The Ol’ Homestead

Today was a reminder that it is not just the cities and the countrysides of Scotland that light me inside. It’s not only the castles and cathedrals, stones and bones and ancient cities. These are all attractive, and they pull me towards wanting to know more about history and archaeology and the Humanities. But today was a shining example of how the innate nature and culture of the people of this country do it justice as the most beautiful place on Earth. I did little, but learned and experienced so much.

Please forgive my waxing romantic, my one-sided views, and the flowery opinions I have of this nation and its people, for it’s simply what I’ve been shown and what I See. It’s easy to have a strong opinion about something we’re far removed from; something as poignant as a memory, or thrilling as an expectation but I am describing these experiences as they really happened, from day to day, and hope you’ll take them as such. It’s difficult, however, not to get lost in aggrandizing language, fanciful description, and slanted recollection. But I suppose it’s in our nature to do so. And for the reader to fall into it. Grab your nets.

A Sunday in Glasgow, a bit of sun, a bit of rain, and everywhere in between. A blend of modern and archaic–dressed-up church-goers on their way to Mass and elderly men and women running some sort of marathon in nothing but Spandex biking shorts and neon pink, frilly brassieres. The numbers on their backs covered up more than the undulating undergarments. Don’t ask me–I’m just a visitor.

I awoke late to my dear hostess, Helen, fraught with shock that I hadn’t eaten by 11:00 AM, after only being up since 10:30. I swear to you this woman is trying to kill me with food. I’m going to be a heavyweight by the time my year is up. But I can never refuse it, except by quickly changing the subject with some tasty bit of information, or some pressing task that I’m just on my way to do. We headed over to bring some food (had to appease her somehow) down the road to Peter and Helen’s daughter and her fiancée, Jennie and Lindsay. They just bought a new home in Newlands, and everyone’s bustling about on the idle day, trying to help and get things situated. Her father helps install the hooks on the door in the downstairs WC, Lindsay is busy getting the kitchen up to snuff, and a former student hooks up their new computer station in the upstairs den. I’m looking around at the strange shapes of the rooms, fancy colors on the walls, and small, foreign details that have somehow never reached the States. Next to the stove sits compressed blocks of peat, fragrant and more cost-effective than wood. Bay windows wreathed in fine, solid woodwork, almost extinct in Victorian San Francisco where all wood abhors the annihilating paintbrush. Attics and basements and rock gardens and turnstile-clotheslines in the backyard. And cobblestone pathways. And a sense of community.

Peter and I returned to Craig Allen where Helen offered us a noontime feast that could have choked kings and armies. Fresh sausage bathed in pungent stuffing, soft carrots and broccoli, hearty lamb chops with mint-and-balsalmic sauce, two types of boiled potatoes, tea and lemon-water and leek-and-onion soup with thick, oaty bread covered in heaps of Irish butter. I’m sure I’m forgetting something along the way, perhaps in painful sensory recall of the joy that Helen wrought. We ate and we ate, and we talked and we ate.

Digestion was helped along by a few hours of tech support on the family’s three computers. Now, I had a brief conversation a bit earlier with the hired network admin the Mallan’s brought in to set up Jennie’s system at the new place. I asked the young rube, out of genuine curiosity, the feeling about Apple computers out here, and he had quite the laugh on me. “Don’t care for them,” he muttered. I asked why, and he laughed. And again. Giggle. Chuckle. Guffaw, all from the front seat. I asked yet again for a reason why, for a clue from him. “Just is not my thing.” He couldn’t and wouldn’t give me a reason. Racism, elitism, whatever you call it, I see that geeks are the same, everywhere you go. Regardless, I worked as best I could on some nagging issues they had on their Windows boxes, and though I am quite unfamiliar with the intricacies of XP, it felt good to solve some problems for them and do my part to help out a bit. Now this was more like home!

As the evening wound into night, Peter took me into the sitting room to show me a few artifacts from his days gallivanting around the world. Peter Mallan, traditional singer, opera connoisseur, radio jockey. Performer at Carnegie Hall, the Queen Mary, QEII, and all the local theaters. He’s had dinner with Jack Dempsey, is friends with the Clan Chief of MacLeod, and ran for the Scottish National Party’s platform in the 1980’s. He showed me gifts from people, willed to him after their deaths, paintings dedicated, furniture carved. The fruits of his life distilled into a single room..but more than that. This family is the true prize.

Helen literally snapped me out of the limitless depths of Peter’s stories and recollections, with shock that I had not eaten my dinner yet, and while she made a phone call to a friend, Peter and I sat in the kitchen and continued our conversation. Over ham sandwiches with spreadable spiced cheese and butter, sweet cherry tomatoes and a good stiff Pinot Noir, he spoke to me of his days in New York, where he and Helen lived for a while in the 1960’s. He told me stories of the people in America who would call him up with an invitation to dinner after he had performed, without ever having met them before. They would go to the family’s house, listen to each other’s stories, pitfalls, heartaches, and successes, on a whim, over dinner and drinks. America? Seems like a different time and a different place. Was he lucky to be there in such an era to experience such things? Are people still like this somewhere out there, unfettered by the constraints of their own selfishness and paranoias and pressing maintenance issues? Would Mandy Moore or Madonna or Michael Jackson even TAKE a call from a fan, let alone go to their house for supper, sight unseen?

Peter continued, speaking on the loss of his leg when he was just a boy in Glasgow, playing in the street and being struck by a bread truck. How some faculties are bolstered by the loss of others, by sheer necessity. The driving spirit of human existence. Specious conflicts between compact disc recordings and old vinyl. George Martin, the Fifth Beatle, producing Peter’s early records. And “just a sip, please,” of wine became three or four glasses for him, and by the time Helen returned for her own glass, the Old Man had become lovingly rambunctious. To see them interact after forty years of marriage was the true blessing of the night. Helen has been so busy of late, with the loss of numerous family members this year, taking care of her own children, making me feel at Home, cooking and helping with Jennie’s house–the list goes on and on. It was so pleasant to have her sit down and enjoy a conversation for a bit. And they flirted. He tried with all his might to snatch the remainder of the wine, and each bottle that we opened became his instant favorite. She knows how he gets after a few drinks. We all do, and there’s a curmudgeonly charm about it that I welcome with open arms. He would slyly reach out his curved cane to hook the bottle from the table, and at one point they actually wrestled the bottle from each other for control of the drink. He would distract us and then pour her cup into his. We all laughed, around midnight, so hard and for so long. Faces red from sulfates and pleasure. And quickly Helen and I finished it off, denying Peter his life’s blood, or so you would think with the way he carried on.

With the wine emptied, he lost his interest (or so he would have us believe) and retired to the study, and Helen and I continued into the night speaking on Astrology and the impending marriage of her only daughter. She’s keen into the Zodiac, and as much or as little as I believe in it, we shared many of the same views and opinions surrounding the different signs. Both my family and hers is almost entirely made up of Aries, Taurus, Capricorn, and Virgo. Earth and Fire. All together in the same room, and amazingly, not conflagrating any more than in the mighty struggle over a bottle of vino. I jokingly referred to it as “the Last Battle ever fought on Scottish Soil,” and was quickly promised it wouldn’t be the final one.

It felt good to connect with Helen and to see her take a breath and relax for a moment. She’s an amazing woman. A constant caregiver, who played piano for her husband throughout his career; a music teacher, filled with unconditional love and optimism for everyone and everything. We chatted and laughed some more, as we imagined Peter crashed out in front of the television. She wants to give me a tour around Edinburgh, where she grew up, and I accepted gladly. There could be no one better qualified.

At 1:00, we figured it was time to get some sleep, so into the study we went to pry Peter from his chair, and after waking him with quite a start and a laugh, I threatened to toss him over my shoulder and take him to bed myself unless he got up right then. With certain fear at such a circumstance, he said goodnight, quickly, but with a great smile. Now I’m off to Edinburgh this Wednesday, and before I, myself, retired, Helen invited me to stay on longer. “For a week, or a month, or a year, if you like.” I would like very much, and though I did threaten to move in, I think I would like to give them a little respite from Darren and let the Dear Mallans continue on their own paths for a while. I know where they can be found, and I shall always feel like part of the Family.

3 Responses to “The Ol’ Homestead”

  1. cygnoir Says:
    September 8th, 2003 at 8:06 am

    You don't need to apologize at all for these exquisite samples of your new adventure, darling. These entries are priceless and I look forward to reading them just as soon as you post them. I expect many of your other friends feel just the same way. Keep 'em coming!

  2. kratkrat Says:
    September 8th, 2003 at 1:21 pm

    Yup… that pretty much sums it up! I agree wholeheartedly!!

  3. inkbot Says:
    September 9th, 2003 at 10:34 am

    puhleeze. no need to apologize for waxing poetic. i get all teary pretending i'm over yonder everytime i use the electric kettle!

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