Back in the mid 1960’s, I met Maggi, my first real girlfriend, my first love, and as it turned out, my first & only wife.
Maggi and I lived in opposing gang territories, on opposing sides of the Edinburgh Road, in Glasgow’s east End, and this meant me walking her home into Barlanark, Bar-L gang territory, dropping her off at her house, and then running like a banshee back home, sometimes pursued by the Bar-L boys, and, at other times, hotly pursued by the Torran Toi, the Easterhouse based gang from my own side of the divide, who fiercely objected to anyone crossing into their territory from Barlanark, even if you actually were an Easterhouse resident going home.
Ah … the scary days of my youth.
There was, however, something that scared me even more.
Every night, I would say goodnight to Maggi on the doorstep of her house, and after a few quick kisses and cuddles, a thunderous roar would emanate from the hallway beyond the partially open front door of her house, as her dad shouted her name:
We’d venture another few minutes of snogging.
”Maaaaaaaaarggaaaaaaaaaaaaret!” … even louder, and more annoyed.
Just one, more quick cuddle.
By the third shout, and the addition of her second name, and the sound of thumping footsteps coming down the hallway, I knew that Maggi’s terrifyingly ferocious-sounding dad meant business. Maggi would quickly rush indoors, and I would quickly scarper … hotfooting through the awaiting gauntlet of rival gangs.
This ritual continued for some months until Maggi eventually announced that I’d been invited, by her dad, to join the regular, Friday night playing-card session that was a tradition in her family.
I was petrified
When I went to Maggi’s door that night, she greeted me, and with great trepidation I entered the lion’s den … to be confronted by this stocky, wee, baldy man, who barely came up to my chin, and who was as nice as nice could be … and absolutely nothing like the ferocious ogre I’d imagined for months and months.
And that’s how I first met my father-in-law, Eddie Coyle.
Eddie was a very strict dad, so I’m told, … raising seven kids in Glasgow’s East End meant you had to be tough, I reckon … but to me he was never anything but kind, friendly, humorous, and an absolute gentleman of the old-school, and the fact that his all of sons and daughters were a tight-knit, courteous, well-behaved, loving and well-educated bunch proved that he, and his wife Elizabeth, must’ve been doing something right.
Eddie spent his working life as a moulder in the Parkhead Forge. A hard, dirty, unhealthy and backbreaking job, by all accounts. Many of his generation succumbed to the disgraceful and dangerous work conditions of that place, but Eddie managed to survive it all, and eventually retired, living still in Barlanark, and still with his family around him, especially on those family card nights, which continued unabated throughout the years.
This morning, Eddie passed away, at 91 years of age, in Glasgow’s Royal Infirmary, due to pneumonia.
To reach that age is surely an astonishing achievement for any man of his generation, coming from a poor working-class background, who had worked at such a health-destroying, and dangerous job for his entire working life.
Eddie came from a very conservative, Catholic background, and knew that I was an atheist, hippy, arty-farty nutter who had stolen his wee lassie away from everything he’d raised her to be … but he never gave me anything but love and respect, and I never felt anything but the same for him in return.
He took me into his family, and treated me like a son.
On nearly every occasion that we met, he’d ask how I was doing, what I was up to, how my career as an artist or comedian was going … a lifestyle of daft haircuts and outlandish clothes, totally at odds with all he knew … and when I regaled him with my latest tales, and jokes, and stories, he’d always give me a wee smile, pull me to one side, and ask me, gently:
“Aye, son … that’s smashing … but tell me … Are you and Margaret happy?”
”We certainly are, Eddie … we’re very lucky … we love each other very much” I’d reply.
”Well son, that’s all that matters. Good on you both.” He’d say, with a smile, and give my hand a wee squeeze.
Every time, for over forty years and more.
Every time that I saw Eddie, he’d ask that same question.
”Are you and Margaret happy? … that’s all that really matters”
Well, today we’re not happy … we’re sad, Eddie … so sad to see you pass … but happy in knowing that you went peacefully, and after a long, full life, loved by all those around you.
The one thing that Eddie was most proud of was his family, and the walls & sideboards of his house bore testament to that, as they are gloriously festooned with countless framed portraits of his proudest achievement … his weans, and his wean’s weans, and his wean’s wean’s weans … and today, they all miss him terribly and sadly regret his passing.
And as one of his adopted weans, so do I.
Eddie always had a wry sense of humour, and a wee cheeky twinkle, even in his later years when infirmity and illness beset him. I was told today that as they took him into the ambulance last night, the paramedic asked him if he was in pain.
”No, but I can certainly be a pain” he gamely replied, still with that twinkle
That’s ma man!!
Goodbye Eddie … you were truly a fine man to know, and love.
Eddie Coyle RIP