Katag MacLeod, Suardal
Sometimes my father would lift a packet of sugar and remind us that the two pounds he held in his hand was the weight Katag MacLeod (Katag an Nìonag) had been when she came into the world.
Born in an age before the NHS, Katag’s premature arrival in April 1929 left her with skin so translucent that all her mother Lily, my great-aunt, could do was cover her in olive oil and swaddle her in a shoe box.
The sugar baby turned out to be a real fighter.
Katag, our neighbour, our cousin, a second mother to the village children of Swordale, was buried this week, aged 89, having borne many trials and illnesses with great dignity.
She was a strong woman, Katag, and life made her stronger still.
At a young age she lost her two half-brothers within weeks of each other, Murdo (3/11/39) and John MacKenzie (23/11/39 on the HMS Rawalpindi. Norman MacLeod, 25 Swordale, was also lost along with six other Lewismen on the ship ). They were among the first naval losses of WWII. Murdo Iain ("Fred", 19 Swordale) is named after them.
Her elder brother, Iain Dan, emigrated soon after the war. Katag was left with her younger sister, Mairi, to comfort their mother and father, Donald MacKenzie.
She was married herself in 1966 to the boy next door, Kenneth MacLeod, “Am Bowan”, and presented none of that tragedy to the world.
They were a fun-loving couple who indulged all the village children. Katag and Bowan introduced us to cassette tapes, to war comics, country and western music and mail-order catalogues.
She was brilliant photographer, casually taking her Kodak to the peat banks, breaking the convention that photos had to be formal. These were the pictures of we 'd pore over for longer. She leaves a great photographic legacy of village life.
Katag loved innovation, and new gadgets. A few years ago, I showed her the camera on my mobile phone and we took her first selfie. Though her eyesight was fading, she immediately wanted an upgrade to her own basic mobile.
Katag and Bowan had no children but as youngsters we couldn’t appreciate that particular pain, we just benefited from how they turned it into love for us all.
Nephews from Seaview, and from Kyle of Lochalsh, who would spend the summer at 19 Swordale, expanded our horizons and became part of our village. Katag carried that bond with young people across generations to her grand nephews and nieces.
In 1977, when Bowan was only 54, he collapsed on a Sunday night on their kitchen floor, having suffered a heart attack, leaving Katag a widow for the next four decades.
Am Bowan, my father’s best friend from childhood, died cradled in his arms. They had volunteered for the Royal Navy together, my father accepted for wartime service, Bowan rejected either because he was colourblind or lied about his age, possibly both.
Even if he was too young, even though the village was reeling from the loss of Katag’s brothers, he still wanted to volunteer. They were a remarkable generation.
The MacLeods were generous in every way. Bowan gave Aonghas Dhòlan (Angus MacKay, No 16) his first sheep, allowing the young boy to choose the best ewe from his flock - if he could hold it down. I still have Bowan’s trademark black work beret, which Katag gave to me.
One evening Bowan gifted my brother a pocket watch. Dòmhnall was so enthralled that the next morning he sat, half awake, staring at the watch face while blowing his nose with a handkerchief. Still dozy, he threw the watch instead of the hanky into the open stove. I suppose it’s safe to tell that one now.
The village came out for Katag’s funeral on Tuesday. Aonghas Iain Eachainn (20 Swordale) pointed out in prayer and in tribute how she was a cornerstone of the village family.
Between showers we carried the coffin to the graveyard and laid it beside Bowan’s headstone.
A heavy lift, the men said, which is a way of saying it was no bother at all. Swordale will miss Katag, the sugar baby, who was so light in life.