Category Archives: Scotland
Jack hits the ground running and meets the deadline – for once – –
Regular readers may recall that I’m no fan of gardening. This goes back to my earlier life in West Fife, where the earth tends towards solid clay. So solid, in fact that I once fashioned a frog from it, let it dry in the sun (it does shine occasionally in Scotland) and couldn’t break it with a hammer! The soil was near impossible to dig and the only things that grew were weeds –
In profusion – – –
The odd thing is that my childhood hero was my Grandad, who was an enthusiastic and successful gardener. He grew vegetables and fruit for our table and roses in the front yard. But I do recall he had to dig an awful lot of horse manure in to get the ground into condition.
When Wendy and I married and moved to East Fife I was astonished at how easy it was to dig our back yard and plant potatoes. But it didn’t turn me into a gardener – the non-gardener seed had been sown long before. I grew up thinking that trying to grow stuff was some kind of Calvinist punishment for past or future sins.
But there are some outdoor chores you simply can’t get away from and for me that has been trees and grass. When we moved to Big Stone Gap we found we’d inherited three heirloom apple trees, a pear tree and a peach tree. I managed to allow one apple tree and the peach tree to die and then tried to trim one of the other apple trees, nearly killing it as well. The grass became less of a problem when I purchased a used riding mower (that’s also when I really became an American!).
Our new dwelling here in Wytheville has a big backyard with four enormous walnut trees and more equally big but more nondescript ones. The walnuts aren’t near enough to pose a danger but some of the others definitely did. One was looming over our house and the garage and the trusty odd-job man we inherited with the house took care of that. But maybe it’s just because I have a rechargeable cordless chainsaw that I eyed the smaller one that was, nevertheless, encroaching on the power line feeding the house. Or maybe I just can’t see a tree without wanting to trim it!
However, everywhere from New Gilston to Wytheville, Wendy and I have gotten quite good at growing tomatoes from seed, so maybe there’s still hope?
Will wonders never cease? Jack posts on time – – –
My good friend Dirk is the expert technical guru who records my radio shows at his excellent home recording studio. But his real expertise is in making videos and although officially retired, he continues to do that for his previous employer as an external contractor.
In the process of working on the radio programs he became fascinated by the background information on the music that I provide and that got him sucked into an idea.
So a few months ago he announced that he wanted to make a video documentary about my life with a core focus on me as an immigrant who chose to become an American. Running alongside that will be my professional career(s) and my musical life.
He started the project by videoing a series of interviews with me and that was quite intimidating! Almost from the start I decided to treat this like one of these personality tests where you answer questions without thinking too hard. The questions were mostly short and open, and my answers were usually lengthy. However, because I didn’t have any pre-warning of what the questions would be, I did occasionally have to ponder a bit.
The next stage is for Dirk to video interviews with Wendy and some of my friends, both here in the US and in Scotland.
Luckily he was recently in Scotland visiting his son Trevor who is studying at St Andrews University in my home county of Fife, so he could interview folk there. Equally luckily our musical buddy Alan Reid was passing through this way recently and Dirk was able to ambush him too.
The next stage is continuing to interview folk including a central figure to the story – Wayne Bean who first got me to the US back in the 1980s and then to WETSfm where the story continues.
I think I’ve learned a lot about myself during all this and have a clearer understanding of what brought me here. Despite all the practical and principled explanations I usually give (all perfectly true) I think underneath it all I was just ready for a completely new life!
But is that really possible?
I have been organizing small group tours of Scotland annually for the last twelve years. The first couple of times I had a definite sense of ‘going home’. However around year three I suddenly realized that boarding the plane to come back at the end I really was ‘going home’.
I think I have finally arrived at the point where I feel equally Scottish and American – not an American Scot or a Scottish American, but a US Citizen who will always be Scottish.
I’m waiting to see the finished documentary with both anticipation and trepidation – – –
Last week Jack and I went to catch the final performance of The Women of Lockerbie by Deborah Brevoort. Central High School’s One Act team selected the play this year as their performance piece. Jan Thompson and Elaine Sheldon, director and choreographer, called in Jack to coach the team on Scots dialect and word choices.
Normally high school directors will let dialect go, Jan says, but since Jack was around….
It was love at first sight, between Jack and the students. The play is intense, set seven years after the crash when the investigations and recriminations are over, but the women in Lockerbie still find their lives in pieces from the trauma of that time. The women describe in graphic detail picking up body parts, seeing the sky on fire, having nowhere to put the grief of Americans who come seeking solace, or their own blame for America shooting down the Iranian airliner that led to Lockerbie as revenge.
The play is based on the true story of Lockerbie’s women petitioning to have 11,000 pieces of clothing, gathered from the crash sites and investigations, turned over to them to launder and return to the families of those on the flight. Families who never received bodies, because of the nature of the bomb and crash. They wanted to bring closure to a terrible time, but they also wanted to bring healing, mother to mother, woman to woman.
That part of the play, subtle though it might have been, was not lost on the high school students. Each time the play ended, the actors were still crying. The terrible sense of loss it carries, the recognition that we are sharing a world where we might have to suffer bad things because of others’ decisions, and the bittersweet win of the women being given the clothes of the crash victims, these are heavy things. The kids carried them so well.
What people may not recognize, unless they’re married to someone from Somewhere Else, is how much everyday life revolves around not bringing up the differences between life Here and There. Or the ways in which nationalities (or nationalism) divide us.
The affirmation of the high school students to my husband, shrieking and clapping and yelling his name, each time he was recognized as their dialogue coach, heals what others have said: he was a dirty foreigner who wouldn’t say the pledge of allegiance; he didn’t deserve to vote, let alone run for office; he didn’t have to pay taxes because he was using foreign money laundering. Silly stuff in a hatemongering world. Small politics we dismissed from our minds. Emphasis on small.
But these kids, they embraced Jack as they embraced a play about world sadnesses and cracks in the walls of our defenses, airplanes that fly over them, feelings that one cannot find a way to wash away. Except by affirming kindness.
I loved seeing Jack honored by the younger generation, who don’t play the games the older ones might want to teach them. I am sorry for high school students in this era who are inheriting a nation divided, a cowardly new world to have such leaders in it, but I’m so proud of them for not letting hate have the last word.
It wasn’t just a play. It was an affirmation that the future has some bright spots–as well as some bright young minds–in it. Go forth and be kind, kids. The world needs what you’re bringing it.
And: thanks for making my husband feel good about what he contributed. He is a man of many gifts, and I’m so glad he got to use some of them with and for you.
Jack gets in under the wire with his Wednesday guest post –
I’ve been helping a group of local high school kids prepare for a ‘one act play’ competition, by coaching them in their Scottish accents. The play is called ‘The Women of Lockerbie’ by Deborah Brevoort, and is set in the aftermath of the downing of Pan-Am 103 on December 21st 1988, with the loss of everyone on board and a good few residents of the town too.
I decided that for our first meeting I would revisit my memories of that terrible day to give them a bit of context and also to put me back into the same space they would be occupying.
This is a bit like remembering where you were when Kennedy was shot, or on 9/11!
I remember very clearly the unrolling news during that day. In late afternoon all the TV stations were reporting what seemed to be two unrelated incidents. The first was a plane mysteriously disappearing from radar as it crossed the border from England to Scotland. The second was an explosion in Lockerbie and thought to be in a gas station. As the afternoon wore on and by the time of the 6pm news, the Lockerbie explosion was turning out be much bigger than first thought and it was obvious that the newsreaders were beginning to connect the two stories. By the time of the late evening news there were camera crews in the town and the images were horrific! I clearly remember seeing a man still strapped in his seat and fully clothed on the roof of a house – and that piece of video was never re-shown as far I know.
Thirty-five of the passengers who died were students of Syracuse University returning home for Christmas, and the mother of one of them is a main character in the play.
The play focuses on the bond that quickly became established between the women of Lockerbie and the those from the US who came to find where their sons and daughters had died. Both sets of women are feisty and willing to take on both the British and US authorities. The play finishes with the women insisting that they wash all the recovered clothing and return it to their American friends. As they wash the clothes they sing ‘Will ye no Come Back Again’ and I was close to tears by then.
I’m tremendously impressed at how these young kids have researched and got under the skin of this story – something that happened far away and long before they were born. If you get the chance to see their performance you should – Central High School in Wise VA.
As for me – I’ll never forget that day or these young folk!