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Scots around the world
From a front poarch in West Virginia
by Kelly d. Whittaker

Two Hundred and fifty years ago many bannished and out-lawed Scots came to the colonies to settle.  One of the places the Scots chose to settle was the hills of Northern Virginia.  The hills were very simular to that of the highland country they had earlier left behind.  The Northern Virginia counties were known as Augusta, Greenbiar, Kanawa, Harrison and Lewis.  These were the parent counties of what is now known as West Virginia.  The Scots of West Virginia did not change their working habits or traditions.  They handed them down to each generation.   I am proud to be a part of that bunch.  My grandparents kept the Scots spirit alive by handing down many stories or legends.  The other settlers of West Virginia did the same.  I found a lovely little story in The Journal of the Braxton County Historical Society that I want to share.  This is written by James Wilson Douglas in memory of his father, Wilson B Douglas.  They are descendants of my great.. grandfather Col. Benjamin Wilson.  Col. Ben was a hero to West Virginia and his brother signed the Constitution of the United States.  Col. Wilson's grandfather was David Wilson of Ayr that was bannished in 1715 for his support of the Jacobite cause.   Douglas is a very well known Scots surname.  The Scots of West Virginia did stay mostly to their own people as far as marriage and business was concerned.  Here is the little story I found...

Epitaph From A Front Porch

     Front porches hold a special if not unique position in West Virginia culture.  It is a place where, on summer evenings, neighbors are entertained, tales are told, recipes are passed down, promises made, beans are strung, music is played, politics are argued and re-argued, Scriptures are recited, wooden swings are swung, offers of marriage are whispered and family history is generally cleaned up.  In addition to being the happy provider of these invaluable social services, the front porch is a place of mediation and solitude, even theropy. where ideas are born, hope is found, reasons are clarified, decisions are made, regrets are revisited and the dead or dying are mourned and remembered.

     The latter was my purpose in occupying a black wrought iron chair on a wooden porch this paticular, sultry July night.   I had just been told that my seventy-five year old father had terminal bone cancer.   Aside from the usual emotions, I don't quite know how I feel about that.  I suppose that some reflection is in order.  The front porch on a smoky mid=summer night is a good place to do that.  In fact, the fron porch is the only place in West Virginia to honor your father.

     My Dad is a man of contradictions, a purveyor of accidental, unintended humor, the over-user of trite expression, the self appointed perpetrator of homilies and a human time-capsule of Civil War era fiddle tunes.   Of course, he has his down side and his glaring through seldom admitted faults, but at a time like this, they are barely noticeable, like a sock turned inside out, or perhaps more accurately, they are out of focus, similar to a television signal of a program you really didn't want to watch.

     Personal memories center around three episodes of my youth involving my Father, which with the passing of years, have aquired allegorical significance, either real or attributed.  I leave it to the reader to impose his or her own vintage moral over facts:

     As I approached the age of seventeen in the Age of Aquarius, better remembered as the late 60's, my natural inquisitiveness regarding the fundamental differences between male and female proved to be a source of great discomfort for my father, which uneasiness was probably the product of lack of basic knowledge, rather than modesty.  When my questions became to graphic for his taste, he condensed or rather distilled his accumulated wisdom regarding sexual matters in a simple imperative of admonition and avoidance: "Go talk to your mother!"

     Recollections also surfaced in connection with a case of Pennsylvania beer in 1970, that, at the time, was to be preffered to West Virginia brew due to the fact of fiction of the former's great alcoholic content (7.0 vs. 3.5).  Such was the supposed value of the alien ale that, in the waning year of the 60's and early part of the 70's, non-West Virginia beer became a medium of exchange; i.e., debts were paid, private mortgages were renewed and doweries were embellished with the pale, amber fluids fron north of the Mason-Dixie line.

     Calling in a loan I had advanced a local gambler, who worked part-time steel mills in Pittsburgh, I had received a case of the high powered PA.  Rolling Rock, which I secreted under someone's red dining room chairs in the crawl space of our home.  The artifice was absolutely necessary, not because of any thoughts of retribution from authorities for a violation of the West Virginia liquor laws, but, given my Mother's Baptist upbringing and unwavering condemnation of all alcoholic beverages, her wrath in finding "likker" under her roof, in comparison to the prospect of juvenile detention, held no small fear for me and I acted accordingly.

     One day in the August of 1970, when my Mother was at work and for some reason, my Father and I both were home, he discovered my secret as I was accessing my beer stash in order to alleviate the late summer evening thirst affectionately referred to as "trail dust".

     Knowing my mother's aversion to anything with more alcohom then the outdoor thermometer, Dad's price for his silence was a joint title to and equal  use of my liquid commodities.  I relented and we both managed to dispose of half of the case on our front porch by evening, afer first letting the aging, white Frigidaire in our kitchen cool the forbidden brews to a more enjoyable temperature.

     My mother returned from her job at about five o'clock; and as I heard her mount the brown oaken stairs that ended at the door to our living room, where I was relaxing in front of the television, without beer, I heard Dad, who was still on the porch consuming the last of his consignment, drop the glass from which he has been sipping the Pennsylvania "tea".  I have neglected t mention in these accounts that my Mother has the nose of a first class bloodhound.

     She immediately detected an odious odor from the fluids spilled from my Father's shaken hand and sternly demanded and explanation.  I found my Father's perdicament to be amusing, as I listened to the drama unfolding out of sight on the front porch and waited ti see how truly quick-witted he was.  Much to my dismay and even terror, I heard my Father with whom I had shared my treasure of Yankee beer, my blood parent, telling my Mother that he had suspected I was into some foolishness and when he examined my drinking glass that I had left with some golden contents on the porch railing and just moments before she came up the stairs, in anticipation of cleansing the family honor of any reputed stains, he had tasted it and he had discovered to his great disappointment that I had been drinking that "dirty old beer".  Dad also reported that the beverage in question may have had some connections to my frequent comings and goings in the crawl space under the house.

     A quick inspection by my Mother guaranteed that the remainder of my Rolling Rock mother lode would be delivered to the tender embraces of the crabgrass next to the crawl space door.  Dad didn't look me in the eye for quite a while after what was for me to be a memorable event.

     The final, more serious and perhaps fond remembrance of my Father involved a lesson about prejudice, humanity and generosity, and yes, ice cream cones.  We lived in Ohio during the mid to late 50's before returning to West Virginia in the fall of 1958.  On a hot June day when school is just out, and the new summer offers or even promises, endless possibilities and high adventure, my Father took my brother and me in mid-day to a local Dairy Queen for double scoops of chocolate ice cream on pointed sugar cones.  Although we were poor children of construction workers, we didn't know it, and to our limited experience and now enviable innocence, wealth and affluence was measured in scoops of ice cream without vain accompaniment of birthdays or other holidays.  We were rich because there was no occasion to buy ice cream other than we were able to.

     As we arrived at the sight of our anxious bliss, two African-American children of comparable ages were seated at the red picnic table positioned under the yellow umbrellas next to the Dairy Queen, as they were waiting for someone.  Needless to say, their hands and face were unmarred by melted ice cream.  My brother and I paid them scant attention, as Dad brought two of the promised, heaping cones and delivered on into each of our trembling hands, while my brother and I stood bouncing on one knee under and unoccupied table next to the black children.  As we fairly inhaled the sweet liquid, you may imagine our unsuppressed joy when we saw Dad buy yet two more chocolate cones of equal dimension and size and advance in our direction.  My brother and I accelerated our consumption of the initial confections, so that we would not lose one drop of the second edition of the precious dark treat to the invasion of the June sun.

     Our fomer celebration was abruptly arrested when we witnessed the unthinkable.  We saw my Father hand, without any words, the two cones fist to one African-American child and then the other, whose acceptance of the surprise gifts were tentative at first, and then when they saw the offer was genuine, they, also without a sound, commenced devouring the cones with a fervor that equaled or surpassed my brother's and my proir, puny efforts in that regard.

     Seeing our candied indulgences being rapidly diminished by one half, and being the vocal of us two, I complained to my Father that those two items should have remained firmly in our possession for later enjoyment, and that those two children were not only strangers to us, but they weren't like us in other obvious ways.  Dad's terse reply was."They're kids just like you, and they like ice cream, too."

     During the Civil Rights movement of the Sixties, I never forgot this one simple truth from a simple caring man delivered to his sons over forty years ago; and when I was asked my view afterward, which was not often, on James Meredith's enrollment at the University of Mississippi, or the Alabama peace marches, or the King speeches, I am sure that I was the cause of more than one frowning face or confussed classmate, when I invariable, and to them, cryptically replied that,"they like ice cream, too."

     There are those who may doubt the verity of the narratives, but if they are not true, they ought to be.  After all, it is not really a matter of credibility.  It is the impending death of a parent prods and sifts and crystallizes the memory, causing you to come to grips with the reality of your mortality and the quality of your legacy.  In short, you realize that you are the next generation to die, and you must know you will leave something, something worthwhile.  My Father did.

                                                               James Wilson Douglas
son of Wilson B. Douglas



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