she left behind. You portray her as such in her book. And I think you may be the same. I’m sure Helen would be thrilled that your book is with the folks she left behind. Helaine

    1. Yes, Helaine, I think you’re right. And I feel I do share Helen’s love for “parts unknown.” So glad to learn you read the book. Care to do a brief Amazon review of it? That would be wonderful!

        1. Hi, Helaine — Do you use the name Elena Furst for your Amazon reviews? If so, this is why I didn’t realize the review from her was actually from you! Sorry for the confusion.

  7. So sweet to feel you have accomplished your work and your Book is a reality after so many years. Hugs

  8. Dear Bonnie,
    Welcome back from your trip. You have been on my mind since you left for Scotland. I think you had a fulfilling experience. This was an affecting post. It’s as if your trip provided you a new forward and epilogue. Has it made you feel or did you already feel that your own life is the epilogue to Helen’s story? This book is an adventure for you in so many ways. I suspect it will continue to be so.
    What will be your next project? I think you are in a creative part of life that flourishes out of experience.

    1. Dearest Paul — What a fascinating thought — that my own life is the epilogue to Helen’s story. You may well be right! I hope to get such answers in the Great Bye and Bye… As for my next project, I can’t think much beyond recovering from major jet lag right now. Traveling is so exhausting, but (as you point out) also fulfilling. — xx

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