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Saturday, June 15, 2013

Heritage 2 : Born an Isles in Scotland

Heritage 2
Born an Isles in Scotland

The afternoon had slipped into evening.  I slipped out of my revere to notice the smaller children had been washed and were now wearing their pajamas.  One cried that his super hero pajama’s weren’t the “right” superhero.  I leaned back into the plush pillows of the rocker I had been sitting in for hours.  Listening to the hum of family life, I smiled contentedly to myself.  Normally, my ankles would be aching and my knees throbbing.  I had been so wrapped up in the story pouring from my mouth, I had forgotten to hurt. 

“Now where was I?”  I began, looking around at the rosy cheeks and light eyes.  I am proud of their attentiveness, proud of my family clan.  Reaching for the freshly brewed cup of tea being handed to me, I wink at my daughter.  She knows I’m in my glory telling stories.  She knows I just need to wet my whistle, and off on another adventure we all will go!

“ Ye’d be wise to keep a respectful eye to ye girl!”  The man was vaguely familiar, but the woman…The woman was like nothing or nobody the girl had ever seen.  The woman’s smooth dark skin and black oval eyes were enough to make any highland girl stop and stare.  The child spun on her heals running back into the one room hut. 

Huddling behind her mother, the young girl’s dusty red curls peeked around an apron string.   Mary Ann Isles slowly turned to face the man at her door.  With a rush nearly knocking the child down, Mary Ann had squealed her school-girl squeal and was in the man’s arms.  “Angus, you’ve come home.”  After a whirl around by her arm-pits, Mary Ann gently stood up and smoothed the front of her hair.  “Angus, you’ve come home.  We are so pleased.  And you have a companion?”  The last was issued as a question, knowing full well it was actually a demand of where he had been and who was this person with him.

“We need ta talk, sister.  We need ta be makin’ some decisions.  We need ta call a gathering.”  The smile had fallen from his sea-salt leathered face.  Looking back to his companion, he spoke softly in French.  Telling her to move inside and out of sight.  “Helena speaks five languages but canna master the Gaelic tongue.” 

Word was sent to the clan.  A gathering.  A gathering could only mean more bad news.  Perhaps another member of the clan forcibly deported, a member’s passing, or worst of all a child passing or miscarriage.  The years had been hard on the highlands clan, their numbers dwindled for many reasons, not the least of which was starvation.  Slowly, quietly the few family members left filed into the largest building on the meager farm.  The barn held their few sheep and scrawny cow.  They were not the worst off of clans, but nowhere near the best off either.  They survived, so far.

Weather, being as temperamental as it had been, had made the growing of hay and straw meager.  James Scott surveyed the little they had left from the harsh winter and shook  his head.  With his brother, back from who knows where, they would have to slaughter an animal anyhow.  Perhaps if he chose which one wisely enough, the others could live until they could be turned out into the pasture.

Mary Ann had demanded the rickety wooden table and stools from the house be hauled to the barn.  She understood the gravity in her brother’s voice.  She knew there would be no ale consumed this night, lest anyone be caught by the Gangsmen or worse the Kingsmen. 

They sat speaking for nearly two hours.  The barn was overcrowded with clansmen of all ages.  All crowded around the red-bearded sailor.  All crowded to hear his words.

“I’ve come to take you to Canada.  Away from this harsh land to another.  Away from certain starvation to a land of possible salvation.  I’ve come to take you with me when I leave.”  Those were his opening words.  For hours they discussed the pros and cons of leaving Scotland.  For hours they voiced their fears and concerns.  Uncleared land, savage animals, savage weather, savages!  All dangers were discussed, openly to the best of Angus’ knowledge. 

Finally someone asked, “Where did you hear of our plight?  How did you come to know, from across the oceans, how the world of Scotland fared?” 

“I’ve not set foot on the Canadian lands.  I’ve not seen the prairies that have been promised.  I have heard of the torment those who are still alive in Scotland endure on a daily basis.  No food for your babies.  No fuel for cooking, even if there were something to put in the pot.  I see no chickens.  I see no work horse to pull your plows.  I see only rags draping skeletal frames.  I see age set upon the young far too soon.  I see a family that needs to leave this God forsaken land in order to begin to live again.”  Angus had stood up and was pacing.  He implored each adult with his eyes as he passed them.  “I have sailed the seas with Captain Black for many years.  We have worked for the Spanish and plundered the English ships.  We worked for the English and plundered Spanish ships.  The money I have, shall we say,  ‘earned’ will buy passage.”

The barn door burst open.  Running, falling, gasping for air, Millie the oldest stumbled into the barn.  “The Kingsmen are fast on my heals!”

“We are to be married in a fortnight!  That settles it, Helena and I will host a great feast right here in the village and all will attend.”  Angus spoke especially loud and all raised their mugs in a salute, as the Kingsmen burst through the doors. 

James was the first to his feet.  “Gentlemen, how kind of you to escort my daughter home.”  He glanced at Millie, her hair was disheveled and she had yet to catch her breath.  It was apparent she had been running, full out, for some distance. 

The three Kingsmen wore the banner of the King across the front of their tunics. They, too, seemed breathless as though they had been pursuing this young lass for the full distance.  Not just stumbling onto the gathering by happenstance. 

With some amount of pomp, one of the guards began, “Her Ladyship has decreed Millie Isles shall no longer be welcome within the hall.  Her Ladyship has decreed if Millie Isles steps foot on the Lordships lands she is to be arrested and jailed for prostitution.” 

James Scott turned to his daughter.  Both their cheeks were flushed.  His with anger…..  “Papa, you know that isn't true.  Papa, you know we love each other.  Papa….Papa”  Millie began to weep.  

Turning his back on Millie, James Scott mustered the appropriate amount of consideration. “Thank you gentlemen, for your delivery of both my daughter and this news. Now, if you don’t mind we have an wedding to plan.  And only a fortnight to prepare!”  James Scott began ushering the Kings-men out the door trying to hide his emotions.  As he did, he flashed warning eyes at all who could see him.  Women clutched their children close, hushing them from blurting anything.  All eyes narrowed as they watched the Kings-men leave the smallish barn.  The door was closed behind the last Kings-man.  Mary Anne strode to the center of the room.  She hoisted her small wooden cup, and gave a loud toast to the newly betrothed.  Her clansmen understood and guffawed along with her.  The noise and the din, covered the serious atmosphere.  Both men and women continued singing long after the Kings-men should be gone, simply for insurance. 

James Scott turned to his eldest daughter.  His love child.  Her beseeching eyes peering up at him under her carrot orange hair made a lump catch in his throat.  She had always been able to wrap him around her little finger.  Now she was in real trouble.  This situation made his mind up.  It had always been his dream to make a fresh start in the Americas.  Dreams being what they are, reality gave him a real and physical jolt. If they stayed, his family was in real danger.  If they left, along with danger there may be a future.

“There has always been a James, a Scott and a James Scott.  There will always be a James or a Scott or a James Scott Isles!  Do you hear me?  By my word.”  Angus winked at John who had been helping the men clear a small track of land.  Hauling the rocks and boulders to the pile, if they were to stay the pile would then be moved to the house or barn or privy. 

“Angus James Scott Isles is a fine name for any bairn.  He’ll grow to be a fine strapping farmer, just smart enough to buy magic beans.” Angus slapped John on the back as the two had to stop working to finish their laughter. 

“Uncle, tell me about the seas.  Tell me about Captain Jack.”  John begged for more stories.  He had joined the men in the field today, hoping he could learn more of the ways of seafaring. 

“Lad, you know I canna tell ya another story without the others.  If I tell you more, they will run me off!”  Tousling John’s hair, he smiled at the lad.  “You know, you’ll be meetin’ Captain Black soon enough.   ‘Tis his ship I’ll be sailing on, soon enough.  Upon his arrival, you’ll be hearing stories enough!” 

“We’ve only two weeks left until your weddin’.  Every turnip or potato Ma can get her hands on, have been stashed away.  She mutters under her breath “for the weddin’”, but she don’t seem too happy about it.  I asked, I asked if she didn’t like Helena.  She looked at me as though I had just appeared out of thin air and shooed me away.  Were ya betrothed before ya took to the sea, Uncle?”  John was digging around a large boulder.  His words came out forcefully as he struggled. 

Angus stood for a moment searching the horizon with his eyes.  Not facing his nephew, John, he only smiled to himself.  Wanting to hear about his uncles times on the waves and not about matrimony, John put his back into the boulder rolling it out of its nestled rut.  

As the night of the “celebration” approached, every hovel called home was bustling with activity.  Meats cured, assets sold or bartered for vegetables, and positions secured for those remaining behind.  The countryside was abuzz with activity. 

Helena was a mystery to the women of the Isles clan.  Tall, dark and lean, she held herself with a poise these Scottish women had only dreamed of carrying.  No stranger to hard work, she could carry on a conversation with all and not miss a step in the work.  Those who could speak French questioned her, then passed her story on to others.  Born into slavery on an island in the Caribbean Sea, she was the product of her French born master/father and her house slave mother.  A gift to her father’s legitimate daughter at the age of five, she was her half sister’s companion and therefore endowed with the same education.  As her sister’s wedding approached, family friends and relatives began to arrive at their sugar cane plantation.  The two girls were giddy with delight as so much company.  They were under the mistaken impression that one of the available men would become a suitor for Helena.  One hot steamy night, when a drunken old sot burst into the bedchamber the girls shared, reality was revealed.  Their father had sold her to help pay his debts and seal the union of her half-sister.

Helena had paid her father’s debt by stabbing the old sot with his own saber.  Fleeing the sugar cane plantation that night, she had learned quickly how to defend herself.  She had learned quickly that the “self” inside is what sustains life as much as the outward body.  Raised to believe she was an equal to all but her father, life had played a cruel joke on Helena.  Life outside of the plantation was difficult and vastly different.  Her only salvation was her quick wit and keen mind, until she met Angus.  Angus William Isles. 

The clan had unanimously decided to keep the emigration quiet.  They had heard the stories.  Everyone knew what the Kings-men or the Gangs-men did to travelers who might have the funds to immigrate on their own; they were slaughtered and plundered.  Seldom did open emigration transpire without the local thugs taking a portion of the fare and supplies.  If they survived the trek to the port they might endure the weeks of agony aboard a grimy vessel.  Or they may have their women folk raped and slaughtered, and the men inducted into the English Navy.  Announcing their leave could only prove to be disastrous for everyone involved.

The night of the gala celebration brought clans from as far away as Kirriemuir  and Aberdeenshire.  Every highlander wanted to see Helena.  They wanted to be able to tell the story of the tall black woman or to see her and verify the stories that such a being existed.  A black skinned person was simply something out of one’s imagination, or stories from the pub, not unlike Faeries or elves. 

James Scott leaned towards Mary Ann, “Feathers?  I did not know her tribe wore feathers.” 

“First of all, she is NOT part of a tribe.  Secondly, it is designed to draw attention.  I think it a stroke of genius if I do say so myself. No one has noticed all the missing family.  Not one whisper… so far.”

“Myself included.  Who can take their eyes from her?  A vision Queen Maude would be proud of. The women and small children should be nearly to Forfar by now.  By morning we shall be as well.”

Meanwhile, in a small affair not far from the wedding festivities, another small service was being performed.  Father Michael, recently traveling from Ireland, had agreed to wed Millie Isles and Walter Strathclair in their own private ceremony.  Glowing with joy, the two young lovers gathered up their own belongings to begin the trek to the seashore;  two pregnant Herefords and a bull, two Blackfaced ewes and his beloved sheepdog, Tess.  Millie and Walter held the determination of the Highlands.  Quietly and without fanfare, they began the long trek from the Mountainous region south of Braemar to join the rest of the clan in Forfar.  Then onward to fulfill their destiny! 


Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Heritage - Born an Isles in Scotland

Heritage 1
Born an Isles in Scotland

“Well, my dear, it was a day not unlike this.”  The children had crowed around the fireplace, roasting marshmallows for S’Mores.  Lighting more than a few on fire to watch the sugary confection first turn brown then black and melt onto the logs or be eaten completely by the flames.  Sticky, gooey marshmallow oozed from the sides of the fireplace where someone’s spear got too close and the mass globbed off the spear tip and onto the side of the fireplace.

Four generations had gathered together.  We were there for the holiday weekend.  It turned out to be rather coolish and drizzly.  Uncomfortable to be outside and cramped with people inside.  With two more days of the holiday weekend to go. 

“We were bored, it was cold and rainy, too many kids around to actually clean, and the snacks were nearly gone.  My younger brother asked a question, I don’t recall exactly what it was at this moment, but it got all the adults trading stories.  We children learned a lot that day.  Quite a bit about our history, why we are all here and hopes for the future.”  I folded my weathered hands on my lap and smiled at the youngster asking questions.  At the moment, I honestly couldn’t remember who’s kid she was.  She was a pretty young teen though and the earnest plea in her eyes told me she wouldn’t go back to play until she had heard at least one story.

“They came from entirely different backgrounds, as most star crossed lovers do.  During the “Great Scottish Exodus”.  Scotland’s government had backed the removal of individuals from Scotland in an effort to reduce the population and avoid mass starvation.  Initially the whole process behind the relocation of Scotland’s population was indeed to help the populous.  However the gangs scouring the countryside with bully clubs to forcefully remove family members were not looked upon favorably by the highlanders.  The highlanders were naturally sought out first, as they tended to be the hardiest of the countrymen.  Or at least it was their hardiness which was touted, it was also because of their inherent ability to rouse people to a cause.  Rabble-rouser was a word oft used to describe those first chosen to leave the country.

John Isles had only eyes for his childhood sweet-heart.  Hiring himself out to anyone who would pay for his strong arms and solid back; he picked rocks from fields adding to the stone fences of the crofts and creating new, sheered flocks and flocks of sheep, felled and hauled the few sparse trees left on the land, and he even toted shale for the artisans.  No task too difficult or too lowly, for he was saving to wed the love of his life one Miss Moira Edward. 

Once a month, he would wash his face don a clean shirt and walk the miles to the home of Miss Moira Edward.  All the while whistling a fancy uplifting song to travel by.  He envisioned the smile on her lips as she watched him swagger the last few hundred yards to her stoop.  He could see the laughter in her eyes as he presented her with flowers he had picked along the way.  He could smell the lavender she dabbed behind her ears.  She was shapely in a time when there was little to eat.  Her healthy body quickly turned all food into clear skin and wavy raven hair. Her quick wit and easy laughter endeared her to him. 

You can imagine his shock upon learning the gangs men had been to their village impounding personnel into passage to Canada.  Moira was gone.  The small hut they called home was empty.  Remnants of the small morning fire, for brewing what passed for tea, was smoldering on the hearth. Cups were broken, chairs tipped over and the night’s bedding was strewn across the floor.  Moira and her parents had put up a struggle but obviously were overwhelmed.  Falling to his knees, he cried out to the heavens above.  He ran searching every out building.  He ran to the neighbor’s, who knew nothing.  He ran to their secret spot, hoping she had found her way to where she would know he would find her.  Only emptiness greeted him. 

It was later, upon his trudge homeward that he learned the truth.  She and her family were gone.  The ship had sailed that very day. The gangs-men had captured them.  They had been sent to “emigration”.  Letters of inquiry were quickly written.  Investigation into the family’s destination was begun.

More determined than ever, John set his cap at earning money enough to travel to Canada and purchase land once he found his Moira.  Laboring from dawn to dusk seven days a week.  Finally, months later, the letter arrived!

News! News of their passage and where they had landed.  His beloved Moira’s family had landed safely in Canada after sailing through the dreaded St Lawrence, entering Canada through the New York region. However, and his heart dropped.  However, and he couldn't breathe.  However, Moira did not survive the passage.  His world stopped spinning.

Dipping into the cups, John’s life whirled out of control.  He got into fights at the pub.  He didn't show up for work he had promised to complete.  He was lost without the hope in his heart.  His long red hair, normally tied neatly behind his head, was scraggly and filled with dirt.  His finest kilt, worn with pride on his walks to meet with Moira, was now tattered and frayed. Often to be found laying in the street or in the blacksmiths hayloft.  

Tsking loudly, she stood over him with hands on her hips.  Scolding him with her tongue, wagging a blame-filled finger at him, she stood with her back to the sun so he could only see the outline of her.  He felt as though he had been struck by lightning.  While his vision may have been blurred with ale, she was a pinpoint of clarity.  The sharp contrast making her stand out from the rest of the world.  This must be an angel, was his thought. "Months of inebriation and I've actually been allowed into Heaven." His thoughts darted in every direction possible. 

He didn't hear a word she said.  He could only watch as her beautiful red lips mouthed words at him.  Those flashing eyes held is inner being. Her hair must be spun gold, he thought.  For a moment, he thought he had died, then realized the rest of the village looked the same.  Barbara Small stood on the rock pathway chastising the handsome man who had obviously had too many pints.  Hadn't anyone ever told him to mind his p’s and q’s?   

She knew who he was, his reputation both before and after the sailing of the ship.  It was a smallish town and gossip flowed over tea and ale as easily and quickly as the wind blew.  Why she stopped to speak to him, she wasn't quite certain.  She only knew that their meeting was destiny.  She could feel it in her very bones.

With a hitch in his step and a whistle on his lips, John knew he was one of the fortunate ones.  He had been smiled upon twice in his life, and was smart enough to be grateful. Bending his back into the task at hand, he and his bride tried to coax more from the lackluster ground.  Even his lovely Barbara was beginning to show the early signs of starvation. The blight was beginning to take it's toll, even in the hearty High Lands.  They had been blessed with three healthy children, but with no rain, and little water, who knew how long the little ones could last.  Onion soup (most days minus the onions) was not a diet made for growing children.

John and Barbara had been saving as much money as they could. But, trying to sell to people who had no money either was a nearly futile endeavor. What little money they did have, mostly went to pay rents and sustain their lives.  

James, the eldest child, was nearly a grown man and needed to eat like one.  He literally pulled a plow for his lordship on more than one occasion.  The horses and mules, like the people, had been to starving too.  Many animals had simply died in their harness in the middle of the field.  Most were dressed, by the butcher, where they lay. The meat, however, was not distributed among the hands. It was taken directly to the Lordship's larder. 

Bearing children and breast feeding had taken a toll on Barbara’s health.  Most of her teeth had long ago fallen out.  Her eyes still sparkled when she looked at her family, but the hard years of highland life were acutely visible.  Where she was once round and curvaceous, she was now angular and sharp.  Still quick to smile, her once full lips were now a jagged slash across her face.  Too often she had to squint into the sun while hanging the lordship’s wash on the line creating a permanent furrow between her brows. 

For the sake of their children and any future generations of their family, they agreed they would forgo waiting to have enough funds to purchase passage to America.  They reached out to a Salvation Army post.  They had been stationed to assist those emigrants to Canada.  The Canadian government was subsidizing passage and granting land in the great prairie lands of Canada. Understanding there would be no berth, they would share the hold with perhaps a thousand others, they determined to cast off the shackles of abject poverty for the promise of the New World.   The ship would sail in three months time.

Three months was not enough time for lovely Barbara.  She was never to see the New World.  She was never to see her beautiful children grown.  Consumption ran rampant among the emaciated highlanders.  Nearly half the village was taken that winter.  Nearly a third of the nation’s remaining population.  John could not leave his beloved Barbara.  He could not leave Scotland. 

James Scott Isles was determined not to live the life his father had.  With an eye to the New World and the promise of the government, he was not going to allow Scotland to take his life as it had so many around him.  He would take his wife, Mary Ann Allison, and their six children to carve a better place.  They would harvest the dream his parents had planted.   Mary Ann’s sister worked in the kitchen for his lordship.  Smuggling food from her sister, James and Mary Ann’s children never had the glass eyed, pot bellies of the starving. 

The two sisters had experienced more than one close call.  His lordship’s man kept a watchful eye out for all the clothing Mary Ann hung out after washing, and the head cook kept a keen eye out for any scraps of food.  It was dangerous, but then living had become dangerous.”