Sandra of Kirriemuir, Ten Years On

In the summer of 2011, when I was feverishly researching my Scottish great-grandmother’s story for a historical novel I was writing based on her short yet dramatic life, I decided to go directly to the source — first, to the General Register Office on Princes Street in Edinburgh for solid documentation; then, with copies of those old birth, marriage, and census documents in hand, to the place my Scottish ancestors called home.

So one sunny morning on that fateful trip to Scotland, alone and operating only on faith, I took a train from Edinburgh’s crowded Waverly Station north to Dundee, then a bus to Forfar, then another bus to my destination: Kirriemuir, a lovely little village of winding, narrow roads and shoulder-to-shoulder red sandstone weavers’ cottages, unchanged since my great-grandmother’s day in the 1860s.

As fate would have it, with only a few timid inquiries on my part and generous help from   kind locals, I was soon put in touch with the perfect person to aid me in my quest – Sandra Affleck, the town’s foremost historian and author of three books on Kirriemuir and its most famous son, Sir James Matthew Barrie, author of Peter Pan. 

On that afternoon Sandra dropped whatever she was doing to take me, a complete stranger and foreigner, on a long walking tour of the neighborhood where my great-grandmother, Helen Reid David; her husband-to-be, William Black; and their schoolmate, and no doubt childhood friend, James (“Jamie”) Barrie, once lived.

As we walked the hamlet’s sidewalks side by side, I felt a strong kinship with Sandra, a grandmother, retired primary school teacher, writer, and J.M. Barrie scholar, who, with her supportive husband David had raised a family in Kirriemuir and knew the territory well.

That evening, when Sandra drove me back to my hotel, I asked her one last question: “Do you think it’s crazy of me to need to walk where my great-grandmother walked – and to feel that her spirit is guiding me on this journey?”

“I don’t think it’s crazy at all!” Sandra insisted. “You must follow your heart.”

In the following months, which grew into years, Sandra cheered me on as I wrote and ultimately published my historical novel, Jamie’s Muse (Nighthawk Press, 2018), based on my great-grandmother Helen’s story. Sandra became for me every writer’s dream, a stalwart alter ego, ever ready to review drafts, encourage, and applaud. In our frequent e-mail correspondence over the years, she has referred to herself as my “Sister Across the Sea.”

So when I began my WOW blogpost in 2014, I knew I had to interview my role model Sandra, who was then seventy-one. When I asked her in that interview one of my standard questions — what she found to be some of the advantages of advanced age — she shared these wise thoughts:

“Experience of life and people — having seen some things before and having learned how to deal better with them. Realizing more clearly what is important and what not so. Knowing that material wealth is an empty objective and that good reciprocal relationships with the people around you matter more than anything. Learning not to take one’s good health for granted but appreciating it daily.”

And when I asked her what sustained her, she was quick to reply: “Coffee, chocolate, and my husband! Oh, and in J.M. Barrie’s words, ‘A certain determination about not being beaten.’”

(For the full interview, go to:

I saw Sandra again in the summer of 2018, right after Jamie’s Muse was published, when I did a series of readings from the book in Kirriemuir. Sandra’s beloved husband, David, had just died, and she was in mourning. But she did the kindest thing: She interred a copy of Jamie’s Muse (in a Ziplock bag) with David’s casket when he was buried in Kirriemuir’s Hill Cemetery – because my great-grandparents Helen and William Black had emigrated to South Africa in their twenties and mysteriously died there without a trace. They never returned to Kirriemuir to be buried with their fellow townsfolk. My book, Sandra knew, was a way of bringing them home.

It’s been ten years since that first WOW interview with Sandra, so I asked her recently in an e-mail for her thoughts on the subject of aging, now that she’s eighty-one.

Sandra at a recent birthday tea

Here, in her own words, is what Sandra had to share:

“So many people of my vintage are incapacitated in one way or another, not least through dementia, I feel it is almost my duty to live my life as fully as I can, if only because they can’t.

“In this last decade both my sister and I were widowed and have had to learn to live again. You have to believe that your life still matters and then you have to make it matter. To have had our own interests, activities and social circles previous to solitude proved great scaffolding for us both.

“Music, singing, acting, writing, public speaking and a sense of humour have been great blessings all my life. Fortunately, opportunities exist in my community to continue with these and I have benefited from them all hugely. It gives me great joy occasionally to make other people laugh as well as give them a hug when they need it.

“But I have been blessed with relatively good health. The mechanics of my body could do with lubrication but I have as yet been spared any serious illness.

“If Covid taught me anything it was how valuable social contact and laughter are. So I fend off decrepitude by smiling!”

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ 

NOTE: In last week’s post, “Ten Years,” I mentioned I’d be terminating my weekly WOW blog in May. I’ve since arranged with the blog’s host company to keep  past posts alive and available to readers, as well as keep open the possibility of my writing a new blogpost from time to time. The link to use to get to my posts now is: (scroll down to “Search the Archives”).

32 thoughts on “Sandra of Kirriemuir, Ten Years On”

  1. You don’t know me but I feel you are a friend! I stumbled on your blog a few years ago and have enjoyed your posts so very much!
    Your writing talent, curiosity, and self reliance have been a joy to experience.
    Thank you ! I own your books and have grown from reading and rereading!
    Wish you were a neighbor! Best luck, health, adventures!
    Shari Lillestolen

      1. Bonnie
        Your columns are so inspirational and
        just delightful too. You sure deserve some time off I Iive in NYC and San Miguel. Would love to treat you to lunch , if you have time.
        Judy Hadlock

  2. That trip to Scotland must have been fabulous, la Bonnie! Wasn’t it there when someone asked you if you were J K Rowling? Sandra looks great, and I bet that the tea and the cookies and finger sandwiches were lovely too! Muakisses, and thank you for keeping the blog open!

  3. Great post, as usual. Since I only discovered you recently, I’m going to enjoy your older posts.

  4. What a wonderful thing to do! To visit where your great-grandmother lived. My great-grandparents came from Ireland and England. I wish I had had the insight to do the same. At this age I know my body couldn’t take the trip.

  5. With great respect and even greater sadness, the thought of this blog ending makes me both thankful for how much it has brought to my life, and so wishing it could continue forever. Thank you

  6. Dear Bonnie – Thank you for a wonderful ride. I discovered you in early 2020 as I was preparing to move to SMA. I couldn’t wait to meet you. You were my best, albeit only, friend in San Miguel. You were a beacon of bravery, hope, and encouragement. I never made the move. COVID mixed with cold feet. Still looking for the place to spend this (next/last?) chapter, but you’ve been a great example and I’m grateful. From hummingbirds to Stan at Abba House to your books and incredible book suggestions, I’ve learned and enjoyed so much because of you. The Soul of Woman and At Peace are two books I’ve gifted again and again. I own your tart book! I could go on and on. I just want you to know how happy and grateful I am that I stumbled upon WOW. My very best wishes for your next endeavor and continued good health.

    1. Dear Joanne — Your words have given me goosebumps this morning (to say nothing of teary eyes). Thank you so much for taking the time to write to me. I appreciate it deeply. Best wishes to YOU as you proceed into your own next chapter. Courage! — BB xx

  7. Dear Bonnie, Thank you for all the wise words you have given to me. To know that I will, occasionally, see your name pop up in my email makes me very happy. I have read a few of your books, but not the one based on your Scottish heritage. I will order it now. Thanks again for keeping my dreams alive as I live vicariously through your writing.

  8. OMG Bonnie! I LOVE Sandra. Fighting off decrepitude by smiling! Her values are what make her special, too. Recognizing what’s really important. The experience that COVID brought with it highlighted how important social contacts are. She looks wonderful. So beautiful as well. Her eyes are jewels!
    What a remarkable experience you had with your research. To find such help and to be able to walk along the paths of your ancestors. A lot of people would wish to do something like that, but never have the courage to undertake it. People forget that we only get one life and how quickly that life moves on! Your soul understood this even if you didn’t consciously verbalise it.
    Thank you for this posting, and blessings for your Easter.

    1. Yes, dear Loula, I love her too! She’s a remarkable woman, and I’m so grateful to have met her. Thank you, as ever, for your lovely words. I’ll pass them on to Sandra. — BB xx

  9. Bonnie, this was so lovely and encouraging. It is difficult to experience the physical and mental difficulties of aging, but this article reminds me that there is still so much joy and wonder in my life. Please don’t stop publishing these uplifting articles. They remind me to practice gratitude

  10. Dear BB,
    What a lovely, nourishing visit to your ancestral village and meeting with Sandra, a keystone figure if there ever was one! So great to read it and share it with you again!! What a far-reaching network of readers and kindred souls your blog has created! Thank you!

  11. It seems to me that Sandra is just the kind of woman you hoped to profile to inspire your readers in their later years. The WOW Factor has had its share, but Sandra stands out. Her humor and lightheartedness complement perfectly her determination to live a life with meaning. She has been a treasure to you personally, I know. xoxo

  12. I’m fighting decrepitud each day with a smile! Why not? I live in the magical world of San Miguel where connections abound—through mutual interests, volunteerism and shared histories—like meeting in a NJ school in the 50s.

  13. Dear Bon,
    What a lovely tribute to your friend Sandra. I admire her hearty Scots spirit and determination to live every day to the fullest.

  14. Dear Bon,
    I hit the Comment button by accident and didn’t finish my message. You also have that same strong spirit. It must be in your DNA. Thank you for this wonderful portrait of a woman your great-grandmother was able to introduce you to.

    1. Ah, Paul dear, you’re so right — I felt Helen’s hand guiding me throughout my (long!) journey to tell her story. Helen’s spirit was quite the task master, I must say. Talk about stubborn Scots! 🙂

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.