The Dying Art of Good Stacking

The realisation that people in one’s family are mortal – Voiced by the eight-year-old Janet, 1918

(Extracted from My Friends the Miss Boyds by Jane Duncan)

Along the gable of the barn were nine front stacks and woven into the thatch of each stack in dark-green broom, which showed black in the moonlight, was a letter, so that the front row of stacks spelled “Poyntdale”.

“Who did it?” some man’s voice asked.

“Duncan Reachfar, the grieve,” said Sir Torquil. “He and his brother and Tom, their man, are the only men left about here that I know who can do it now. Old Reachfar taught them. But the very art of good stacking is dying out. That’s only the finishing touch to a high-class job, but it’s bonnie.”

I thought Sir Torquil’s voice was unduly sad when he said that only the men of my family, in our district, could thatch and mark his stacks like that, for what was he worrying about? Even if my father got sick (a thing I had never known to happen) at harvest-time, Tom or George would come down and thatch his stacks for him, for it was impossible that they could all be sick at once. “Dying out,” he had said. Dying. Did he mean that when my father, George and Tom died there would be nobody left who could –? But that was not possible! These men were not mortal! They had always been there, they were never sick, people like a person’s father and a person’s friends did not die! Only old, old people died – people like old Granny Macintosh, maybe….But everyone was getting older all the time. Even I was Big Enough now to come to the Harvest Home! And if I was a year older, my father was a year older, everybody was a year older than last year – a year more like old Granny Macintosh….

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