“This old barbaric bagpipe music has magic in it. It transforms the Scot. It reawakens in the depths of their being, even in this century, impressions, moods, feelings inherited from a wild untamed ancestry for thousands of years.”
Michael MacDonagh ~ 1916
THE OLD COUNTRY
By Betsy Cross Thorpe
England, Germany, Ireland and Scotland; Afternoon Tea and Boxing Day, Stout Beer and Lederhosen, Step-dance and Mutton, Tartan Plaids and Bagpipes.
Those are the old countries of my maternal ancestors listed with some of the cultural traditions my ancestors presumably held when they arrived on the shores of this country. My ancestors did well in the New World. They thrived. Their descendants are many. However, their old country traditions didn’t fare as well. As far as I know, in my direct line of ancestry, none of the customs, from any of those countries, were passed to future generations.
Take my middle granddaughter and three of my cousins. All four are English afternoon tea enthusiasts, sippers and nibblers, they know an authentic English style tea-room when they see one. Not because afternoon tea is a long-held family tradition, but because it’s something they like to do. And Boxing Day? All I know about that old English custom is that it has something to do with the 12 days of Christmas and I’m not sure if I’m right about that.
Then there is German beer. I have relatives who enjoy a foamy draft, not as a result of our German heritage, they just like the taste of beer. Lederhosen? All the boys in my family should thank our far-back grandfather for leaving that piece of traditional old country wear behind when he arrived in Louisiana. However, I can’t help but think how fun it would be to see my brothers decked out German style, in Lederhosen.
Now for my Irish ancestors and the art of step-dancing. My only experience with Irish dance was attending an afternoon matinee of River Dance at the Tennessee Performing Arts Center in Nashville. And regarding a meal of mutton, I have never prepared it, tasted it or seen it served.
England, Ireland, Germany, memories of my ancestors and the traditions of those countries are lost to me, they are not part of my cultural DNA.
Not so with Scotland. While the Highland traditions of my ancestors disappeared with some unknown generation, the culture of Scotland is familiar to me and my kinship with those long-lost relatives is real.
Perhaps I’ve watched too many episodes of Outlander on Netflix but of all of the old countries in my genealogy it’s Scotland that inhabits my dreams. The touch of a plaid piece of cloth conjures visions of an unknown grandmother, tartan shawl draped across her shoulders, at home in the Highlands. She is a stranger, yet her blood flows through my veins, her name is a mystery, but I know her well. The sight of plaid reminds me of her existence.
That leaves the bagpipe. A powerful symbol of Scotland, it moves me like no other instrument. It speaks to me, its sounds through the ages. It stirs my soul. The familiar cry of the bagpipe awakens in me a longing to know my ancestors, to call on them in a place and time that is lost forever in the mists of history.