The events of this tale took place in the 1950s in East Lothian.

It is a lovely story and I wanted to share it, but such personal memories are not always easy to make public.

So I have used a storyteller’s poetic licence and changed the names and some facts, but kept the true essence of the story.

So I now have permission to share it. Many thanks to ‘Isobel’s’ granddaughter for sharing this story: Love, it seemed, had bypassed Auld Jock. He’d spent his life working in the fields of East Lothian. Home was where he happened to be.

When his mother died, he found himself wandering, but never far from his memories of childhood in the foothills of the Lammermuirs.

Now in his twilight years, his bones ached, yet he still worked on the farm. The farmer knew he was a hard worker and, despite being in his early 60s, he would get more work done than a man a third of his age.

It was at night that he felt the absence of someone else. No children or grandchildren, no wife to share memories or go over the day with. When the door closed behind him in his small farm cottage, loneliness was his companion.

A dog may have been the answer, but then he could not fully care for such a friend as his work took up so much time, even though, in truth, he could do much less. He’d come to realise that it was work that kept him company. He knew every corner of the fields, every tree, every contour.

He did have friends, but they all had family. He was always welcome in their homes and did accept their hospitality at times. But his isolation was a strange thing. It was kind of self-imposed, because when he came out of it and shared convivial company, he knew he always had to return to himself, and often the contrast made it more difficult for him.

Then one day, when Jock was visiting the village which lay a few miles from his farm cottage, he saw Miriam. She was new to the area. She had what people said was an educated English accent. She was from Sussex, but had come out of retirement to do some teaching during the war years. Now she had decided to stay and had recently moved into a house at the end of the village.

She could hardly have been more different than Jock, except they were both aged the same. In such a village, people ask questions and enquire and Jock soon discovered that Miriam had also never married. Yet despite being no longer in the flush of youth, she had an air of youthfulness about her.

It was her smile, yes, her smile, that first hooked Jock as they both waited together in a queue in the local shop. That day he went home accompanied by a strange fluttering feeling in the stomach. When he arrived home and closed the door he would usually sink deep into himself and feel the weight of being alone. But on this day, that smile followed him.

He found himself smiling as well. Then he corrected himself. What foolish notion was this entering his head, making him feel, well, how did he feel? He wasn’t sure. But he knew he wanted to meet Miriam again.

And so he found excuses to visit the village. And he saw her approach, walking towards him on the pavement. Then that smile again.

“Well, hello again,” she said, and she slowed her pace.

“Hello,” said Jock.

She hovered for a moment as if waiting for Jock to start a conversation, but he was lost for words, and so she smiled again, and speeded up her pace and walked past him.

That evening, Jock chided himself and couldn’t sleep. He was angry that he had been unable to think what to say. So he practiced a conversation in his head. Next time he would be ready.

It was the following week and he met Miriam again, this time as she was looking in a shop window. She didn’t see him, so he had to make the first move.

“Hello,” he said. She turned and smiled that smile that jolted Jock’s heart.

She said nothing and seemed to be getting ready to walk away, so this was Jock’s moment.

“My name is Jock,” he said. She smiled. “Miriam,” she replied. Jock knew this, of course, but didn’t let on.

Then awkwardness descended upon him. His brain disconnected from his mouth and he stood like a scarecrow unable to move. But she saved him.

“It’s lovely here, I am not from around these parts, as you can hear, but I think I might enjoy living here,” she said. “People are so friendly.” Well, to cut a long story short, they did indeed get to know each other. After a few weeks, he was even invited into her house for tea. They talked and laughed together. On the surface they were very different, but underneath there was a lot in common.

Jock was in love. At least he thought he was, as he’d never really felt this way before, so wasn’t completely sure. So he asked one of his old friends.

“Aye,” said his friend, after Jock had described his symptoms, “aye that sounds like yer in love.” “And whit aboot her, how does she feel aboot ye?” his friend asked.

Jock frowned. “I dinnae ken,” he said, truthfully.

The problem is when someone is in love for the first time it is difficult to recognise how the other person feels. Usually we learn all this when young, have our hearts broken, make mistakes, read the other person wrong, develop an understanding of some of the basic rules. Jock had none of this. He knew more about horses, sheep and fertilizer than women.

“I just dinnae ken how tae tell her how I feel,” said Jock.

“Then write her a letter, a love letter,” said his friend, “you can tak yer time writin it, and explain things better, think carefully aboot how ye want to say, and how ye feel. It’s better than blurtin oot something that maks ye sound an eejit.” That evening, Jock walked home with the idea of a love letter swimming in his head.

The next few weeks, the farmer noticed that Jock’s heart was no longer in his work. He could no longer be relied upon to complete a task. When he went to see him one evening he was not at home. Neither was he with his friends.

Gossip started to spread. Jock was up to something. It was something to do with that new arrival Miriam. The gossip soon reached her ears. But whatever Jock was up to, he wasn’t with her as people were suggesting. She had thought that he was keen on her, but recently his affection seemed to have cooled. She saw him less and he seemed less interested than before.

Then the reason was discovered. Jock was seeing another woman. He had been spotted walking across the edge of the wood to the cottage of Isobel Watson. She was younger than Miriam, but a widow with grown-up children. Jock seemed to be making up for lost time, and Miriam now felt the heat of gossip in her face whenever she ventured outside.

“How could he?” she thought to herself. Thank goodness she hadn’t acted on her impulses.

Then one evening, Jock appeared unexpectedly at Miriam’s door. She refused to answer.

“Miriam, it’s me, I hae something tae tell ye, something I should hae been honest about before,” he said.

“Just go away Jock, I have no desire to see you. You’ve made a fool of me, now please just go away,” she shouted through the door.

“But Miriam my dear, I have something for you,” he continued.

“I don’t want your peace offering, give it to the woman you have been visiting behind my back,” she told him.

There was silence, then the noise of the letterbox opening and a letter fell to the floor. Jock then walked away from the house.

Miriam picked up the letter and walked to the fireplace. She stood for a moment, perched on the decision to throw it into the fire. But what stopped her was the writing on the envelope. It looked like a child’s writing.

So she opened it.

It read: “My dear Miriam. I have a secret that I have never told. I cannot write or read. I know that you love books and poems and I would love to share this with you, if you can be patient.

“I am learning to write and read, as my old friend Isobel is teaching me. At my age it is a hard task to learn such things but I love you and hope that you could love me too.” Miriam opened the door and called Jock’s name.

“You silly old man,” she said, and hugged him.

The rest of the story is short. They did not really live happily ever after, for in truth Jock’s years were few after this. But they were his happiest years and life is measured in quality, not quantity.

And for Miriam they were the happiest years as well, and she was forever thankful she had opened that letter.