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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first kiss — and other teenage boys were jerks

My cousins were visiting one holiday — maybe Thanksgiving? — and a couple them — older teens — were outside my house when Stephen and I were playing. My cousins immediately started teasing me about having a boyfriend. At that time, Stephen and I always repeated over and over that we were too young to be boyfriend and girlfriend — but since he was a boy and was my friend, he was my “boy friend” and since I was a girl and was his friend, I was his “girl friend.” We tried to explain that to my cousins, who weren’t interested in doing anything but making fun of us at the time. They then started jeering “If he’s your boyfriend, give him a kiss!” There was much rolling of eyes from Stephen and me, but they wouldn’t stop. Finally, exasperated, I gave Stephen a peck on the cheek.

The cousins, of course, immediately went to my father and told him, loudly in front of all present, that I had been kissing Stephen. Dad was furious (he was fond of showing authority in front of family and friends when otherwise it was my Mom’s job to be the authority figure) and roared “LISA!” I tried to explain to him that it was a peck on the cheek, but was drowned out by everyone making fun of me yet again. As usual, I was safe from humiliation was not with my family, nor at school, but with Stephen.

He stood up for me when others did not. I’ve always been overweight, and Stephen is the only one that didn’t care. Some of the older boys in our neighborhood were Stephen’s friends, but Stephen knew better than to try to get us together as a group; they would have been merciless towards me. One hot summer day we were playing in Stephen’s backyard, and two of the guys came up to his back fence. Stephen had stepped inside for a minute, and the guys offered me what they said was an M&M. I took it from them, suspicious because it was smaller than usual and felt wet; they assured me it was just wet because it was so hot out. Stephen came out as I was walking away with it, and must have asked what was up because I heard them laughing. He turned and ran to stop me from eating it (I’d already tossed it away) because they’d confessed to him it was a vitamin dipped in vinegar. I think he told them to not try such tricks again, because they never did. When he wasn’t around, of course, I faced a constant barrage of “fat pig!” from the boys, but never when Stephen was near.

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shell lady

Of all of Stephen’s treasures, the Shell Lady was the most enchanting. I could hold her and just stare in wonder that such a beautiful lady could be created out of shells — shells that matched perfectly. I still can’t imagine how much time it took to match up the shells perfectly.

Shell Lady had a skirt that looked like a bustled Edwardian ballgown, made of some kind of fluttery shells of diminishing sizes as they reached her waist. Her bodice was was made of cockle shells, small side down, to give her a wasp waist. She had arms made of pipe cleaners, curled gracefully out before her. Her face was a smaller cockle, with a sweet bonnet of shells surrounding it. In one pipe cleaner arm, she holds a shell as if it were a tray; on it were the most tiniest, most delicate shells I’d ever seen, a wee nautilus, whelk, as well as a small pearl (though I’m sure the pearl wasn’t real). In the other had she holds a chiton fan as if she’d just paused from fanning her herself on a typical summer day. I think Shell Lady stood on another shell, larger, of course, with other shells at her feet.

To this day, every time I visit the beach, I find myself checking out the shops of artisans trying to find a Shell Lady of my own. My memories of her, and holding her while talking to Stephen, are still so close to my heart.

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bits and pieces

I don’t remember the awkwardness of a new friendship with Stephen. That’s not saying things weren’t awkward, but both of us were rather shy, and we hit it off at once. His room had much more than the Trixie Belden books I’d first noticed; it seemed that he had EVERYTHING. Model cars, boat, & planes, games, more books…. He didn’t have the girl stuff that I liked, but he had cool stuff. We mostly talked about books at first, how we would pretend like we were Trixie and Jim, and when the twins came back from vacation, they became Diana and Honey. Stephen had to do all the guys from the books, since he was the only boy in our group, but Debbie, Donna, and I switched off on the different female characters (though I was always Trixie, being chubby and blonde).

All of us had tempers; at almost any point at least one of us was not speaking to at least one of the others in an ever-changing dance of huffiness, but Stephen and I didn’t manage to stay mad at each other with the same strength of character as the twins towards one of us or us towards the twins.

School started, and it took me a few weeks to realize that Stephen was the luckiest boy of the face of the earth: he didn’t have to go to school! I didn’t know why — just some vague story about him being sick — but he stayed home during the day with Mrs. Hawkins and had one of our favorite teachers from school, Mrs. Widemer (who had a lovely Scottish accent) come to his home to tutor him in the afternoons. What luxury! I didn’t mind schoolwork, and liked learning things, but was mercilessly bullied by kids and the PE teacher at my elementary school and would have been thrilled to have Mrs. Widemer come to tutor me. Stephen, for some strange reason, WANTED to go to school. It was inconceivable to me at the time.

Though I simply accepted it at the time, there were things about Stephen besides the plethora of treasures and the tutoring that were different than with my other friends. There was a picture of a baby in the living room, and I was told it’s a picture of Stephen’s brother, who had died as an infant. I’d never known anyone who’d lost a sibling, but Stephen’s brother had died before he was born, so he never had a relationship with him (though I have no doubt Stephen missed having siblings). Stephen also got sick fairly frequently, but instead of a quick trip to the doctor and staying home until he felt better, he often ended up having to go to the hospital, or even out of state to a children’s hospital. I didn’t know why, but I didn’t question it — it was just the way things were with Stephen.

During one of his visits to the out-of-state hospital, his Dad built him a treehouse. It wasn’t like most treehouses, though, not a platform in a tree or between trees. It was like a castle in the sky. You climbed a ladder to get to the front porch, then entered the door. Inside was a large, L-shaped room, with the bottom of the “L” having steps/shelves up to a windowed tower, like a turret in a castle. They had run a heavy-duty extention cord out to the treehouse, so Stephen’s TV and fan were hooked up and working inside, and Stephen had a cot in the larger part of the room so we could sit and watch TV in comfort. Even the windows had little curtains! It was by far the best treehouse I’d ever seen — we could sit in there and just marvel about being up in his yard, enjoying the view.

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I first met Stephen one summer when my best friend, the twins, had gone on vacation. I was in our driveway, feeling abandoned, when I saw a boy standing across the street. I’d never had a friend who was a boy before (I think I was about 9 at the time), but he was just standing there, also alone. So I screwed up my nerves and said to him “Do you have anyone to play with?”

He shook his head no.

“Would you like to play with me?” I asked, expecting rejection.

To my surprise, he said “Yes!” and ran over and grabbed my hand, leading me towards his house.

Introverted and nervous as I was, I remembered that I should know the name of the boy I was playing with.

“What’s your name?” I asked as we ran towards his house.

“Stephen” he said.

“I’m Lisa” I told him as we reached his home. We entered his kitchen, and an elderly woman was standing there.

“This is Mrs. Hawkins” he told me, and then told her “This is my friend Lisa.” He led me to his room, and the first things I saw inside were Trixie Belden books. I loved Trixie Belden books and collected them myself, so I knew that even though Stephen was a boy, he was a kindred spirit. He also had Hardy Boys books, the masculine counterpart to the Nancy Drew and Bobbsey Twins books I collected. Trixie was my favorite, though, because she wasn’t perfect like Nancy and the Bobbseys, and I could identify with her.

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Stephen’s Garden

I dreamed last night that I was harvesting Stephen’s garden.

A few dreams have had meaning for me — the ones I remember, that is.  One had Guy and me visiting some third-world country, and children there offered me a taste of a can of something that looked like cocoa powder.  Guy said “Don’t” but I stuck my finger in and tasted it, and it did seem sort of cocoa-ish.  The girl holding the can then turned it around so I could see the label, and it was powdered dehydrated human remains.  I was horrified, to say the least.  A friend did some research and told me that dreaming of cannibalism means that something is consuming your life, and that made sense, as I was in grad school and working full-time when I had the dream.

Another dream that stuck with me — I think I’ve had it several times — is that I’m walking around my home and find a door I’d never noticed before.  Behind this door are many rooms I’d never known about, and I was exploring them when the dream ended.  That dream, I discovered, is common in midlife, and represents that there is more to come in life.

This morning’s dream took no interpretation research.  In it, my brother and a friend of his were running out to harvest a garden they had planted.  I remembered then that Stephen and I had planted a little garden in our backyard, and went out with my Mom to harvest whatever crops that had survived neglect.  The tiny garden was terribly overgrown, but we picked tomatoes, beans, and a large purple eggplant.  My brother and his friend had come over and were making fun of the tiny garden and harvest, but I was pleased that anything had survived.

The interpretation is simple.  In his far too brief life, Stephen had indeed planted a lush garden in my memories, and it’s time to stop neglecting them.

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Hello world!

We’ve just past the Autumnal Equinox, and I’m definitely at the Equinox of my life.  It’s like I’ve been sleepwalking.  It’s time to wake up.

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