In her thick Scottish burr, my paternal grandmother would regale us with stories of Scottish life and family history. If one mistakenly referred to her accent as a brogue, she would set them straight giving them an earful about the differences between the Scots and the Irish and their dialects.
Regularly, she was invited to recite Robert Burns at Scottish gatherings. Especially New Year’s Eve or Hogmanay, as the Scots call it. All would join in song as she played auld lang syne on the piano. With the merriment, drinks and traditional foods were served and enjoyed.
My grandmother was born in Coatbridge, Scotland and she told us that the family name, Anderson, was carved into the family pew in the Presbyterian church there. Tales were told of her father, Sir James Anderson, who was buried in Nairobi after dying from malaria. As an engineer, he was sent to Africa in the early 1900’s to build the first railroad through Kenya, later nicknamed the Lunatic Express. He sent letters with photographs, artifacts and souvenirs including poison arrows and a python skin long enough to wrap all around my father’s childhood bedroom walls in Glasgow, my father’s birthplace.
Years later in the 1930’s my grandmother, father and his two sisters immigrated to America. They eventually settled in California where my parents met and married in the early 1940’s. I remember when I was quite young going with my family to a performance by the Black Watch Pipes and Drums at the Civic Auditorium in San Jose, California, my birthplace.
The same auditorium my sister and I would perform in dance recitals, where I attended my first Rolling Stones concert, and where our senior ball was held among other memorable events.
One weekend during my first year of high school, our family traveled to Santa Rosa, California to attend a Highland Games. Little did I know that my husband would surprise me with a set of bagpipes for my fortieth birthday. I decided to accept the challenge and painstakingly learned to play them and joined a pipe band. During the closing ceremonies I had the treat of playing in massed bands with the Black Watch and three hundred pipes and drums which I never imagined.
I dove into all things Scottish. At Highland games and gatherings, I learned about tartans, clans and ancestry. Years after retirement and my husband’s passing, my son and I decided to have our DNA tested for ancestry. To my surprise I had a fair amount of Irish in my genetic profile and other previously unknown heritage. Now I embrace and celebrate multiple traditions and cultures. I feel I have the luck of the Irish. I also raise a pint of Guinness on St. Patrick’s Day and feel entitled on occasion to wear a pin that says Kiss me, I’m Irish.
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