Gee, what a Cute Cow!
One day when I worked with the ships, my boss got me into his office. We knew that something must be happening because his phone had kept ringing and judging by the amount of calls it must be quite urgent. There was one drawback though. My boss had a sense of humour that was legendary and sometimes you didn't know when he was being serious or just playing out an elaborate joke on his unsuspecting staff.
This was one of those occasions.
After pleasantries were exchanged he paused for a moment, then his face adopted a very serious expression. Finally, in hushed tones he announced,
"Andrew, I want you to go right away to Edinburgh to find a lady!"
I was expecting something to do, but nothing like this.
I thought about it for a second and my mind came up with three options as to what I should reply.
Option 1 - Simply answer with great enthusiasm, "Yes Sir!" Then rush out the office. Hotfoot it to Edinburgh at maximum speed before he changes his mind. Perhaps it was all a secret conspiracy to marry me off!
Option 2 - Reply something along the lines of, "There's thousands of them. It's a big city! Which one would you like me to find?"
Option 3 - Nod as if I knew what he was talking about. Say nothing. Look very interested and perhaps he would elaborate on what he had in mind.
I chose Option 3 and this turned out to be the correct one. Seeing that I wasn't in the least bit fazed and knowing I enjoyed doing unusual tasks, he smiled and let me in on the secret.
"You are actually going to look for a very special lady."
Apparently, one of the cruise ships had been berthed at Leith for a couple of days and on this morning, buses had taken most of the passengers on a tour of the city which included all the famous landmarks. A final stop was always made at the castle for the folks to look around and take in the fabulous view, before heading back to the ship. It would then sail soon after to head for Lerwick in the Shetland Islands . The great thing about it was that the passengers would be able to actually see their cruise ship from this high vantage point. As a result, lots of photos were always taken, showing both the city and the ship in the background.
Only this time, one passenger had not returned!
My boss told me a little old lady had gone missing. This lady genuinely was like the little old lady you used to see in those airport disaster movies that were so popular in the seventies, where Burt Lancaster always looked very worried! They really do exist in real life!
Something had gone wrong on the bus and they had miscounted the amount of returning passengers. Somehow they thought everyone was accounted for. This was back in the days when security was much less sophisticated and people didn't have to go through stringent checks. A quick headcount would probably have been done on the bus and the ship would just assume everything was OK when the tour company returned it's passengers and reported nothing amiss.
As a result, the ship was just about to sail when they finally discovered the lady was missing. It was not possible to wait much longer because of the tide.
When she was eventually found, she would have to stay overnight in Edinburgh . She would then be put on the first available flight to Lerwick which was the next day.
The cruise company had given my boss some background information about her and even more embarrassing was the fact that she was one of their best customers. She regularly booked their most expensive suite, as she enjoyed this particular cruise which took her all around Britain and Europe . When she was in Scotland , she loved visiting its historical buildings, and had a particular soft spot for churches. This was music to my ears as I would have this one thing in common with her and could show her some fine ones.
I was to make sure this lady made it safely to her hotel and until her flight for Lerwick departed tomorrow afternoon, I was to act as a sort of ambassador for the cruise company. If she wanted to go on a sightseeing tour, I was to take her. If she preferred to visit a historical building or church, I was to accompany her. I had been given in effect, carte blanche by the cruise company to make her stay in Edinburgh nothing less than fantastic, in a bid to try and restore her faith in the company.
My first and most important job was to locate her. This wasn't as difficult as it might sound. We knew her last known location was at the castle. From past experience, we found that people tended to not stray too far if they were in an unfamiliar city. She would most likely still be there.
Sure enough, I was just approaching the city when I got a call on the very large piece of equipment that passed as a mobile phone back then. She had apparently approached a tour guide in the castle. Then she had pointed over in the direction of Leith where the large ship was slowly swinging round in the harbour basin and announced,
"Say, I think that's my cruise boat over there and it looks like it's going away!"
When I arrived, she was sitting in a small room in the castle offices, poring over some postcards which were on a table with her back turned towards me. A really nice lunch had been provided for her from the castle restaurant. I was actually quite nervous about meeting her. In fact, I feared the very worst, expecting her to be either absolutely furious or totally distraught.
I was relieved to find I couldn't be further wrong.
When I opened the door, she turned round and smiled such a sweet smile. Then she held up a large postcard which featured a very fierce and extremely shaggy looking highland cow. Instead of a tirade, there was simply a sense of wonder in her voice and the very first words she said to me were:
"Gee, what a cute cow!"
I nodded vigorously and with a smile informed her,
"I can take you to meet that very cow!"
This made her double up with laughter. She also looked absolutely delighted. Then she said softly, " I'm Aida. Thanks for coming to rescue me. I'm so sorry about this."
I knew I had made a friend.
After outlining how we were going to reunite her with the ship tomorrow night at Lerwick, she asked if I happened to know in what street the oldest building in Edinburgh was located and what type of building it was? I had a flash of inspiration. Knowing she had a soft spot for churches and old buildings I said ,
"Aida. What would you say, if I told you I can take you to see the oldest building in Edinburgh ...that it is only one moment away from where we are right now...and...it happens to be a church!
She was absolutely thrilled.
"That would be nothing short of miraculous! Please lead on!
St Margaret's Chapel, situated within the castle and built in the 12th century also happens to be the oldest building in Edinburgh . It was empty at this time of the afternoon not long before closing time. It is a very small chapel and there is such a feeling of peace and gentle splendour within it's beautiful interior.
Aida sat on one of the small pews and asked,
"Are you a religious man Andrew?"
I replied "Yes."
"Would you like to join me in prayer?"
"I'd be delighted to."
I sat in the next pew, soaking up this beautiful tranquillity in the heart of the busy city. Aida prayed first. I have never heard such a beautiful prayer. She started off by thanking God for being given the opportunity to visit this beautiful country and for the welcome she had been given by its generous and caring people. She went on to tell God about what a privilege it was to be before him in this beautiful church and in her thoughts were the thousands of people who had sat at those very pews over the years. She gave thanks for the comfort these folks had been given in this quiet sanctuary, just like she was experiencing now.
She also asked God to send his love and blessings to everyone else who will visit this little chapel in the future and may they know that God is always with them and they can turn to him for help, even when they have left the comfort of this sanctuary. She told him about her love for the little piece of Scripture from 1 Peter Chapter 5, verse 7 where it says, "God cares for you, so cast all your anxiety on him." She thanked God for all his care and added it was only through his grace that she had the privilege of sitting here before him. Last of all, she asked him to come close to anyone who is lonely or suffering and surround them with his loving presence.
The thing that struck me about this lovely prayer was that Aida spoke to God like a close friend and confident. I could actually feel him with her. I love to pray, but up until then, when I was younger, my prayers had always been very formal. It was if I was speaking to an unseen boss, rather than a friend I could confide in and take great comfort from. I now realised what I had been missing and how easy it is to open up to God. I used to pray as if God was very far away. I realised I had been communicating with him as if I was calling up a long distance radio station that was thousands of miles away.
I was so glad I had met this lady. On that afternoon without knowing it, she had taught me how to pray.
It was now my turn to pray and for the first time ever, I talked to God like a long lost friend. My prayer was not a patch on Aida's but she sat, listened intently and looked on with the air of a person who felt so privileged to be there while this was happening. I felt such deep satisfaction because I knew from now on, I would develop a much closer relationship with God and today I had taken that first step.
We sat a few moments more enjoying the peace and stillness that God's presence brings, then it was time to take Aida back to her hotel.
The next morning, I picked Aida up bright and early at nine o'clock. Her flight to Lerwick wasn't due to depart until five in the evening, so I had great plans for a magnificent tour of the city. When I told her about all the wonderful places we were going to see, she said:
"That's splendid, but I can always see them next time back. There's one place though I'd really love to visit". She then produced the postcard with the very shaggy highland cow.
"You said yesterday you could take me to meet this cutie. Is it far to go?
I did a quick calculation and replied, "No. Not too bad. It's about sixty miles away at a little place called Kilmahog...and the cow's name is Hamish!"
She looked really excited and replied " You've just made my day. I'm from Arizona and we drive two hundred miles just to visit our friends! That's what I love about Scotland . Everything's so close!
During the drive which was very pleasant, Aida told me that she had been brought up on a huge ranch in Arizona . In her teens, she had spent many wonderful days riding around the ranch's vast area with her father and his crew. She loved the animals and seeing this cow on the postcard had absolutely enchanted her and brought back some really good childhood memories. We made good time and when Aida first caught a glimpse of Hamish in the field beside the Trossachs Woollen Mill car park, she was absolutely thrilled. She managed to coax him right over to the fence and I was able to take a few photographs which I promised I'd forward onto the ship.
We had an excellent lunch in the Woollen Mill Cafe, but the highlight of the trip came in the souvenir shop. I showed Aida some "Hamish the Highland Cow" soft toys which let out a resounding "Moo!" when squeezed. She bought half a dozen for nieces and nephews, but I think one was really for her!
After that, the time had come to drive her to the airport. It was almost time to say goodbye and I told her that the cruise company was so sorry she had been left behind for a couple of days. What she replied touched my heart. Here was a lady that had travelled all over the world. She must have seen so many of it's grandest and most beautiful places. Yet, she told me that by taking her to see the highland cow, I had taken her back in time and it brought back memories of an absolutely wonderful time in her life when so many of her loved ones, including her dear father were still alive. She said she would always be grateful to me for that.
I was so sad to learn that Hamish the Highland Cow died a few months ago. I know one little old lady from Arizona who loved him very much.
After we said goodbye, I had one last job to do. Aida had given me a dozen large postcards for friends and relatives which had a picture of a certain exceedingly large, very shaggy highland cow and asked me to post them for her.
Each card had exactly the same thing written on the part where you could write your message. It simply said:
"Gee, what a cute cow!"