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Highlander and his Books


SCOTTISH CUSTOMS

From The Cradle To The Grave

By Margaret Bennett

Reviewed By Frank R. Shaw, FSA Scot, Atlanta, GA, USA
Email: jurascot@earthlink.net

Welcome to Laurinburg, North Carolina. Believe it or not, the name of the county is Scotland. The local high school is Scotland High School, and its football, baseball, and basketball teams are called the “Fighting Scots”. The school fight song is “Scotland the Brave”, and the marching band wears kilts in the Royal Stewart tartan. Scottish Foods, a local fast-food company, features a piper as their logo, and there is a shopping center named Scotland Crossing that features the rampant lion. Many prominent street names reflect Scottish immigration to the area – Skye, Argyllshire, Oban, Kintyre, and Knapdale. Members of the square dance club call themselves the Scottish Twirlers. A traveling soccer team is known as the Scottish Claymores. This is Laurinburg, proud of their Scottish roots and happy to display their Scottishness. As the Los Angeles Dodgers’ own Tommy Lasorda says about true Dodgers bleeding blue, so it is for this part of North Carolina. It is truly a hot bed of Scots.

Now come along with me to the campus of St. Andrews Presbyterian College where you are greeted as you drive onto the campus by a huge bronze statue of a fierce Highlander in native dress brandishing a mighty claymore and who, naturally, is called “The Scotsman”. The college is proud of The Scottish Heritage Center under the masterful leadership of Bill Caudill, Director, which sponsors an annual Scottish Heritage Symposium. (Thanks, Bill, for providing the local Scottish information above.)

This was the 15th such meeting. If you have not attended one of Bill’s symposiums, then you have missed out on one of the best Scottish programs I am familiar with. The majority of the speakers usually come from Scotland, the one across the pond! Most in attendance are from the local community, even though each year more and more are coming from out of state. The symposium is now named The Charles Bascombe Shaw Memorial Scottish Heritage Symposium. That is a long title for a great guy. I wish you could have known him. Called “Charlie” by his friends, he was born in the 19th century some miles down the road from St. Andrews. He and his wife, Mattie Norvelle Rogers Shaw, raised ten children…I was their tenth.

I met Margaret Bennett at the symposium. I did not know her or know of her (my loss), but she was one of the scheduled speakers on the program with the topic, “Scottish Customs From the Cradle to the Grave in Scotland and America”. There are lots of ways to describe a speech, sermon, lecture or talk. (I know because I have delivered all four at one time or another and, with all due respect to Clint Eastwood, I think I can tell “the good, the bad, and the ugly”.) First, her allotted hour went by much too quickly. That is always a good sign. Secondly, the old saying that “the mind will retain only what the tail can endure” went right out the window! I wanted to hear more from this lovely lady with the soft voice. Third, her lecture, and I’ll call it that since she is a university professor, backed by more degrees than I care to go into in this space (See the “Chat with Margaret Bennett” for all the details), came from her book. I rushed to the back of the huge auditorium and bought a copy before they sold out. When a lecture or talk is good enough for you to spend twenty bucks or so for an enlarged copy, it must be pretty darn good. It was! And lastly, Margaret is not impressed with herself, but she will impress you, and that speaks volumes to me.

I marched down the stairs, bad knees and all, to introduce myself and get her to autograph the book for me. It was already pre-inscribed: “Best Wishes, Margaret Bennett”. After we chatted a few minutes, she took the book and wrote: “For Frank, a kindred spirit” over the already inscribed words. To me, it doesn’t get much better that that!

I have long been curious about Scottish customs and particularly the superstitions of the Scots. Their superstitions play a large part in some of the best writings of two of my favorite authors – Sir Walter Scott and Robert Burns. Scots on this side of the pond are very interested in Scottish folklore. Case in point: An Biodag, (the Dagger), the Clan Shaw Society newsletter, recently completed a twelve-part presentation on Scottish folklore by Meredith Shaw, Editor and President of the society. The issues dealt with birth, death, magic, fairies and mermaids, ghosts, second sight, and culminated with witches and witchcraft. What was unusual about this presentation to my fellow Shaw Society clansmen was the considerable interest it had to generate since the series was published over a three-year period. What is it about this topic that captures our attention?

To tackle a subject like folklore that is so big, so complex, so unreasonable and so far reaching, it takes an unusual person to present it to us. You will find that person to be Margaret Bennett. She will make you shake your head in wonderment, laugh at the antics of some like the hospital nurses who put a colleague under a sheet on a gurney to pose as a corpse (you will never guess what happened), and you will be as fascinated as I was about the history of the many topics covered.

In my modest opinion, and I do not say this softly, Margaret Bennett is the world’s premier folklorist. This international scholar is a prize-winning author, singer, and broadcaster. She gives new meaning to the word professor. She has been described as Scotland’s foremost authority on folklore. In my world, that makes her number one! The University of Edinburgh’s Owen Dudley Edwards said: “Margaret Bennett has given us another magic book…” When you read this wonderful book, you will agree with the good professor. Dr. Bennett has taught at Edinburgh University in the Scottish Studies Department, and she is currently teaching at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama in Glasgow. Beyond her impeccable scholastic background and her outstanding contributions to the Scottish Community is the underlying fact that she is a very gifted but humble woman. She does not toot her own horn…she doesn’t have to. People like me do it for her!

First published in 1992, the newer edition of her book was published in 2004 and contains many new articles and interviews. ISBN 1 84158 293 X (FRS: 5-16-05)


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