It hasn’t been all that long since I first began to have serious thoughts about my roots. Probably only since my mid-thirties has it become important to me to understand and share with my children where we come from. Sure, I can give them my pat answer of “we’re 100% American mutt” but in honesty, that no longer satisfies me. The older I become the more I realize that families are like plants, some of them are like trees and others like weeds. Either way they all have roots. Some roots run far and deep while in others they become short, twisted, and root bound.
The families whose roots that run far and deep are the same ones that take a deep pride in who they are and where they’re from. Their roots grow a mighty tree and each person knows exactly where they reside on its branches. These families make that extra opportunity to meet and spend time with each other, to regale each other with old family stories and revisit their history-they tend their garden and nurture their tree and it grows strong with its far-reaching roots.
The families that neglect their roots and only look to the future lose sight of where they’re from and forget they have roots. They lose hold on their past and become like the short temporary roots of a weed. They tend to thrive when the conditions are right and eventually some wither and decay. The seeds of the plant scatter and travel only as far as the wind will get them. I use these analogies because our country is a motley collection of international misfits. Incidentally, I use the term misfits affectionately here. For many different reasons each and every one of us are here…some born here, some not…but we all have a past. Some of these communities embrace their past more tightly than others, but none more I think than the Scots. The Scots arrived in our country during its conception and planted their families in the corridor of land stretching in the hills along the Eastern seaboard. The hills of Appalachia reminded them of their own dear Highlands and they labored in and along those hills to plant their roots. Their families grew and flourished and they fanned out across the land to put down more roots.
To strengthen those roots they gather annually in clearings along the Smoky Mountains to keep their customs alive and to have what I think of as “The Mothership” of all family reunions. Days are spent living amid one another-it’s like some really cool camping trip. Tents bearing clan names written boldly on large, brightly colored banners also display ancient clan crests’ and clan-specific plaids.
Kilt-clad laughing children run around just as merrily now as they did one hundred years ago, and young girls dressed in beautiful plaid costume display ancient dances to the sounds of bagpipes and drums. Walking amid groups of bagpipes and drums, you find yourself stepping in tune to their beat. At any given place, you might find yourself between multiple bagpipe groups. Each group shares its own haunting sound not necessarily to compete with the next, but rather to pay tribute to their history.
Traipsing the area reveals varying smells that combine with sights to inundate the senses. Wood-smoke wafts from slow burning fires built to cook all manner of meat. Vendors sell traditional Scottish fare such as meat pies and haggis pockets. Fresh crumbled scones covered with strawberries and the prettiest, heaviest cream you’ve ever had in your life are sold to satisfy your sweet tooth.
Proud Scotsmen dressed in the original air-conditioned kilt walk with a kingly bearing. Here’s a tip―never call them sissies―these men are not sissies.
Ancient games and competitions designed to display strength and stamina that were part of the history of dear Alba (Gaelic word for Scotland) are kept alive at each of these gatherings.
Scottish food, music, and dance along with other old world skills are presented at the gatherings to pass them on to the next generation. If you see something Scottish that someone is wearing, chances are someone is selling a similar item somewhere on the grounds. Parades are held at these gatherings that rival any other parade in our country.
Being there and walking amid the families-for that is what they are, makes me wonder if I have any Scottish blood in my own ancestry. The sights, sounds and smells all tempt me and I feel a kinship with the people there. I want to be a part of this special gathering. I feel compelled to say to the world that I’m part of it all. Am I Scot? How can I be represented? Please say I’m a member. That’s when I spot the tent that houses my clan. Pride swells in my chest and I know my family is here! I’ve spotted the tent that houses Clan MacBubba. I smile when I realize it isn’t about what “Mac” you are or aren’t, if any part of you is Scot, you’ll know it because your roots are plaid.