Miriam (Junkins) Proulx Goes to Brechin

From JFA newsletter no. 10, July 1995

Miriam (Junkins) Proulx expresses her thoughts and feelings about a short visit she had on September 24, 1994 in Brechin, Scotland with the Reverend Mackenzie at the Brechin Cathedral. Miriam traveled to Great Britain by herself, rented a car and went visiting. She wanted to see Brechin where the Junkins side of the family came from and also the area where her mother's Robertson family came from.

"I came in on a nice country road that looked exactly like Pennsylvania, beautiful, both sides of the road. Oh boy, I was thinking, I'm way out in the country, this is going to be a little village. Forget it, its a good size town with little narrow streets. And there's other churches there too, besides the Cathedral. You're going to love it, oh boy, you're going to love it.

"When you come in the outskirts of town it looks like any other ordinary, lets say little British town, like where I took that picture of that sign of Brechin, I thought..boy I'm all set. Because on the map it looks small. It is not, because when you get in there it is not. And when you come into the town and start getting down to where the stores and things are, it really narrows down and its a lot of down hills and up hills, and this way and that and one way streets. I went around and around and around trying to get into the Cathedral. The parking lot… nothing. Finally I stopped at a woman's house and she helped me to get into this narrow street, very narrow street. It was no wider than somebodies driveway. And if anybody was coming the other way I don't know what I would have done.

Luckily there was a gate in the wall right through the cemetery…

I started out and ended up the next street over on what I thought was a dead-end, but it wasn't. There was a wall there and the Cathedral and luckily there was a gate in the wall right through the cemetery. It's an area you want to explore anyway. An then I went in there and then into the Cathedral and there was a lady arraigning the flowers. She told me where the parish house was. But that's away from the church. Down the street. For somebody with good legs it's no problem, but for me it was bad. I walked down the hill and its on the right hand side. But he (Reverend Mackenzie) was very good, God bless him. I left the car where it was, so by the time I got to his place I was about to croak. And then he asked, 'where did you park' and I said I'm over there on the other side of the gate. And they couldn't figure out where I was, and I kept saying on the dead-end street. Come to find out it wasn't a dead-end street, but you couldn't have turned around. It ended up when I left there, he came out and he got into my car and got me out of there and backed it into another street and he parked in right on the grounds of the Cathedral where you weren't supposed to go.

"But the streets of Brechin, you wanted to go in and out the stores. It killed me that I couldn't. I couldn't find a place to park. And then as I said it's all up and down, but these narrow, narrow streets! The place is like…to me it's like going back in time. It's not like England, it's different that the English towns that I was in. Even the stores look different, things look different there. But very, very quaint, but you know, the way the stores and the roads twist and turn and down and up, you can tell from the old alleyways it's from way back in ancient times.

"Most of the Cathedrals that you go in are very impersonal. This place..this church is what I would call a spirit filled church. When you come in those doors, even though it's fairly good size, it's not big big, there's just a warmth, at least I felt that way. I don't know whether I was just being sentimental because I knew that Robert Junkins had gone through those doors three hundred years ago or what, but there's just something in that church. Maye it is what you call a spirit filled church. It's a goodness of spirituality that you don't find in all churches. Have you ever felt that, when you go into a church? Well this place has it.

And talk about a spirit filled man…

"Reverend Mackenzie, oh wait till you meet him, oh he is wonderful. Kindness and decency, a man that should be, definitely should be, a clergyman. Everything about him is kind. That's all I can think. Very soft spoken, patient and a nice, nice person. When you talk with him he's the kind of person that I could spend an entire day with. He is brilliant and completely unassuming. Very gentle, very quiet, but the knowledge he has. He told me some things about my Robertson clan that I didn't know anything about. And the Robertson's are connected indirectly with that church also, going way back on my mother's family tree. I was amazed. Does that man know his history! His wife was there. They had me come in and brought the girls out and I met his family.

They were very nice people.

"We had coffee and sat and talked a while. The little girls were over seas on that student exchange program, and they had just come home and we were talking about that and then we were talking about New Hampshire and he asked the girls, do you know where New Hampshire is? And then he said you know that New Hampshire is the first state in America that votes, and he named the small town in New Hampshire. I would have liked to stay longer but I had my reservation for that night farther on so I had to leave. I had another nice experience there. When I went into the church, this is another lovely thing that happened. I came through the cemetery, that was before I met Reverend Mackenzie, and came to the church and I could hear organ music. It was beautiful organ music. And I went in and there wasn't a soul in the place, I thought, and I could hear this beautiful music coming, wait till you see the organ loft, how different it is, its coming from way up on the right hand side. So…I listened, you know it was beautiful, and then I saw the lady fixing the flowers. On the way going out on the left hand side there was a table like, and there was Sunday service papers and notices. There was a brochure, and there was a picture of a heavy set man with a beard right on the front, and it was in reference to an organ concert they were going to have there, so I just looked at it. Didn't think that much about it, he is German or Austrian. I went down to the parish house, had lunch and all that and then we came back up to the church and while he was showing me around the church, this man walked in with another man that was able to speak English for him. Come to find out he's a world famous organist. He was playing that one night at the Cathedral. He's come over to America and he was going to play in Salt Lake City and I believe at the Lincoln Center, cause I saw the thing at the time on TV about it, and then it was on the news that this man was there. And then I met him. I tried to talk to him through his interpreter a little bit.

That's all the time I had…

"Another thing he showed me in the church, up near the front. As I was over taking a picture of one of the stained glass windows, I thought, of all of them, this one drew my eye, it was so fantastic. He said this is my favorite window. Do you know who it is by? It's a William Morris. Do you know they make wall paper prints, scarf prints. His prints are in the Christmas catalog from the Museum of Fine Arts in New York, The William Morris Company.

"He showed me and told me about Victoria's time, Queen Victoria. She made them change the inside of the church all over so it looked entirely different. It was all straw in the middle of that church with no benches or anything there.

"I didn't see any of the Brechin Castle. I was only there about four hours, that's all the time I had.

"I would love to just spend a couple days around there, and I missed it."

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