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Reflections of an Abused Quarrier's Child

I've had many memories of Quarrier's over the years and the happy ones came easily. Being punished for some infraction by being made to sift dross from coal in the coal cellar and turning it into a game by blacking all the kids and playing Ten Little N***** Boys; playing jump rope in the gravel, lying in the park with my best friend daydreaming, playing conkers when the chestnuts fell, catching tadpoles in the pond; sneaking out our Sunday shoes to wear to school, pouring water on the Storkie on a winter night so that we'd have a slide in the morning, having snowball fights and sledding down the Elise Brae, rolling our stockings down round our ankles so that they looked like socks rather than ugly, thick lisle stockings; sitting the wee ones on the big polisher and giving them a ride while we were polishing what seemed like acres of linoleum, Christmases when I believed in Santa Claus 100%, the Christmas Day church services, rounders in the park, getting tar on my feet on a hot summer day, having a crush on a boy at school, going to the beach at Troon or Seamill, swiping cocoa and sugar and hiding it in the pockets of our navy blue gym knickers to eat later.

The bad memories start to flow when you let one in. The floodgates open and you remember being locked in the kitchen back lobby all night when I was eight years old with the hundreds of cockroaches that infested Cottage 11. All for the dreadful sin of doing a headstand on the bed clad only in a nightie. Hearing your sister scream when she was locked in the shed and forgotten one night and having to watch her get the strap many times. Peeling potatoes for 15+ people when it was so cold the water was freezing over as you worked, then having to peel the peelings because you cut them too thick and on one occasion, having them dumped on your head for being impudent. Being made to polish wet shoes and being sent back again and again because they didn't shine. Memories of work from the age of five. Before breakfast, all beds had to be made, everything dusted and linoleum floors polished and after breakfast, all dishes washed and the diningroom cleaned and floor polished, all before school. Scrubbing concrete floors on hands and knees, then having to do it again because she wasn't happy. Washing clothes in the bathtubs well into the evening. Cleaning out the midden. Then, of couse, it was the job of someone to clean the housemother's bedroom, bathroom and sittingroom. God forbid she break a fingernail. In Cottage 11 at least, the children did all the work in that huge house until 1956 when Quarrier's started allowing cleaners from outside to come in and do the heavy work. Then there was always the strap...the strap for talking in line for school, the strap for talking in line for meals, the strap for talking in line for bed, the strap for talking in bed. Sometimes it seemed that we got the strap for breathing. We lived in a constant state of fear and only relaxed when we escaped from the house or when the housemother went out.

My sister and I entered Quarrier's sometime in 1946 and my first memory is someone trying to cut our plaits. I remember screaming and holding onto them and having them cut just above my hands. I still see my hands holding pigtails with blue ribbons. We had three house mothers in eleven years. First was Mrs. B. What I remember about her is getting the strap for the least little thing. If you hiccuped, you got the strap. I remember Mollie D. trying to comb her hair in the bathroom and screaming in pure agony. Others who saw what happened can tell what they remember about Mollie's injury. I remember Mrs. B's last words to me when I was ten years old, the day she left for good, "Goodbye Kirsten and I hope you'll be a better girl than you have been". I wept for an entire day.

Next came Miss A. What can be said about Miss A? Her first act was to line us up and inform us that we had to call her Mummy. The word stuck in my throat and I could only call her Mmm. Yes Mmm! No Mmm! Each time I did it, I got the strap so I learned to try to talk to her face to face so that I didn't have to call her anything. What do you say about a woman who put the wrong end of the strap into the side of a burning coal fire so that it would get hard for the sole purpose of making our punishment all the more severe. It did! The strap got black and as hard as a rock and this is what we were punished with. All of us under her care had raised black and blue welts on some part of our bodies almost all the time. Some of us could take it better than others. What was unbearable was seeing a child, Georgina C, a four year old getting the strap on the bottom on almost a daily basis with this evil piece of apparatus for wetting the bed. Or her three year old sister Sheila C getting the same punishment for supposedly tearing a phone book. Or four year old Janice H getting beaten up every stair, then beaten on the landing all the way to her bed. Or being in a sound sleep when she came home from her day off and being roused to come downstairs to line up to get the strap for some misbehavior or other while she was away. Or getting more that 50 of the strap at once for not reporting to her sitting room to get the strap. For every hour I didn't go, she added six more, six of the best, they used to call it. I could go on and on but unless you experienced this treatment, there is no way to make anyone comprehend and it becomes mind numbing after a while. Miss A was fired eventually for abuse and there should be some paperwork on file somewhere. All the wee ones we had to watch being beaten by so-called Christians are among the reasons I haven't been able to set foot in a church since I left Quarrier's.

Then came Miss P. A rather sad woman who wasn't as bad as the other two, which isn't saying much but who delighted in using her fists instead of the strap and specialized in mental abuse. Like the time a little girl named Janice fell into the pond. I was supposed to go to the park with the kids but Miss P had kept me back to do something or other. By the time I got to the park, Janice had fallen into the pond and was lying on the bottom. I went in and got her out and she was OK, but when I was dressing her for bed that night, Miss P told me that I was lucky I was dressing her for bed and not for her funeral. What an awful thing to say to a 14 year old.

My sister and I left after eleven years, on a beautiful early summer day in June and I remember standing at the gate, with a lump in my throat the size of my fist, determined not to cry, thinking that I was never ever going to let anyone hit me ever again...and I haven't. I make no claim to being an angel, only a fairly normal, intelligent, high spirited child.

I want to thank all the good care givers who did care about the children they were entrusted with. I wish I'd known you. Also the teachers, John MacInnes (Tarzan), Ernie Brown, Mr. McLaughlin (Friar Tuck), Paul McInnes, who helped make things bearable by showing genuine kindness. And most of all, to all the children who were with me and my sister Jacqueline at one time or another in Cottage 11, then Cottage 8 between 1946 and 1957, and to all the children who were in my class at school, or who were my playmates, you, more than anything made life bearable. I don't remember ever being bullied by another child or bullying anyone and for that I'll be everlastingly grateful.

To the house mothers (I use that word lightly) who were wardens of Cottage 11 till 1956 and Cottage 8 till June 1957, Hitler would have been proud of you. You were experts at mental and physical abuse.

Those instances of abuse I've cited are just a few of those I remember. They happened!

Chris (Christine Coutts) Miller

Mount Zion Church
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