The Tattie Howkin
by: Munro, Mary
October brocht snell wins doon the valley frae Lochnagar, wi its first fite bonnet o snaw on, an thochts turned tae the time change wi its langer dark, an Halloween cairry-ons. Afore that tho, in mid October, ye got yer tattie holidays frae the squeel. Thon tattie pickin money wis real handy, for it wis gweed wages for thae days, an it helpit mam tae claith ye for the winter ahead. She wis gled o yer tattie money tae get yer trench coat wi the hood, an a pair o warm ,fleecy winter beets tae keep yer feet happit frae the frosts o winter. There wis files some siller left for ye tae get a book or ither sma trock, bit nae a lot.Tattie pickin wis hard labour, bit ye didna moan for ye were young an swack an ye hid some fun tae.
Wird got roon bi wird o moo fa wis lookin for pickers. Ye raked oot auld claes an wellies, an dressed like tinks, ye aa collected at The Plantin by the brig. Seen, the fairmer mannie wid trundle up wi his tractor an cairt. Wi a lot o caperin an lauchin ye piled in tae sit amun the mucky strae in the cairt, an aff ye went tae the park. Files it wisna far, maybe jist the Hame Fairm parks doon the Tullich road, or up the Muick road a gweed bit. Ye aa shoggled an sweyed yer wey up the road as if ye were awa for a day oot. That feelin seen disappeared aince ye were dumpit at the tattie park. The shaws, deid an withered noo seemed tae stretch for miles afore yer een, an aabody kin o sobered up a bit at the thocht o the coorse work in front o ye.
The nearest dreels hid aa been marked aff aforehaun wi sticks or flaggies, an the tattie squad wis laid oot across the dreels. Ye aa hid yer ain bittie an there wis nae hingin aboot . The tattie digger wid ging chargin up an doon the deed shaws, turnin ower the tatties frae their broon earthy beds. Aince past, ye hid tae pick like mad, heids doon, hauns dirlin files in the cauld, as the fairmer chiels were aye ragie auld billies an ye got a gweed sweirin at gin ye werena finished or hidna picket 'clean'.
If the weather wis bricht an dry ye fairly birled on, bit files it wis weety an clorty an yer hauns, even wi yer gloves on, stuck tae the glaur an weighed ye doon sae much that gettin a haud o a weet tattie wis a real job. As the oors wore on, ye got the hang o it an ye hid a wee file tae sit on yer baskety afore ye were aff again at a lick.
Fan the fairmer hid his back tae ye on the digger ye files hid a bit o a caper or twa, chuckin a rotten tattie at the loons nearhaun, bit heaven help ye if the mannie spotted ye.
I jist myne aince o seein a loon sent hame. This ill tricket loon moved his tattie flaggie a few inches ilkie time, tae makk his bit littler... an the neist body's bit got bigger. He should hae been content wi a wee bittie, bit he got ower greedy, an as time went on, he'd moved it that muckle that the peer geet in the langer bit wis niver gettin his tatties picked afore the digger cam roon again. The fairmer wisna a feel aathegither, an ae gweed look at the dreel lat him ken fat wis gaun on.
'Dae ye think I cam up the Dee in a boatie?' he yelled, as he jumped an sweired in the dubby dreels. Then he took the loon by the scruff o the neck an mairched him aff the park. That wis the end o his tattie pickin at that fairm, bit we bore the brunt o it tae, as we aa hid a bit mair tae dee tae makk up for the loss o the loon's hauns.
As the oors ticked awa, ye felt yer back, wi aa the booin an liftin, an richt gled we were fan the whistle blew for yer denner.Maist times ye hid a piece an a flask an ye jist sat in the lee o the dyke. Wi nae watter tae wash yer clarty hauns, ye files hid gey grubby sheaves o loaf, bit it still tasted fine, even wi bits o dubby earth on it. Ane or twa fairmers wad gie ye yer denner. That wis a real treat!..Hame made broth, or mince an tatties wi maybe a clootie dumplin tae follow, aa laid oot on the trestle table in the hay -sweet barn, oot o the cauld wins. Ye fair thocht it wis great, bit nae mony o the fairmers' wives could be bothered wi aa the trauchle, so it wis mair aften than nae jist a piece by the dyke.
By the time the hame whistle went, aabody wis fair founert, so wi sair backs, fool claes, an clarty beets, ye jist piled intae the cairt for hame time. Mam aye made ye tak aa yer dubby claes aff in the front porch. Aifter a gweed scrub at the kitchen sink, an yer wame fu wi yer supper, ye were richt as rain, except for a stoun or twa in the sma o yer back fan ye bent oer. Come neist day ye were up at the crack o dawn an awa again.
Hard work it wis withoot a doot, bit the days at the tatties were somethin ye lookit forrit till. There wis thon warm feelin o earnin some money tae help mam buy yer winter claes, an we hid lots o lauchs amun the dreels. Ye hardly iver see a park o bairns strung oot alang the dreels, as it's near aa deen by mechanical tattie harvesters noo. That's progress for ye I suppose. Bit I'm gled I hid my days aince a year, clartin aboot amun the tatties!