Maggie Russell bounded into our lives during the latter days of World War II. The effervescent teenager showed up at Baltimore’s Eastern High School and immediately claimed my sister Peggy as her best friend. Maggie, her mother and aunt, had come from Glasgow, Scotland, to America, believing it safer as the war raged on in Europe. Her father, Willie Russell, a prominent professional soccer player, remained in Scotland.
Maggie and Peggy could have been sisters. They looked as if they could be, both petite, with dark brunette curls, flashing eyes and quick smiles. Maggie treated our modest row house as her second home, a frequent guest at meals and for overnight stays with Peggy. Her lilting brogue charmed us, and we struggled to pronounce “Aye, and it’s a braw bricht moonlit nicht the nicht” properly, which invariably reduced Maggie to giggles.
Our mother was a Stewart, a fact that tempts me to believe that somewhere in the past, my ancestors on her side of the family were based in Scotland. Maybe this is why I love Scotland and things Scottish so much. Somewhere in my blood lines dwells this land of Bobbie Burns, haggis and the seductive skirl of bagpipes.
Some folks these days spend good money to try to learn about their ancestors and their origins. It’s also not uncommon for a family to have an aunt, uncle or cousin somewhere who has pursued this on her or his own. That’s true in my case, but I have long ago lost track of the multi-page, single-spaced report she shared with us all, many years ago. Whether it mentioned a Scottish strain in our bloodlines, I don’t recall.
Two choir tours in recent years have taken me to Scotland, and one of them took us through its beautiful land from one end to the other, ending in the far north Orkneys, On both trips I felt as if I had come home. I can’t explain this, but the feeling is real and comforting to me.
So is the music. Recently, a social media site I visit regularly has featured performances of Scottish bands, dressed in full regalia, marching to a major event, bagpipes singing, drums rat-a-tatting, and, regardless of the time of day I encounter these, I am hooked. Often, late at night, as I am about to shut the computer down for the day, I come across such a performance, and I can’t resist watching and listening to the end.
My heart beats faster, and I smile with pride. In my heart I am a Scot and proud of it.
Lung may yer lum reek! (Long may your chimney smoke, or long may you live and prosper.)