I was up late last night, slogging over a PowerPoint presentation.  You know the feeling:  the deadline is looming, you can’t find just the right image, and the PowerPoint software suddenly reveals itself to be embedded with evil gremlins intent on keeping you up all night.  I’ve had some deadlines that were so intense I have literally worked through a tornado.

But I have to confess that this particular assignment has actually been rather more fun than the average corporate presentation:  I have been preparing for a presentation to my son’s kindergarten class on Robbie Burns and Scotland.  The images I was searching for included bagpipes, Edinburgh Castle and the Loch Ness monster (which my son’s teachers assure me won’t be too scary.  You can rest assured that I’m leaving out Culloden, Glencoe and poor decapitated Mary, Queen of Scots, although I will tell all those tales with as many gruesome flourishes as possible, should I ever be invited to speak to my daughter’s grade 2 class).

As I squinted at clan maps and nearly indistinguishable tartan designs last night, I realized that I was having a ball.  OK, some of it was stemming from all sorts of fantasies about celebrating Hogmanay at the Balmoral Hotel in Edinburgh , riding the Royal Scotsman, and returning to the Western Highlands.  (My husband and I went camping there in 2001.  It rained every day, and our tent nearly got blown away when we set it up on a cliff overlooking the ocean.  Years later, when I opined that we’d never had a beach holiday, my husband retorted indignantly, “What do you mean?  We had Scotland!”)

Daydreams aside, though, there’s something really quite fun about diving into the lore of one’s family background.  I was raised as distinctly “British-Canadian”, and I seem to recall a heavy emphasis on the Scottish part of our identity.  My mother’s father wore a dress kilt when he married my grandmother.  My grandmother regularly referred to a red and tattered copy of “The Highlander’s Cookbook” (I’m telling you, if you think haggis is the only gruesome thing the Scots have invented, look up Blawn Whiting).  My grandparents just couldn’t get over left-hand drive cars, so they imported right-hand drive cars from the UK.  My uncle owned bagpipe music (which he would blast at top volume to get us out of bed when we were indolent teens).   We have a family dirk.  Even though three out of my four grandparents were actually first-generation Canadian, we felt a shared sense of pride in the role of Scots in helping to build Canada.

When I actually went to Scotland on the aforementioned camping trip, I was surprised to find a real sense of recognition, something I hadn’t felt the many years I’d lived in England.  Highland Scots are a people shaped by water, wind and mountains, and who comfort themselves in this environment with lush gardens and cosy homes;  it was no wonder that so many of them settled in wild British Columbia, and set about recreating the same colourful and warm domestic environments with which I’d grown up.

Previously, I’d never felt a particular urge to trace my family roots, but when I was actually in Scotland, I realized that it felt special to have deep history with a place.  I’m not Scottish, but Scotland and Scottish culture had nonetheless shaped my upbringing and thus my sense of self.  In an era in which we’re all about self-invention, all about lifestyle, it’s actually sweet relief to acknowledge that we have histories.  I try to imagine my Grandmother, she of the right-hand-drive Mini, responding to a question about her “lifestyle”.  She no doubt would have fixed me with those blue eyes of hers and said, “Lifestyle?  Really, girl, this is simply who we are.”

And so I raise my wee dram to Robbie Burns Day, to Scotland, to my family and to all our homes and homelands.

Robbie Burns

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