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Charlotte Juarez's Going Home
Tuesday, March 18 - On to Edinburgh

March 18, 2003
Mingalar House Hotel, Edinburgh

We left Dundee in the mist this morning at our usual departure time of around 10. The girls and Nathan seemed genuinely sad to be saying goodbye to Douglas and Barbara, and Benson the basset, too, but we’re ready for our Edinburgh trip now. Steve had plenty of room in his sixteen seat mini-van Mercedes, but he’d taken out some seats in the back and we piled everything in there. It was funny to see my family all move into their self assigned seats and in the usual gentle way associated with sisters and cousins move interlopers out.

On the way to our morning stop at Gleneagles, Nathan asked me what was the best part for me about our stay in Dundee. I thought for a moment and found my answer. Of everything we did and saw, and that includes our climbs up our now famed in the family lore Conshie Brae, I could think of nothing more wonderful than being with six members of my family and seeing them have fun together.

It’s been like Christmas around the dinner table, or Thanksgiving, or any other special time when the family makes an effort to be together at the same time – good people, good food, good fun and a sense of blessing and love. If heaven is like this, then I want to go there.

Our coffee at Gleneagles was wonderful – in our family way I had told my family that when I was young and my mother had taken me on trips to Crieff I’d often seen the signs leading toward Gleneagles. I’d never been near it – we couldn’t afford to even look up the drive if we had – and here we were enjoying the hospitality there.

My eldest daughter, Tina, is a beautiful girl with makeup, hair and nails always impeccable. And here she is today, wearing what she now also calls her "tea cosy hat" to hide her beautiful, naturally wavy auburn hair because she "hasn’t seen a hairdresser in a week" telling us this is the longest she has been without makeup – I think she’s working on a day – and that there’s no way she’s going back to America until she gets fixed and that she’s already booked herself hair and nail appointments at the Heathrow Hilton and wondering how in the world she’s letting us drag her up to the Gleneagles Hotel in her condition. And she laughed.

Tina was doing a great job making fun of herself. On the other hand, to quote Steve, our driver, Edie, my fifteen year old granddaughter was "back affronted" at the lively and laughing time we were having in those hallowed halls of the Gleneagles Hotel.

After being welcomed by a kilted doorman, we entered the coffee lounge and ordered coffee for the grownups and hot chocolate for the children and me. Shortbread and butter biscuits were the accompaniment – however Nathan was more taken with the refined and demerara sugar cubes than is usual for him with cookies. His hot chocolate received more than "one lump or two" into his cup from the sugar bowl that he was enjoying emptying by his increasingly expert use of the sugar tongs.

There came a moment, however, when silence did hit our group. We had elected to sit under a glass case which, during our coffee time, was being shown to some other patrons as the showplace of a 40 year old whisky which was available for purchase of £3,000 – yes, three thousand great British pounds sterling – for the bottle, or £90 a nip. My little used non-math side of my brain took a moment to figure out that was about $5,000 a bottle or $140 for not much in a glass before my jaw began to drop.

After the prospective purchasers left I took a photo of this whisky in the locked case. As I was taking this picture, attempting to behave as though I saw this kind of expensive liquor regularly, I had fun listening to my family – the girls and the children – conversing like connoisseurs (after all, we did have the Famous Grouse Experience yesterday) about what makes whisky valuable, when it stops aging, what gives whisky flavor, evaporation and loss in the casks, etc. If there had been a test, they would have aced it.

After our coffee, and following Steve’s advice to leave our plastic in our pockets, we wandered down the corridors to the hotel shops. I certainly didn’t reduce the inventory of high end jewelry, crystal, clothing or other gifts during my stroll – although I dearly wish I’d had that ability – but I heard lovely chiming music and couldn’t quite place what it was. Looking up, I saw a beautiful crystal chandelier being gently moved by the air flow and could have listened far longer than time or hallway traffic allowed. Peaceful and lovely.

Tina’s fiancé is a serious golfer and she is taking lessons so on the way back to the van, she and Steve were conversing about long holes, short holes, number of holes, distance of holes while the only thing I think I know about golf is that people meet at the 19th hole that’s not a hole – kind of like the Ferry that’s not at the Ferry, and tea being a meal and not a beverage. We strolled the grounds only a little because our time was short and our next stop was Stirling and the Wallace Monument, but I was glad I was able to see the signs pointing toward the falconry and equestrian centers for which Gleneagles is also well known.

After a stop at the drive entrance for a family snap, we were off on our way to Stirling.

I persuaded my family to forego a tour of the Castle in favour of the Wallace Monument because the memory of seeing Wallace’s sword hanging on the wall there when I was a child has remained indelible in my mind all those years. I wanted my mother’s grandchildren and their children to have that experience of wonder and awe at the size of that weapon and to think of the life of the man, Wallace, who hefted it, just as she had given that experience to me.

Our hikes up the Conshie have turned out to be good training for our climb up Abbey Craig to the Monument. Amazingly, I succeeded in climbing the steps of the "woodland trail" and was very relieved to reach the top – by the way, did I note we passed on the option of taking the National Trust bus up the hill in favour of the hike? Gluttons for punishment, we are.

I met up with my family in the first alcove room where some were watching the audio visual presentation about the Battle of Stirling Bridge and others were in front of the diorama explaining the life, battles, and martyrdom of Wallace, followed by a reading of the Declaration of Arbroath. Very low key and informative and absorbing.

Wallace’s sword no longer hung on the wall. It’s now enclosed, upright, resting on a Wallace tartan plaidy in a glass case. Very fitting and very inspiring.

I remember Tina’s remarks to me when the movie, Braveheart came out, shortly after another movie, Rob Roy was released. She said she found Rob Roy a good movie, but as for Braveheart, she said "That was personal." That’s how I feel, too.

My family, hardy souls and bodies that they are, climbed all the way to the top of the Monument and enjoyed seeing the exhibit and the view in the other two rooms before going on to the highest viewing level. I had just wanted to relive my experience once more of seeing the sword and paying homage to the memory of the man as I so vividly remembered from my childhood and which might have been the foundation of my patriotism for Scotland’s freedom and my sense that we are a free thinking nation of people.

I did see the sword again. I am happy.

After another hearty pub meal – steak and onion pie for Steve and me, chicken for Stephanie, bean burger for Tina and hamburgers for the rest, we drove into Edinburgh and to our new home away from home, Mingalar House Hotel, a short walk in the New Town from Princes Street.

My girls decided they were short on clean laundry, so I stayed "home" with Nathan and Xylia while they went to the nearby launderette. My grandchildren watched TV for a while then asked me if I would like a show. Of course I accepted their invitation, I’m the granma after all, and that’s my job.

I wouldn’t have missed this display for all the tea in China, as my mother used to say. Entitled "A Day in a Scottish Farmer’s Life" Nathan dressed himself in his "See you, Johnny" tam that Steve had given us and Xylia donned a "mob cap" with long, swinging attached braids that she had bought in Crieff. Apparently, a Scottish farmer spends his life feeding chickens, killing gophers, climbing castles and hunting redcoats while his wife prepares supper (of the killed chicken) and welcomes him home with chicken and haggis after a hard day at the battlefield.

A second showing was presented to the launderette ladies when they returned and was also successfully received. Having had our show, it was time to hunt for something to eat. So we then trooped up a hilly street in the Broughton district, not quite Dundee’s Conshie though, and found a restaurant near the Scott Monument where we had for our suppers a delicious Italian dinner, with dessert of course, which we must have walked off on the way home to Mingalar.

And here I am. A tourist like my family, in the city I love best next to my home of Dundee.

Tomorrow should be a busy one. Stephanie has a visit to the Castle and Holyrood in mind; I have those same plans, plus a visit to Greyfriars Bobby’s fountain and pub and gravesite, preferably coinciding with the firing of the one o’ clock gun; Tina found the Hard Rock Café, Edinburgh, and told us we’re having dinner there tomorrow. The rest of the gang will troop behind.

But, for me, it’s about 9 o’clock at night now and time for bed, a book, and perhaps a few dreams about making new friends via the internet who like these stories, and hopefully coming back some day with family and friends to show off my country, my people, my heritage. What better experience could they have or sight could there be than the one I saw tonight of my children walking in front of me – a mother and a daughter, a mother and a son, a set of cousins - all children of mine walking in pairs, holding hands, happily and freely down Edinburgh’s historic streets.

Click here to see photos of the day

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