highland games

My father was sent on a business trip to Scotland when we were little. I can’t remember how long he was gone — it seemed like forever — and when he came back he had little plaid skirts and matching tams for my sister and me, and a plaid vest for my brother. While he was gone, my mother showed us the map of Scotland and pictures from the World Book Encyclopedia, and on his return, my father told us about the Loch Ness Monster. From that point on I was fascinated with Scotland, a fascination that spread to all of Great Britain.

I didn’t realize Stephen was of Scottish heritage until he was telling me about his plans to go to the Scottish Games and Highland Gathering, to be held at Boone Hall Plantation one Saturday. I was jealous he could go until his parents spoke to mine, and invited me to go with them. I was beyond excited! I’d get to spend the day with Stephen, seeing Scottish dancing, eating Scottish food, and watching different sports — tossing cabers, tossing hammers, whatever else they did. Plus we’d be at Boone Hall, and I loved visiting historic places. That morning, as I was getting ready to go, Mom gave me some money for admission and spending, and cheerfully said “Ask Stephen what a Scotsman wears under his kilt!” I solemnly said “OK” not realizing exactly what she meant.

I rode to the Games with Mrs. G, and when we got there Stephen was already there with his Dad, both dressed in full kilts and looking incredibly handsome. I was wearing jeans and a sweater, and was not happy about that — if everyone else was wearing a skirt, I should have, also! I’d long since outgrown the plaid skirt my father had bought me from his trip.

Stephen took my hand and we ran around looking at things (it was too early for the contests and dancing to begin), exploring the Plantation. That morning was like it was charmed, the two of us watching the setup and listening to the bagpipes, and then getting a snack.

After we ate, another boy in a kilt ran up to Stephen. I don’t know if he was one of the boys from our neighborhood or a cousin of Stephen’s or anything (I didn’t bother to learn the names or even the faces of the bully boys who tormented me). The mood changed quickly as the three of us roamed around. We started to climb on some of the old trees (something against the rules, of course) when either Stephen or the other guy got his kilt caught on a limb, and they both came down, laughing. I hadn’t seen why they had climbed down, but the sight of them smoothing their kilts reminded me of what my Mom had said before I left.

“What does a Scotsman where under his kilt?” I asked, completely ignorant of the reaction it would warrant. I had assumed they simply wore the same kind of briefs my brother wore once he was out of diapers; I honestly had no concept of a true Scotsman wearing nothing under his kilt.

The boys got angry and embarrassed, and, holding down their kilts, ran off. I didn’t see Stephen again that day.

I couldn’t understand what had gone wrong and was hurt to be abandoned. I waited a while for them, then wandered around the Plantation trying to find them. I never did, and if they saw me the must have hidden or run away. Alone, I walked through the crowd at the Games, stopping and watching occasionally. I went into one of the booths and bought little bagpipe brooches, one for me and one for my sister, and realized I didn’t have enough money for more than just a soda left. I got my soda and stood watching the last of the dancing competition, followed by the announcement of the winners of the dancing (the same three girls won over and over).

I was tired, hungry, and chilly, and it was then that Mr. G found me. He asked where Stephen was, and I told him I didn’t know, that he had run off with his friend (though I didn’t tell him that Stephen had been gone almost all day, since I didn’t want Stephen to get in trouble). Mr. G offered to take me home, and I quickly accepted. He had a Volkswagen Beetle, and I’d never ridden in one before, so that was exciting, but being alone in the car with my friend’s father who I barely knew was intimidating. Small talk has never been more forte, and then I didn’t even know what small talk was, so I tried to answer his questions as he drove me home. It was a long drive, and I felt even worse knowing he’d be turning around to go all the way back to the Gathering after he dropped me off.

When I got home, Mom gave me dinner, and asked if I had had a good time. I told her about Stephen running off with his friend and me being alone for most of the day, and how hurt I was. She wasn’t happy, but what could she do? I gave my sister the bagpipe brooch, which she loved. I realized that the brooches matched the Scottish doll in my doll collection, so I pinned it to her as if she were playing the bagpipes. It’s still there to this day.

I haven’t been to the Scottish Games and Highland Gathering since, in spite of living in South Carolina my whole life.

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