March 16, 2003
It’s my birthday today –
but I’m "no born yet" to quote a poem I still remember from elocution
lessons - until a few minutes after eight tonight. My mother said she was
"just settling down for a nice cup of tea" when I decided to come along. I
was born in the same room, in the same bed, that she was born in at 7 Hill
Street. I went to the same school, too, until it was closed down in 1958
and, if I remember correctly, her nursery (or kindergarten) teacher was
I took stability and
heritage and family history for granted while I lived with my mother and
granny. I wasn’t able to give physical, or location, stability like that
to my older children following John’s death, aged 34, in 1978. But I’m
grateful to God and to my mother and my grandmother and my Hilltown
community that I was able to pass on to my children, from the days of
their births, the stability of knowing their Scottish heritage and Dundee
Our Angus Adventure starts
today when Steve and our bus with the lion rampant and Scottish flag logos
and a map of Scotland identifying us as traveling with Rowan Executive
Travel comes to puck us up. His 16 seater bus will have had some seats
removed to make it roomy for the eight of us, and the children will have a
table to play their games (or set their electronic games on) while we "run
Stephanie has given Nathan
his motion sickness "tablet" so we should have no exciting moments on the
road – as I was afraid we were headed for just as we rounded the corner
yesterday, by the old St. Rourke’s public library we passed on our
circular tour yesterday. This was where my mother used to take me to on
long walks, to get another selection of Dundee’s books to just go
somewhere different that Coldside, Ward Road, or the Main Library that’s
now the McManus Galleries.
Well, to quote Lerner and
Lowe in my favourite non-Scottish musical about the Highlands, "What a day
this been. What a rare mood I’m in."
Joy was able to join us for
our Angus Adventure. We left Dunlaw House in our Rowan Travel mini-van –
wonderfully comfortable with room to hang coats, stand up and move,
stretch around in, etc. - even the seat belts were comfortable – and
headed up what is now known as the "Coast Trail." We stopped at Broughty
Ferry castle and strolled outside, taking snaps of each other and of the
swans that were swimming and feeding at its base. We then traveled towards
Arbroath, passing through the little beach towns of Monifieth and Barry
and driving alongside the British Open Championship golf course at
There’s nothing like
traveling with a friend (like Joy) and a "native guide" like Steve where
we’re all friends, relaxed, don’t have to worry about "anglicizing" our
speech and expressions, and having almost every conversation begin with "D’ye
mind…" or "Do you remember?" or "Did your mother – or your granny – every
say … or do..?" I found myself slipping more and more into my Dundee
dialect or Scottish "Doric" as was how Burns wrote as I chatted and
laughed with Joy and Steve. I already regret that probably within days
after I return to Phoenix this "bilinguality" will be lost again to me
until I return to Dundee, as I hope I can, with another group of friendly
visitors who’d like to join in the fun.
We stopped at Arbroath
Abbey to pay homage to Scotland’s independence and freedom fighters who
wrote and signed the Declaration of Arbroath. This was our statement of
independence from England in the 13th Century, as a letter to
the Pope asking him to intervene on our behalf and have Edward II
recognize our sovereignty. He didn’t, and the other one didn’t either.
The sentiments in the
American Declaration of Independence, four centuries or so later, are very
similar. And thank goodness that war for free sovereignty was won – maybe
being an ocean away from England and not just a border path had some
bearing on that success. After all, we were guerilla warriors, too, and
many of the fighters in 1776 were Highlanders who had been cleared from
the Scottish Highlands, or descendants from the like of those who fought
at Culloden. (As my granny would say, referring to the English who treated
us so badly after Culloden, "Hell mend them." or, that’ll show them).
Stephanie and Nathan were
thrilled to see the original of the Declaration under protective glass in
the Abbey. I’m disappointed that I missed it, but am so very happy that
Stephanie and Nathan have an experience in Scotland known only to them.
We also stopped at Arbroath
Harbour where I was able to tell my family about Arbroath’s past
importance as a fishing and commercial port. At one time, due to the
preponderance of flax grown in the area – and I remember sunny fields of
waving flax when as a child my mother would take me on "mystery tours" on
the busses around Angus – Arbroath was a major center for handweaving
linen which was then made into canvas sails, another major activity in
Of course, Arbroath is
still famous for her smokies. I stood with my family on the same harbor
quay where I stood as a child watching the haddock fishing fleet unload
their catch. I took my children and their children around the harbour walk
to Spinks, the same smoke house my mother took me to, to visit with the
proprietor and get a lesson in hot and cold fish smoking as I once had –
which Mr. Spinks gladly gave my family.
And, just as our mother’s
had, Joy, Steve and I bought smokies to bring home for our tea – the meal,
not the beverage.
After Arbroath, we headed
towards Stonehaven, by way of Montrose. I told the children their, let me
see – me, my mother, my granny, my great grandmother Edwards – second
great grandmother was born in Montrose at 21 Bridge Street. Steve asked,
"Do ye want to look for it?"
"No," I answered, "it would
be too much trouble."
Amazingly, within a few
moments we turned the corner into, wait for it, yes – Bridge Street. We
excitedly counted down the street numbers – all of us – me, my friend, our
driver Steve who by now is part of the family, three daughters, and three
grandchildren – looking for #21. And there it was, a telephone office
building being renovated, just before we turned into Montrose High Street,
the widest high street in the United Kingdom. What a wonderful surprise.
We decided to drive into
Stonehaven for lunch and had a wonderful meal of as much as we could eat –
hugely generous helpings – of roast beef, lamb, gravy, Yorkshire pudding
(light and fluffy), mixed fresh vegetables, boiled and roasted new
potatoes, bread and butter and soft drinks all round in O’Mally’s Irish
Pub for less than £7.00 (about $11.00). We didn’t know if we would be able
to "put it all away" – but, believe me, we did.
That wonderful meal set us
up for our hike at Dunnotar Castle.
Although the day had begun
a little overcast and I had feared we might not be able to see much, every
hour seemed to bring a fairing of the weather. In fact, on our way to
Arbroath, we drove through Barry and passed a sign showing the way to the
Barry Mill, a water powered oat mill. Turning around and doubling back we
parked by the mill’s locked gate and walked down a path toward the mill.
The water in the burn was cold and clear and sparkled in the sun that was
breaking up the overcast weather. Nathan was able to peer through the
windows of the locked museum and see the waterwheel and grinding stone and
said, "Granma, porridge will never the same again."
But, back to Dunnotar. We
spent hours strolling the castle, cliffs and beach Every steep step down
almost to be beach then up to the portcullis, surrounded by the gulls’
wild cries and with the North Sea wind playfully pinching and nipping our
faces, was worth the changing views of the Castle.
This visit brought back
many memories of my first date with John, in 1965, spending an afternoon
exploring this great castle where Scotland’s honours (or crown jewels)
were safely hidden from Edward II’s invading army.
Joy and I found a
beautifully paneled room honouring the governor of the Castle, his wife
and her cousin who risked their lives to preserve the crown, orb and
scepter. Finding this room truly made up for missing seeing the
Declaration of Arbroath.
Although the small parking
lot at the top of the path was filled and Steve had to park our minivan
off road, and there was a steady stream of walkers on the path wish us, we
never felt crowded. Couples, families, individuals of all ages were
exploring and enjoying the day. I remarked to Joy how proud I was to be
Scots and that we had been in two historic sites today where visitors were
trusted not to desecrate or destroy ancient monuments – and that’s
including Arbroath Abbey where the ruins were officially and unofficially
treated as the town quarry not so long ago and remnants taken away to be
used in the construction of houses and city building.
Perhaps the goodwill among
the walkers was based upon a mutual enjoyment of heritage, nature and
companionship. What more could a person ask for – sea air, daffodils
blooming in the grasses, wallflowers peeping out of castle walls, good
friends, and good memories.
We drove home to Dundee on
the, to me, new divided highway. We saw a red deer and several pheasants
on our way. I was glad to be able to see, once more a memory from my
childhood, the statue of the pensive kilted Black Watch solder overlooking
his home base of Dundee from the top of Powrie Brae.
Thanks to Steve’s kindness
and his taking note of my family history from our six months of email
correspondence as I planned my mother’s services and this trip for her
family, I was able to show my family the Den o’ Mains where, like
generations of Dundee children, I had rolled my childhood Easter eggs and
picnicked on the grass and wandered down to where the "hothouses" were
growing flowers and daffodils in those early Spring days.
We passed the converted
house on Old Glamis Road that had been our Church building when I was
baptized and confirmed a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of
Latter-day Saints when I was fourteen. (I also confessed to the children
that was where, as a 16 year old, my friends – young Dennis Clancy, Mary
Snee, and Kathleen Roy – and I decided to "plunk" and not go to school
oneday. We got caught, and, of all things, taken to our schools in the
Black Maria. We made the newspapers, too, because Kathleen Roy got
expelled from her Catholic secondary school for being a Mormon. I "caught
hare-ile" – my mother’s way of saying "hell" – for the shame of being
taken to school in the Maria and having a policeman come to the house to
talk to my mother and gran and wait for me to come home from school – even
though he was sitting with them in front of the fire enjoying a nice cup
of tea I breezed in later in the day after the end of school. I never
missed another day of school after that.)
We drove by Old Mains
Church and the churchyard where, somewhere in there, my granny’s granny
and her husband and some of her sons are buried.
We also passed the Coldside
Library where I borrowed by first library books, the two schools Joy and I
attended, the third school in our Hilltown neighbourhood where Protestant
and Catholic children met annually on March 17th (Scotch and
Irish Day) to throw rocks at one another and then go back to our
friendships on the day after.
We drove around my old
neighbourhood of the Top of the Hill, including the locations of my house,
my school, my first job as a twelve year old, where I got on my school
bus, and the still standing Hilltown Clock.
These places, special to
me, were all made known to my family because Steve was willing to follow
my whims as well as the desires of my heart and treated me so kindly and
compassionately during this pilgrimage of a trip.
By the time we parted from
Steven and climbed up to "The Studio" we were well and truly knackered.
We’d been on the go from 10:00 a.m. and it was now 6:00 p.m.
We took a short rest.
About 8:00, we decided we
were ready for supper. Since Tina, Nan, Xylia and Edie had gone out last
night to the "chipper" Stephanie, Nathan and I made the trip tonight to
bring back supper.
Once again, I was walking a
well known path to the fish and chop shop we had gone to when I lived in
Hill Street. Different owners, somewhat different menu since sausage and
hamburger suppers were now on the menu, and you could buy sweeties too,
even a different name about the door – but it was still "Louie’s" to me.
Who says, "You
can’t go home again."? I have. And I brought other people with me.
It’s now 10:30p.m. I’ve
spent the last two hours at least sitting her in our little lounge area
eating, laughing, joking, teasing and reminiscing with my adult daughter,
my eighteen year old daughter, and my fourteen year old granddaughter.
Nothing very important was said, but everything important was done.
I saw a sign somewhere once
that said, "Love is spoken here." That’s how I feel right now. Stephanie
gave me a beautiful Charles Rennie Mackintosh inspired necklace, and Tina
gave me a journal for my birthday this morning. Stephanie bought the
necklace at H. Samuel’s where she knew her Dad bought our wedding rings.
Tina knows I am rapidly running out of pages in this little book. I feel
as though I’m in a situation of sustained happiness.
I wish every family in the
world could have this – and especially those families of Scottish descent
– to be able to come home to genetic and cultural roots (or at least a
little piece of family roots) and bring a few (if you’re a family our
size) of those you love with you; to be taken away from TV at night and
into conversation and fun, to share information and the day’s discoveries
and new experiences together without prejudice based on comfort zones of
food and habits from the home country; to be open minded and open hearted
with each other and the country where you are a guest; to still be an
American and prefer life in the United States but to absorb and adopt
values and emotional and intellectual treasures from the land that begat
you; to be blessed enough to have, as the head of your family, that core
of patriotism to have no shame of where you came from and no fear that
pride in your background will conflict with pride in what and who you are
today – American.
Just that. American.
I like how my mother
described my father to me – American, of Belgian extraction. No longer
Belgian, but American. "Extracted" or taken out of Europe and integrated,
rather than absorbed and identity lost. American.
My fourteen year old
granddaughter has just wished me good night. She paused long enough to
allow me to tell her how much I love her and hope she enjoys good memories
of this trip for ever. I hope I will.
Angus Day Photos