Gatehouse’s Doreen Storey takes a trip down memory lane in Galloway People

There’s a condor feather high on the wall above my head as I walk into Doreen Storey’s living room, where the log burning stove is blazing.

In the other three corners, in order, are images of a serpent, a jaguar and a humming bird.

I have seen these creatures depicted together before, often in weird and wonderful stylised form.

They comprise the four spirit animals sacred to the native Americans of Peru, who believe they hold special spiritual energy for those humans who seek it.

I notice a beautifully crafted hand drum on the chair next to me, its wafer-thin skin stretched taut across the round wooden frame.

“I have three in all and they took me three years of work,” Doreen tells me over a kindly proffered dram.

“The drums were made in a group with ceremony and led by a shamanic practitioner, who’s Polish.”

It’s not the most conventional opening to an interview I’ve ever had – but then there’s nothing much conventional about Doreen Storey.

For a start, she’s approaching her 78th birthday yet looks at least ten years younger.

Also notable is a zest for life which shines through in the open way in which she tells her story.

That journey, I learn, began courtesy of a wartime relationship between her mother, Milly Barbara Miller – real name was Goldberg – and a married army officer.

“She had been in the army since 1939, worked mostly in the ops room, plotting the movement of German aircraft on the big table map,” she tells me.

“She spent most of her time in the south of England and the story my mother told me was that my father was a sergeant major, and they were together.

Doreen’s mother Milly, pictured during the war

“He said he was going to marry her but he was married with three children.

“My mother said I was probably conceived around the time of the D-Day landings.

“The moment her pregnancy became known she was drummed out of the forces.

“She had me on January 23, 1945, in Simpson’s Maternity Hospital in Edinburgh.

“She was a single mother and the family was not supportive – but my mum was 25 years old and there was no way she was going to part with me.”

Milly recorded her true surname of Goldberg on Doreen’s birth certificate but took the name Miller, her mother Agnes’s maiden name.

“My mum brought me up as a good Presbyterian,” Doreen chuckles.

“She became housekeeper to husband and wife doctors in Pollokshields in Glasgow, Dr James Alexander Imrie and Dr Mary Moffat.

“We lived in and I remember that house as a tiny child.

“I thought it was great – the doctors had a little boy David who was six months younger than me. I was brought up alongside their son as a child of the house.

“My mum was extremely clever – she realised being brought up in a doctors’ house would be good for my education – she wisnae daft!

“Dr Imrie was the chief Glasgow Police surgeon and a forensic specialist and I remember seeing his lab when I was a wee girl.

“I called them daddy Imrie and mummy Moffat – having two mothers was great fun and I learned a lot from both of them.”

Their home, Doreen recalls, was full of antiques and beautiful artefacts.

But the richness of her surroundings went far beyond material things.

“Every evening after we had our bath David and I were read to,” she says, smiling at the memory.

“We had little chairs specially made to sit in and listen and Dr Imrie would read to us.

“We got everything from the classics, Treasure Island and Kidnapped to poetry and Greek mythology – it was amazing.

“Also, Dr Moffat sang in the Orpheus Choir, was a beautiful pianist, kept an extremely good larder and sewed and knitted for all of us.

“And they had a car, which was almost unheard of in late 1940s Glasgow.”

I ask Doreen about her Jewish heritage of which she knew nothing, I learn, until as a girl of seven she took a wrong turn in a Govan tenement.

Her grandparents Agnes and Maurice Goldberg – himself, I soon discover, with quite a story behind him – lived on the top floor.

Maurice Goldberg, Doreen's grandfather, pictured on the Waverley paddle steamer going 'doon the watter' to Tighnabruich in the 1940s
Maurice Goldberg, Doreen’s grandfather, pictured on the Waverley paddle steamer going ‘doon the watter’ to Tighnabruich in the 1940s

“When I was a wee girl I would always go to my granny’s on Sundays with my mum on the tram,” she smiles.

“My grandparents stayed in Govan on Merryland Street, which no longer exists. It was near Fairfield’s shipyard,

“I had been out playing and went down the close to go back up the stairs to my granny’s. But I stopped on the wrong landing and went into the wrong house and this room full of people I did not know.

“Who are you looking for hen?’ I was asked.

“The man sitting in the chair beside the range looked at me and said “Och, it’s the wee Jewish lassie fae up the stair.’

“I had never heard that before.

“I was being brought up Church of Scotland, maybe because my mother wanted to conform with the doctors.

“For some reason I knew not to tell her what that man said but I did not know why.

“That was the first time I thought ‘I wonder what Jewish means?’

“The thing that more than anything comes back to me is that I was brought up with no real knowledge of what Judaism is all about.

“It still has a deep resonance within me.

“Granny had a mezuzah fixed on the doorpost – a tiny figured brass case maybe three inches long by half an inch wide – which had the Torah in miniature placed inside.

“The Torah is the first five books of the Bible – Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy, which are the same in the Hebrew and Christian versions.

“The tradition is that you touch the mezuzah as you enter and again when you leave, blessing the house and those within it both ways.

“Back then I did not know what it was – but I know now.”

Maurice, Doreen’s Jewish grandpa “up the stair”, I learn, had fought on the Somme in 1916.

Doreen's grandparents Mr and Mrs Alexander Miller, pictured in Partick
Doreen’s grandparents Mr and Mrs Alexander Miller, pictured in Partick

Part of his arm was blown away – but back in Glasgow his financial wounds were self-inflicted.

“Maurice was a gambler and lost all his money,” Doreen tells me.

“When he went off to war in 1914 he and my granny had lived in Garnethill.

“It was a nice house and they were very proud of it.

“But by the time I came along they were in a Govan tenement flat with seven children and not well heeled.

“My mother’s two brothers had been attending university – but they had to give it up when my father gambled away all the family’s money.

“Normally, the Jewish community would have girls lined up for the boys and a matchmaker would be called in.

“But when the family fortunes took a nosedive nobody wanted to know them at all.

“In fairness to Maurice, he had come through the First World War, fought at the Somme and seen terrible things.

“He was badly wounded and invalided out and had this huge hole on his arm where the muscle used to be.

“After that I think he must have thought ‘what the hell!’

“Maybe his recklessness was partly down to what he had experienced in the trenches.

“Then to watch his children fight in the Second World War? That must have been awful – he was not a bad man.”

I listen as Doreen tells me her Jewish forebears on her mother’s side also experienced trauma, fleeing from Eastern Europe almost 200 years ago.

“My great-great-grandparents arrived in the 1830s from Lodz in Poland, which was the country’s textile centre,” she explains.

“They were out-working tailors and it’s probable they fled to escape persecution.

“He discovered the Goldbergs came to Bradford first and he found their old address. But the house had long gone – it stood where Bradford City FC’s football stadium is today.

“The next we know is that by the late 1800s the Goldbergs were in Glasgow, working at Behren’s textile merchants.

“The company also had factories in Bradford and Calcutta.”

Dr Mary Moffat with David, Doreen's childhood friend, and his sister Jocelyn
Dr Mary Moffat with David, Doreen’s childhood friend, and his sister Jocelyn

Dr Imrie aside, a father is something that Doreen has never had – and I ask if that has ever troubled her.

“It’s one of those things that has always been at the back of my mind,” she says simply.

“I did try at one point – my mother gave me a name. But she never talked about it and never told me anything else.

“Then I thought ‘I have managed this far so why let it trouble you?’ Sometimes you have to let go of things you can’t change.

“The only time it caused any difficulty was when people asked about my medical history.

“I am the only person in my family who had hearing aids and problems with my thyroid, which can be hereditary.

“My father maybe could be to blame – my mother certainly could not!”

When Doreen was ten, she recalls, Milly married Bill Moore.

She was 35 and her new husband was much older, in his fifties.

“Bill was a working man – a bricklayer,” Doreen tells me.

“We moved down to Ayr, to Smith Street near the station.

“This was the trial of her life for a little girl brought up in an affluent household.

“In our new home we had only cold running water, a tin bath and a tiny kitchen.

“Outside, there was the abattoir at the bottom of the street, a tannery and a mill – and a foundry up the road.

“It was a real shock to the nervous system, I can tell you.

“I spoke rather well and I quickly had to find a way round the Ayrshire accent.”

Unknown to the young Doreen, her dyslexia was the reason she failed the 11-plus exam “spectacularly”.

Doreen during her training at St James's in Leeds, aged 18
Doreen during her training at St James’s in Leeds, aged 18

“What they missed at school was that I could read very well but could not write well,” she explains.

“I was not diagnosed with dyslexia until I was 68 when I was doing a theology course.

“The person next to me, who had been a teacher, said ‘Doreen, there’s something wrong here’.

“She had noticed the order of the words I had written down was strange and how I was not getting the context right.

“That’s why everything had been such hard work for me.”

Given that backdrop, it’s no surprise to learn that Doreen left Newton Academy at 15 without qualifications.

Somewhat less expected is to hear that by age 16 she had a residential care job with Ayr Council, looking after young people with learning and physical disabilities.

Doreen suspects that her upbringing in a medical household imbued in her a lifelong desire to care for others.

Either way, it took a chance remark from a Smith Street neighbour to show her the way – to a new life in England and marriage.

“There were two ladies that lived on the top landing of the tenement,” she recalls in perfect detail.

“One was a Mrs Susie Bowman and when I was 16 I can remember her talking to me.

“‘Doreen,’ she said, ‘I think really you need to spread your horizons a little and leave Ayr.’

“While working for the council I saw an advert for a nanny in Leeds, applied for the job and moved down.

“They were Aberdonian doctors, Dr Austin Duffy and Dr Ann Duffy. Their children were Alexandra and Johnny but I was the worst nanny on earth.

“I worked there for a year then went to do my nurse training at St James’s in Leeds. That’s how I met my future husband in the hospital – he was in visiting his aunt.

“I was 18 but all those years ago you were not allowed to be married when training. I was nearly through my second year and I left to get married on August 1, 1964 to Eric Blackburn, who was an upholsterer.

“On August 1, 1965 our son Peter was born and our daughter Linda arrived two years later.”

Doreen remembers having misgivings about giving up her career – but they were nothing compared to the shock of finding two months before Peter was born that Eric had MS.

● Don’t miss part two of Doreen’s story in next week’s Galloway News.

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