During February 2003, I had the good
fortune to spend two weeks in the USA courtesy of the Odom Library in
Moultrie, Georgia and The Family Tree (Really by Braveheart Scottish
Weekend 2003) and thought it might be of interest to tell you about it.
I arrived on 12th February at
Tallahassee Airport where Beth Gay had arranged to meet me and take me to
where I would be staying in Moultrie. With Beth was her husband Mel and
Woody Bowers, their good friend, who was going to put me up for the
duration. Also with Beth were Billy and Dawn Henderson from Mississippi,
who were there for the Braveheart Scottish Weekend 2003, who had
volunteered to use their big van to pick me up. They immediately made me
feel right at home and this was to be the theme of my whole stay in
America... friendly folk who went out of their way to make this local Scot
feel at home!
I was of course there to attend the
weekend in Moultrie where some 400 or so Scots-Americans turned up to
celebrate the event. The event is of course all the work of Beth Gay and
her army of volunteers. The Odom Library hosts many events throughout the
The Odom Library does in fact hold the
archives of some 125 Scottish Clan Societies in America so there were lots
of Clans represented. There were special talks given on a whole range of
topics and all were well attended.
Raymond Campbell Paterson was the
Honoured Guest of the event, being the author of many Scottish history
books, and as a fellow Scots we had a grand chat and we both agreed the
hospitality was outstanding.
To start the weekend off we attended a
lunch given by Anne and Monty Carlton who have graciously hosted a lunch
at all the Scottish Weekend events down the years. It was an excellent
lunch and I for one very much appreciated the good food that was served
up. Woody, my host for my stay, drove me around ensuring I got to all the
events in time.
I met Melody Jenkins who is in charge of
the Odom Library and she was most welcoming and kindly listened to all my
wee stories and gave generously of her time. Of course I also met Miranda
Mabry who helps out Beth along with many of Beth's helpers such as Harriet
Carlton and also her special trustee prisoner who was helping with the
I should at this time tell you an
amusing story. I was going out the back door to get something from Beth's
car but couldn't open the door. I then went back to Beth to say I couldn't
get the door open and she said just to press a wee button at the side and
the door would then open. Going back I confess I couldn't find that wee
button so was heading back to confess my failure when I met the prisoner.
I said to him "Any idea how to open that door as I can't get out" and he
kindly showed me how to open the door. It wasn't until later that I
realized the irony of asking a prisoner how to get out!
The food was outstanding at the event as
we had big dinners on both Friday and Saturday nights and you could eat as
much as you wanted. There was great entertainment from Smithfield Fair,
Carl Peterson, Colin Grant-Adams, Rixey & McMillan and Bobby Murray. Lots
of banter, wee stories and lots of laughs... just like a good ceilidh
ought to be with many individuals taking the microphone to give their
contributions. Everyone was having a great time.
Mind you they sure caught me out at the
Braveheart Scottish Weekend 2003 as I was to give a half hour talk and
when I got up to give it I was asked to just give 20 seconds... I was a
little puzzled about this but did as they asked. Then Jim MacIntyre made
an appearance to present me with an honourary membership of the Clan
MacIntyre Association... I was kinda dumfounded as it was a complete
surprise but most appreciated and I probably stammered out my thanks. Then
Beth came up to say how much she appreciated the work I was doing for The
Family Tree and then presented me with a Superman T-Shirt!
I'm not sure if you are aware of it or
not but Scots on the whole have a hard time at taking compliments,
although we do appreciate them, so I guess I did more stammering and
probably went bright red as well!
Anyway... all was much appreciated by me for sure and thanks to them both
for their "surprise". I then went on to give my half hour talk and when
finished I was heading off to get a wee smoke when I got tapped on the
shoulder. "You have to give another half hour talk Alastair". Err.. I
said... are you sure about that... I thought I was just to do one half
hour? Be back in 10 minutes I was told [gulp]. So that was my other
surprise and it was just as well I had a store of stories I could tell.
Anyway, I think they all enjoyed it and I certainly enjoyed meeting such a
lot of friendly folk.
After the Braveheart Scottish Weekend
2003 I spent lots of time with Beth and Miranda in the library and helped
where I could. I was introduced to the great fried chicken from the
restaurant over the road from the library where the staff were most kind
in ensuring I got to taste everything. They even got me wee samples of
food so I could say I'd tried them and on my last morning there they
organized a breakfast cup of their special grits - which I must say were
excellent. Thanks to them all for making me feel at home.
Beth, Mel and Woody then ensured I got
to visit as many other restaurants as I could and we went all over the
place. I have particular memories of the Farmers Market where you could
eat as much as you liked for only $8.80. The food was great and there was
a one man act there that sang any song you asked for. I had a great time.
We also went down to the Gulf of Mexico
and Woody took the special scenic route so I could get a better
appreciation of the country and it was outstanding. Hadn't realized there
were so many trees. We ended up at a special seafood restaurant which was
excellent. One other outstanding evening was spent at The Cracker Barrel
in Tifton, Georgia, where after an excellent meal we sat on the rocking
chairs outside and chatted for ages saying "hello" to folks as they went
past. It was certainly a night to remember.
During my stay I was also the special
guest at the Jacksonville Highland Games. I was staying with Neill Baker
and his wife Francine. Beth dropped me off at their house where I was
staying for the next couple of nights. They saw to it I got to the
Highland Games and they looked after me with great hospitality. I attended
their special Sponsor's night on the Friday along with Beth and met lots
of great people while I was there.
I also got the opportunity to meet a few
of Beth's friends on the way down to that event. She took me to a cousin,
Watkins Saunders, who had just renovated a beautiful home on the banks of
the Suwannee River at White Springs. Afterwards we had lunch with her
friends, Barbara and Jerry Williams, in their beautiful home in
Middleburg, Florida - on another river. I was getting to see a goodly
portion of the country for sure.
While in Jacksonville I also got to meet
two venerable ladies who are very special people in Beth's life, one in
her late 80s (Miz Peggie) and another in her late 90s (Aunt Mildred) and
both were most hospitable and fun people. Beth decided to have a run on
the beach so I kindly went with her and while she ran I sat enjoying the
beach albeit there was a heavy fog. In fact it was so heavy that I figured
I'd better stand right up to the sea so that Beth would know she'd
returned to the right spot. Eagle-eyed Beth found a huge Megladon shark's
tooth, millions of years old, which she gave me as a memento of my day on
the beach :-)
The Jacksonville Games went off very
well... it was lovely and sunny albeit with a high wind and only in the
last hour did the threatened rain make an appearance. A great time was had
by all but I have to say I was exhausted. Beth is the fittest person I've
ever met... she tows a wee buggy around with her giving out copies of The
Family Tree newspaper to all the clan tents and vendor tents as well as
any one else she speaks to. I have to say she must have ribs of steel as
she is so well known at these events she gets loads of hugs. About three
quarters of the way around I confess to giving up and sought out a wee
seat but she marched on! I'm full of admiration for the work Beth does.
As a local Scot I was amazed at the sheer passion there is for things
Scottish in America and how proud our Scots descendants are of their
Scottish roots. Their enthusiasm rather puts to shame us local Scots as we
don't seem to know how to promote Scotland very well in America but they
Neill, the past president of the
Jacksonville Highland Games, couldn't understand why people like
VisitScotland didn't take part in these events. As he said to me...
"Around a quarter of the people at these Highland Games are 'professional
Scots' in that they will probably have already visited Scotland or bought
Scottish products and with a little encouragement would likely visit
Scotland again or more often and would be interested in buying more
When I returned to Moultrie for my final
day and night I got the opportunity to meet with Mayor William McLeod
McIntosh of Moultrie (what a grand Scottish name) and he kindly gave an
hour of his time to chat about the town and area. I also got to meet
Daryll Moore, President of the Economic Development Corporation, as well
as a number of other important citizens. They all gave generously of their
time and made me feel most welcome. I also got interviewed by The Moultrie
Observer and an article came out in the Monday issue just before I left. I
received a personal showing of some outstanding art collections at The
Arts Center in the town and was amazed at the importance of some of their
Outside the Odom Library there is a wee
bench where one can sit and as a smoker I confess to adopting that bench
as I would pop out for a wee smoke. It became a meeting place where lots
of folks stopped for a blether and I learned lots more about the town and
area. You really couldn't find a friendlier bunch of folk anywhere.
There was just so much I got to see and
experience that it would take me a book to tell you all about it. I don't
think I've ever eaten so much... had so many laughs... had so much fun. My
overall impression was of a great people, friendly and welcoming, and
willing to put themselves out to ensure a wee Scottish chap had a great
time in their country.
The Scots are alive and well and living
in America! A massive thanks to everyone I met and I can't wait to go