SHARING OUR STORIES – THE SNOWMOBILE TO STRASSENBAHN SAGA

SHARING OUR STORIES – THE SNOWMOBILE TO STRASSENBAHN SAGA

We send greetings to all our readers, hoping that you have had wonderful Christmas and Hanukkah celebrations and that you will have a happy and peaceful New Year 2017. This year’s celebration has been a cozy one for us, though Ian’s health is fragile, necessitating a lot of sleeping, sometimes into late afternoons. He has to be cajoled (Gayle’s task) to get dressed and participate in some of our celebrations though he didn’t get out for church services, Gayle’s choir concert or the Royal Winnipeg Ballet’s glorious performance of Nutcracker. We did host his Winnipeg family of daughter, son-in-law, two grandchildren and their spouses, plus five great-grandchildren on Christmas Eve, though. Thirteen of us in our small penthouse floor apartment made the choice of the description “cozy” a true reality, but our gathering was nonetheless enjoyable. Chinese takeout and frozen pies made for a festive but easy supper. The adults and one teenager huddled in around our large dining table while the four younger kids enjoyed kneeling around their own festive coffee table. With city lights twinkling below us through our decorated windows on our 17th floor apartment, candlelight inside, festive decorations, goodie bags for all, new pjs for the kids to don, some early presents to exchange and some Christmas carol singing and dancing, we all had a great time. As a long-time percussionist, Gayle has a collection of rhythm instruments that she brought out to enhance the music from our Christmas CDs, so we could all participate in singing and making music.

 

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How enjoyable we find reading through many short stories in a favourite Christmas present: the 2016 “Chicken Soup for the Soul” anthology: The Joy of Christmas: 101 Holiday Tales of Inspiration, Love, and Wonder, compiled by Amy Newmark with a foreword by “Mrs. Nicholas Claus” and highly recommend it for your holiday enrichment. We also love to re-read and recall holiday stories of our own.

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In past years we have shared several holiday stories from Ian on this blog: (Dec. 10, 2012) “Unusual Holiday Flavoured Passages from My Memoir” (including “My Non-Event Christmases of Childhood” and the New Year’s Eve story of his youngest daughter’s premature birth and how her life was saved by a bottle of Scotch whisky) and (Dec. 31, 2012) “Happy Hogmanay! Happy New Year” an excerpt from our yet-to-be-published autobiographical book “Mexican Follies.” Below pictures Ian, Gayle and our poodle Peppy in our motorhome patio in Mexico in December 2004.

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In December 2014 we blogged a spontaneous play that Gayle and her then-4-year-old daughter had originated “The Christmas Story According to Gwynne” complete with Gwynne’s original illustrations.

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This year Gayle wants to share her story of a unique holiday trip she and her late husband Gus Johannesson made in December 1972 from their home in Germany to visit Gayle’s family in North Dakota. She calls it “The Snowmobile to Strassenbahn Saga.” For those who don’t know German, Strassenbahn means “streetcar” or “tram.” Those who read her story will understand why Gayle is reluctant to consider any more extensive travel during the wintertime. Pictured below are Gayle’s family at the time: back row: husband Gus, Gayle, sister Barbara, niece Danelle, mother Grandma Mil, sister Doreen, nephew Todd and brother-in-law Bill; front row: nieces Billi, Lisa and Lori. Missing is brother-in-law Danny who presumably took the photo.

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The Snowmobile to Strassenbahn Saga

Gus and I had moved to Germany in summer 1965 where he began to pursue a doctorate in systematic theology at the University of Heidelberg and work part time as a civilian chaplain with the US military and I worked as a secretary for the Judge Advocate, U. S. Army, Europe and Seventh Army. By 1972, we had already spent seven Christmas/New Year’s holiday seasons in Europe, either with Gus’ aunts, uncles and cousins in Norway or with our friends in Heidelberg and were excited to finally be flying home to the States to spend the holidays with my family members.

In many ways, 1972 had been a disastrous year for us–mostly because of Gus’ health. He had lost over 30 pounds due to an illness which was finally discovered in July and had already taken four bouts of rectal surgery for abscesses and fistulas, leaving him with a lot of pain and sapped strength, all of which grossly interred with continuing work on his doctoral dissertation. In addition, I had shattered nerves after terrorist bombs had killed three people in the barracks where I worked and our headquarters were plagued with continuing bomb scares and security precautions. Despite Gus not really feeling well, we had been able to get away to Spain in June for a few weeks’ respite touring the Moorish treasures in Grenada and then relaxing at the home of friends on the Mediterranean island of Minorca, sunning, swimming, snorkelling, exploring ocean-side caves and touring quaint fishing villages with Gus doing a lot of napping. However, returning to Germany and our daily routines led to more stress and, for Gus, the string of surgeries. We were really anxious to get away from it all and back to family and a traditional holiday at “home.”

In December, after several days with friends and attending to business in Chicago and Minneapolis, we flew on to North Dakota, spent some time with each of my two sisters and their families and then finally took a bus from Fargo to my mother’s home in New Rockford (middle of the state). We had a few relaxing days alone with Mom before the rest of the family arrived for Christmas. Here’s Mom (Grandma Mil) and Gus on one of our walks.

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It was wonderful for me to bask in the smells and flavours of the traditional Swedish-American Christmas of my childhood. Picking out and decorating the live Christmas tree, stringing coloured lights, putting up the manger scene we had sent Mom from Germany,

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singing melodious carols in English, Swedish and Norwegian, helping Mom to bake spritz cookies, sandbakelse, krumkake, Julekake, pepparkakor, and Swedish almond bars (from my grandmother’s recipe brought from Sweden), buying and wrapping gifts, preparing turkey, ham, Swedish meatballs and even Lutefisk (though I still didn’t like it, but good-old-Gus sure did!).

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Gus and I got away a few times for walks alone. The photo above shows us posing on the frozen James River, not far from Mom’s two-bedroom apartment in a four-plex right across from the church where I had spent so much of my childhood. (I had been shocked when we first moved to Heidelberg to find out that the Neckar River there usually stayed open all winter long, only having frozen up once during the Twentieth Century, right after World War II.)

Once my sisters and their husbands and children had arrived, we were a family of 12. One sister had married a local boy so those five could overnight at his parents’ house just a few blocks away. However, my other sister’s family of four stayed at Mom’s, as did we. She and her husband slept in the living room on the couch bed but their two little ones got to sleep with Grandma Mil. Gus and I, as the “honoured guests from across the Atlantic,” got the guest room. This was fortunate as I had to be the nurse who cleaned his open (rectal) wound several times a day. (Surgery in that area has to heal from the inside out without any stitching.) It was a bit difficult to maintain much privacy, however, especially with five little ones underfoot. We got the biggest laugh of the holiday one evening when our two-year-old niece came out of the bathroom wearing two long “q-tips” (that I’d previously used to probe the wound and thought I had disposed of discreetly), one in each ear!!! (Even now in her late forties, she doesn’t appreciate the humour when reminded of the situation.)

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Other laughter was more pleasant, while unwrapping gifts, joyously sharing the Christmas story, telling the little ones of Jesus’ birth, singing, eating, going to church, playing games, taking walks in the snow, shopping and loving being together. Billi, Lori and Todd even got in some ice skating time. billi-lori-todd-skating-1972How wonderful for me to be at worship services in our home church again, sitting with my sisters and singing all those beautiful carols in three-part harmony as we had always done in the past. We revelled in a sunny, snowy North Dakota winter (coming back to a gray, rainy Heidelberg winter seemed a bit of a drag). With five small grandchildren, three daughters and three sons-in-law under foot for a week, Mom (“Grandma Mil” was then in her late 60s) stood up surprisingly well. Here’s Uncle Gus taking nieces Lisa and Lori for a walk. Our church, First Lutheran Church of New Rockford, is in the background at the left and part of the school I attended through Grade 12 is in the background at right centre.

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After our week together my sisters and their families drove back to their homes further east and we had another couple of days resting at Mom’s. Then came the start of our return trip, which I’ve named the “Snowmobile to Strassenbahn Saga.” The trip started with a wild bus ride in a near-blizzard to Fargo. This is usually a three-hour drive and took about twice that long. We were met by my sister Doreen and driven to her house in Fargo’s twin city of Moorhead, Minnesota.

Instead of flying out the next day we had a day’s delay caused by full-blown blizzard conditions which closed down the airport, plus everything else in the twin towns. We were to have flown from Fargo to Minneapolis and then on to Chicago where we were catching our international flight (a military charter airline from Chicago via New York to Frankfurt-am-Main, Germany). Listening to the radio, we learned that there was still a possibility of our getting out of town to meet our plane. The Great Northern railroad had a train plowing its way from Montana and across North Dakota, due in at 1 a.m. The only problem was that we couldn’t get to the depot (in Fargo, about five miles away from my sister’s house in Moorhead). My sister’s car was buried under layers of snow and, anyway, the roads were not passable. Fooling around in the snow in front of their house was about all we could do.

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Absolutely nothing was moving … but snowmobiles. Gus had heard on the radio that emergency snowmobiles were evacuating people. He figured that we qualified for an emergency since we had to meet a “military flight” in Chicago the next day. He called, explained our situation and we were granted clearance from the city police. To my two little nieces’ delight and my terror, we were picked up by two snowmobilers at midnight. Gus and I rode behind one snowmobiler; the other one carried all our luggage. There we went, over the (Red) river, through the woods and over 18 inches of snow, not to mention four to five feet of snowdrifts to Fargo’s train station. I hung on for dear life and had visions of falling off all the way; but we made it, only to have a long delay. The train arrived three hours late, struggling across North Dakota with a snowplow on the engine. I was too flustered by the whole situation to get any photos at the time.

So at 4:00 a.m. we boarded the train. Delay continued to be the motto of the trip, however. We missed our first plane connection from Minneapolis to Chicago and barely squeezed onto the last possible one, making connections at the Chicago Airport five minutes before we were to report in for our charter flight. Luckily, we had friends in Chicago that met us at the airport and got us from the domestic to the international departure area in record time. Had we been on our own, we never would have made it in time. We were delayed an hour getting out of Chicago, had to circle New York for two hours because of fog, were delayed in New York because of waiting for other passengers who were late in coming in from connecting flights, made an unscheduled landing in Shannon, Ireland (we never did hear why) and finally landed in Frankfurt six hours later than scheduled.

Once at the Frankfurt airport, we had to take the subway into the city’s train station, then take the train from Frankfurt to Heidelberg (an hour away) and then the Strassenbahn (streetcar) to our stop on Rohrbacherstrasse and walk a block to our apartment on Turnerstrasse. So – bus to car to snowmobile to train to airplane to another airplane to subway to train to streetcar to foot – and we were finally home. (I think we had just about every mode of transportation but ship and dog sled.) It was time for a long winter’s nap – well, at least two day’s worth – before I had to get back to work and Gus to start cracking the books again … then surgery again. He had 16 surgeries in all over a five-year period before the problem finally resolved itself. I ended my Christmas/New Year’s letter that year with the following: “Neither of us has ever had a great deal of patience, but we’ve had to develop it lately. Once one gets through the inevitable periods of despair and self-pity and gets back to the basic trust in God’s presence and strength, things look better. So, we’re hoping for a year of fulfillment and health – and wish you all the blessings of our Lord for the New Year.”

AN APRIL SWIM IN PARADISE

Gayle is experiencing a nostalgic evening and needing a break from visiting Ian in hospital (he is recovering well from two mini-strokes or transient aschemic attacks three days ago), preparing for a Saturday moving sale in our garage and back yard and trying to pack a few boxes a day in preparation for our move in May. (Any semblance of having a routine day has vanished for the time being, yet she feels compelled to do a long-overdue post on this blog.) We have sold our house in Vernon, British Columbia, actually move out in three weeks (on May 11th), will have our household stuff put into storage and move in with friends for about 10 days before heading east to Manitoba where we hope to settle once a life-lease apartment (for which we have been on a waiting list) comes available – hopefully by June or July. In the meantime, we plan to drive to northern Manitoba to deliver our dog, Misty, to her new parents, daughter Shirley and son-in-law Brien, visit for awhile and then head south to Winnipeg where we plan to settle. In a way it will be like coming home as that is the city in which we met and married almost 13 years ago.

Nostalgia has been brought on by our choosing to sell some of our Mexican treasures that we accumulated when we maintained a home in Mexico (November 2004-May 2007, with yearly trips back to Manitoba to retain our Canadian residency). It is now early spring here in British Columbia with tulips, magnolias, daffodils, lilacs and fruit trees in full bloom, and still the end of winter in Manitoba. In contrast our first April in Mexico was glorious with a warm, full-blown spring, as we moved from our motorhome into a rental house in Chapala Haciendas, a suburb of Chapala in the mountains of central Mexico on the shores of Lake Chapala, Mexico’s largest lake. Here we became acquainted with new types of flowering plants and trees, a much earlier and warmer spring than either of us had ever experienced and an exotic atmosphere that led to a charmed fascination with all the new experiences we were enjoying. Though Gayle got fully acquainted with Location Writing last summer, now that we think about it, the following piece was an even earlier occasion for Location Writing. Our rental house was a one-and-a-half story brick house, inside and out. We mostly lived on the front veranda and garden surrounding the swimming pool which took up most of the front lawn. You will notice that Gayle refers to Ian as “Scotty,” the name he chose to be known by during our Mexican sojourn. We will start with a slide show to illustrate her story.

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AN APRIL SWIM IN PARADISE

by Gayle Moore-Morrans

With the sun’s rays a bit deflected as the clock nears four, it is finally time for my daily rendezvous with my beloved new pool. I don my orange flowered swimsuit to contrast with the turquoise pool walls and lavish on some sunscreen. My swim shoes await me at the brick steps that surround our upstairs bathtub; but first I need to shake them out in case any wee scorpion has decided to take refugee in one of them. (Thankfully, one hasn’t.) Grabbing my sunglasses and a towel from the clothesline downstairs, I descend from the terrace to the front lawn and down the steps into the pool. Scotty, my husband, has already moved the solar blanket off the water, skimmed the water’s surface with the pool net and turned on the pump so the water is shimmering fresh and turquoise in the sunlight.

My routine begins – ten laps along the length of the pool. Not too impressive when you think the pool is only 16 feet long, but that’s all my metal-laden bones can handle. With a humerus supported inside by a titanium rod, an artificial knee and an ankle held together by plates and screws, I’m proud to be able to do that much kicking and stroking. Then its time to whip out my trusty foam noodles – one fuchsia and one chartreuse. Without them, my pool time would be shorter and much less fun. Spanish practice comes next – cientos agua (100 water) sit-ups with the noodles’ assistance. When I started five months ago I kept track of my sit-ups while counting from uno to diez (1-10) in Spanish, over and over until the counting became rote. Then I graduated to the teens – onze, doze, treze, quatorze, quince, dieseseis, etc. Now its second nature to get from uno to cien (100) and beyond.

Sit-ups done, it’s time to relax and enjoy the surroundings. Fronting the built-into-the-hill pool is a brick wall which I peer over to enjoy the panorama in front of the house. A bright red-headed-and-breasted bird sits on his usual perch on our car window where he visits with and pecks at his reflection. Then he flies to the front gate leading to our driveway, on to the bodega (gardener’s shed) and finally into one of the towering jacaranda trees lining the street. I admire those graceful trees, profuse now in all their springtime glory, blanketed with large grapelike clusters of tiny, light purple trumpet-shaped flowers, their fernlike leaves just beginning to appear.

Beyond the street our hill continues descending into a valley dotted with houses peeping out from swatches of purple from more jacarandas and the dark green of pine and fichus trees. Then the heavily wooded mountains loom at the horizon, still brown from their winter rest but beginning to show patches of green with the promise of an emerald blanket once the rainy season begins in June. Towering over the highest peak is a cluster of telecommunications towers and a clear blue sky broken only by a fading jet stream.

Now my attention turns to my immediate surroundings. Several “critters” attempt to share the pool with me. A few days ago when I first started down the pool steps, I jumped at the sight of a two-inch long scorpion floating by. He (or she) wasn’t alive, though, so I relaxed and watched it sink to the bottom of the pool. Today I decide to check the drain pail at the far end of the pool and, sure enough, “Scorpi” has been drawn into it by the action of the pump. (I ask Scotty to take it out and let it dry so we can add it to the collection of dead scorpions I’m planning to take as souvenirs to my son in Canada.) Another of my more unpleasant swimming companions is the “helicopter-wasps” who buzz around my head from time to time. I’m not sure of their scientific name, but Scotty has given them the helicopter handle because they seem to have revolving antenna on top and long legs that hang down when they are flying, resembling landing gear. (Luckily, they don’t seem to be interested in stinging me, except for the one that got caught in my towel when I was drying myself the other day. The cool water sure felt good on that sting.)

I prefer more pleasant pool companions, although they don’t seem to fare too well in the water. Lovely dragonflies flitter along above me, the occasional one getting too close to the water. As its wings get waterlogged, it struggles to free itself, just getting wetter and in danger of drowning. I come to the rescue, picking it up along with a handful of water and gently toss it to the brick edge of the pool. Its struggles lessen as it feels the solid wall beneath it, but its wings are still too waterlogged to fly. I watch to see how it is drying out and, when the drying seems to take excessively long, swim over to it and gently blow on the wings. Before long, the lovely insect seems to shake itself, flex its wings and take off for another flight. It’s not the only reckless flyer, however; before long I’ve got three other dragonflies recovering on the sides of the pool wall.

Peppy, our wee poodle, strolls down from the terrace to sniff around the pool and watch my antics. I try to coax him in for a swim, but he’s not interested. He’s joined me swimming in a lake in Canada, but I think the steps into the pool are a bit daunting for him. Or maybe he’s decided he’s just too old to swim or, like Scotty, thinks that the water is too cold.

My last daily routine includes floating around on the noodles, exercising my arms and “bicycling” with my legs while checking on the growth and beauty of the plants and trees in the yard surrounding the pool. Two fan palms on the south side provide a lovely bit of shade and an ever-interesting view of their delightful crisscross patterned trunk made from the scars of palm fronds long ago wilted and cut away. I continue to be appalled at the sloppy job the landlady’s son did while painting the pool – the turquoise paint somehow made its way over to the palm trunk, strangely colouring some of those crisscrosses. Surrounding the palms are eight-to-ten-foot tall poinsettia trees, rather scrawny now that their winter blooms have faded and most of the leaves have dropped. They’ll need severe pruning before long, having earned a bit of rest before those barren stalks again produce profuse red, pale pink or white flowers ready for another Christmas. I remember that they are native to Mexico and have a most apt name in Spanish – flor de nochebuena (Christmas Eve flower). I also love to think of the large scarlet poinsettia blooms that covered about a mile of cobble-stoned streets last December when we watched a village parade in honour of the Virgin of Guadalupe, Mexico’s patron saint.

After the poinsettias, a number of very strange looking “skeletons” line the walk going around the south side of our house. These trees are called “frangipani” in English, but in Spanish are known as flor de mayo or mayflower trees. At present they look a bit like giant saguaro cacti with their barren arms sticking out and up, except that they don’t have spikes and their fat leafless stalks are a dull gray colour. I’ve noticed that the ends of each stalk have begun to produce a deep dull reddish and spiky growth, several of which have turned into a circlet of long green leaves with small buds in the center. Apparently, by May these buds will open into delicate, fragrant clusters of small four-petaled pink or white flowers that are often formed into leis. It’s hard to imagine that such an ugly tree will turn into a celebrated beauty in just a few short weeks.

Swimming into the southeast corner, I gaze at the fascinating banana trees. Though rather young and thus not very high yet, one of the trunks has produced a huge, full-grown dull red flower whose large top and bottom petals are slowly curling open, little by little each day. Several days ago the inside of this flower revealed small teeth-like protrusions which have been very gradually turning into larger rows of “teeth” and now today the top row has begun to look like teeny green bananas. I know they will eventually become larger hard green bananas and finally ripe light green and then softer yellow fruits. Surprisingly, the huge bunch of bananas that is finally formed doesn’t hang down as I supposed; instead, it proudly “hangs” upward, just waiting for the picking. Every few days, I ask Scotty to get the camera and record the progress of the flower as it gradually turns into fruit.

Across the cobblestone driveway on the west side of the pool, I enjoy the shade of a towering fichus tree with its huge, gnarled trunk and large, exposed upper roots surrounding several hills of ant debris and a crowded pot of peace lilies which I’m planning to divide into two pots, claiming one for my own. On either side of the fichus, vibrantly-colored bougainvillea vines climb the fence and twine their way into the trees, cascading with lush flashes of purple, violet, crimson, orange, gold, fuchsia, pink, rose and white. Several beds of brilliant, scarlet lilies complete the scene.

After an hour in the water, I’m suddenly feeling a bit cold but do another couple of laps before calling it quits. My swim completed, I climb the steps and take a seat to dry off and warm up in the fading hour of sunlight. My eyes linger on the pots of fragrant blooming rose bushes and flamboyant orange, blue and yellow tufted bird-of-paradise plants that I’ve planted along the brick path around the pool and then onto the lush potted ferns and geraniums along the terrace. This surrounding beauty captivates me anew each day. If April is this gorgeous, I anxiously await the wonders that May and June will bring to my daily dip in this Mexican paradise.

CANADIAN EX-PATS AND A POODLE CELEBRATE ROBBIE BURNS’ DAY IN MEXICO

CANADIAN EX-PATS AND A POODLE CELEBRATE ROBBIE BURNS’ DAY IN MEXICO

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Robbie Burns’ Day is fast approaching on January 25th. I (Gayle) dug out my file and photos from an article I originally wrote in February 2005 when Ian and I were on our two-and-a-half year sojourn in Mexico. I’ve been put into a Scottish mood, having convinced Ian that we should attend this year’s Robbie Burns Dinner on Saturday, January 24th at the Ian at book reading in McKinnon kiltVernon Rec Complex sponsored by the Kalamalka Highlanders Pipe Band and the Arran Campbell Memorial Pipe Band here in Vernon, British Columbia. Last year Ian just didn’t feeling up to attending even after I altered his fairly new but way-too-big kilt (McKinnon clan tartan: McKinnon is the clan to which the Morrans family is a sept). The kilt was tailored for him several years ago when Ian had gained about 40 pounds while being treated with prednisone for almost five years. Once he went off the medication the pounds literally dropped off, which is what happened to his kilt as well once he tried it on for the second time! The above photo shows him in the McKinnon tartan kilt while it still fit. In the story that follows Ian is wearing his old kilt, a hand-me-down in the Royal Stewart tartan that Ian received from his former sister-in-law. (Not the correct tartan for him, but a Scotsman can’t pass up something free, and he was thrilled to get his own kilt at the time.)

This time it is I (Gayle, the blogger) who is acting as the Scottish Canadian author. To set the scene, we had set up temporary quarters at a small RV park on the shores of Lake Chapala, Mexico’s largest lake, in the mountainous part of central Mexico south of Guadalajara. It just so happened that all the other RVers in that park were fellow Canadians and a few of them had Scottish heritage as well. We met weekly for a specially catered dinner in the RV park’s lounge and had decided that it would be fun to have a Robbie Burns’ Dinner on a day close to his birthday. Ian and I had brought our kilts with us and the rest of the company improvised. You will note that I refer to Ian as “Scotty”, the name he became known as amongst our Mexican and ex-pat friends. After the event we met the editor of a local ex-pat on-line magazine and she asked me to submit an article telling of our unique evening. Here is the result, completed  by the slide-show of photos at the start of this blog post to document our party.

Article originally written for  an e-zine: Mexico Insights, published in Ajijic, Mexico, February 2005.

Roca Azul RVers Celebrate Scotland’s Robert Burns
by Gayle Moore-Morrans

Throughout the world on Robbie Burns’ birthday, (January 25), Scots, those of Scottish ancestry, various Scottish “wannabees” and poetry enthusiasts gather to celebrate the immortal memory of Scotland’s national bard. Not to be outdone, 18 Canadians residing at or near the Roca Azul recreational vehicle (RV) site on the western shore of Lake Chapala enjoyed a traditional Burns’ Night complete with tartans, pipe music, haggis and Scotch whisky, as well as recitations and singing of some of Burns’ famous poems.

Our illustrious director and entertainer was none other than fellow RVer Ian “Scotty” Moore-Morrans, sometimes known as “Winnipeg’s Mr. Scotland.” Originally from Campbeltown on the Kintyre Peninsula, Argyll, Scotland, Scotty welcomes any excuse to don his kilt, sporran, skean dhu (Gaelic for “black knife”, worn in the stocking) and Argyll jacket, and break into a Scottish/Gaelic ballad or spin a highland tale. He has entertained at Robbie Burns’ Nights and other Scottish-flavoured gatherings over the years, including last year at the prestigious Fort Garry Hotel (Winnipeg) for the Cameron Highlanders 2004 Burns’ Supper. He is also an enthusiastic member of the international Robbie Burns’ Society.

A neighbour, Carmelina “Carmie” (McPherson) Bourner who hails from “New Scotland” (Cape Breton, Nova Scotia) and has spent a lifetime enjoying Scottish music, dance and tradition, agreed to serve as mistress of ceremonies for the evening. Other campers good-naturedly agreed to recite a Burns’ poem, give a traditional toast, bring along some appropriate recorded music or just come and participate in the festivities. The contributors quickly got down to business, digging through their CDs, writing up their pieces or rehearsing their poems while enduring Scotty’s coaching if they wished to attempt reading with a Scottish “burr.”

Then it was my turn. As Scotty’s fairly new wife, I’d been indoctrinated into the glories of my previously little-known Scottish heritage. After I’d learned countless Scottish tunes and attended various Scottish events over the past two years, Scotty called me to the ultimate task! “I’ve got a great idea, Gayle; you can make the haggis!” Okay, I’m a fairly accomplished and adventuresome cook – but, HAGGIS? I’d eaten some samples (one very good, some not so memorable) while trying not to dwell on a few of the traditional ingredients – namely, mutton, suet, sheep’s heart and “lights” (lungs) and the non-eaten casing which consisted of a cleaned-out sheep’s stomach! But I’m usually up to a challenge. Obviously, the one cookbook I had in the motorhome did not contain a recipe for haggis. So, laptop computer in hand, I headed for an Internet café and did a search for “Robbie Burns.” An array of sites appeared with all sorts of instructions for hosting a Robbie Burns’ Night, biographies of the bard, the texts of his poems and a section on haggis. After downloading and printing the haggis section, I studied the various recipes, ranging from an excerpt from The Scots Book of Lore and Folklore to “Lady Logan’s Receipt from 1856” to a beef haggis and an “Americanized” recipe that could be baked in a meatloaf pan. The latter sounded more to my liking. I headed for a carniceria (butcher shop) searching for ground lamb and lamb’s liver.

“No, Señora, we don’t carry ground lamb. But you could buy a five-pound leg of lamb and we can grind it for you.” I declined, saying I only needed two pounds of lamb so perhaps I’d have him grind up 1/2 pound of lamb chops and would substitute ground beef that I already had for the rest. With a sudden, “Uno momento,” he disappeared into the back room, shortly reappearing with a partial leg of lamb that could be ground and would make about 2 pounds! Then I asked for lamb’s liver and was informed that the farmer who supplied their lamb meat sold all the innards to someone else. Okay, did they have any pork liver then? No, they had only beef liver (which I’ve been warned against in Mexico) and chicken liver (which I hate). My eyes rested on some pork pâté and I decided that would make a good substitute. With an added pound of not-so-lean hamburger (my “acceptable” substitute for suet), my meat supply was complete. To that I added minced onion, egg, oatmeal and about 4 times the amount of paltry spices that the recipes called for – nutmeg, ginger and cloves. The day of our Burns’ “do” the campground was treated to a delicious aroma emanating from the motorhome that flew the rampant lion flag of Scotland. At least we would be treated to something authentic in the way of a traditional menu for a Burns’ Supper.

That brings up the problem that Pat, our weekly communal dinner organizer, faced in trying to communicate with the Mexican cook about the proper menu for such an occasion. Most Burns’ suppers start out with cockaleekie soup. Then roast beef is served along with the haggis, complimented by “tatties” (potatoes), a rich beef gravy, green peas and “neeps” (mashed turnips). A typical dessert would be a fruit/cream/whisky-laced trifle. Pat and I were pretty sure that turnips were not available in Mexico so our recommendation was for the cook to prepare a chicken soup, some sort of beef, potatoes and other vegetables and leave the dessert up to her. The results proved interesting – but I’m getting ahead of the story.

Dressed to the nines in our kilts and laden with haggis and whisky, Scotty and I arrived at the clubhouse to the “oohs” and “aahs” of the other campers.  Pat had decked out the table with red and white flowers and a big tartan bow. Matching them was Carmie, our MC, dressed all in white with a nice Royal Stewart tartan sash. After seeing that all had a toast glass of Scotch, she invited us to the table. With her opening remarks she explained the background of Burns’ Suppers, that we were joining people all around the world on this day to commemorate Scotland’s most venerated poet in celebrations, poetry readings and song. We were invited to receive the haggis by standing and clapping time to the pipe music. Then Carmie joined our four-person parade to “Pipe in the Haggis.” As the “chef,” I had the privilege of carrying in the haggis, followed by everyone else present who wore a tartan – in this case, Scotty, Carmie and her husband Richard in his version of a Scottish RVer, resplendent in shorts, white shirt and tartan tie. At the “skirl” of the pipes, we did a complete circle of the banquet table and then took our places at its head. Then began the most important element of a Burns’ supper – the recitation of Burns’ “Address to the Haggis.”

Knife poised in mid-air, Scotty began: “Fair fa’ your honest, sonsie face, Great Chieftain o’ the puddin-race . . .!” A few verses later he enacted the verse while stabbing into my luscious creation: “His knife see rustic-labour dicht, An’ cut you up wi’ ready slicht, Trenching your gushing entrails bricht, like onie ditch; And then, O what a glorious sicht, warm-reekin, rich!” Finally ending this slightly unintelligible (for most of us) poem with “Auld Scotland wants nae stinking ware that jaups ‘n’ luggies; But, if you wish her gratefu’ pray’r, Gie her a Haggis!” he lifted his whisky glass and invited everyone to stand and toast the haggis. “To the haggis, Slainte Bha!”  (pronounced Slanje va – Gaelic for “good health!”)

Next on the program was Richard Bourner who imparted some brief but witty remarks about the manufacture of single malt Scotch whisky, to which we also stood for another wee dram and “Slainte Bha!”

After Scotty prayed Burn’s “Selkirk Grace” (“Some ha meat and canna eat; Some wad eat but want it. But we ha meat and we can eat and tae the Lord be thankit.”), “The Meal” followed.

We first enjoyed a delicious tomato soup while our hosts tended the outside barbeques – roast beef had become Biftec. That’s where any similarities to the traditional meal stopped. The steaks were accompanied by prickly pear cactus leaves and a medley of creamed, cubed white vegetables – probably peeled zucchini and celeriac. The meat varied from nearly tender to “shoe leather quality.” As each plate was served I went around the table to add a small portion of haggis. Some were a bit hesitant at first, having heard all sorts of disparaging remarks about it. After tasting the steaks, however, the haggis became more popular. In fact, the dish went around the table three times and I finally put the last two pieces aside so that Scotty could have a “wee drop” for breakfast the next day!

Following our fruit cup dessert, we retired to the camper’s recreation room to begin our ceilidh (pronounced kaylee), a Scottish celebration where everyone has a chance to contribute to the program – through song, dance, recitation or whatever. Al Laplante gave the traditional speech “To the Immortal Memory,” in which he outlined how Robbie Burns’ deep love for Scotland fired his ambition to write in the Scottish vernacular, resulting in the creation of a unique brand of poetry, full of character, integrity, humour, satire and lyrical harmony. Even though he only lived from 1756 – 1796, his popularity is still on the increase two centuries after his poems first appeared.

After Scotty treated us to a musical rendition of Burns’ well known, “Flow Gently, Sweet Afton,” it was time for Bryan St. George to present the “Toast to the Lassies.” He mentioned that, though we women present came from a variety of different backgrounds, for this evening we were all “lassies” – more specifically “RV lassies” – and that we were particularly to be recognized for making comfortable homes for our men despite our small living quarters. Then it was time for the “Response to the Laddies.” Linda Rae responded by inviting all the lassies to raise their glasses in toast to all the men present who had such good taste in women!

Continuing on with our poetry readings, Pat Laplante gave a good attempt at a Scottish “burr” while reading “Coming Through the Rye.” Ian Rae followed with a rendition of “For a’ That an’ a’ That,” Burns’ tribute to universal brotherhood which ends with the ringing, “It’s comin’ yet for a’ that, that man to man, the world o’er shall brithers be for a’ that.” Scotty and I sang, “Ye Banks and Braes o’ Bonnie Doon” and then we heard, “To a Mouse,” in which Burns, a farmer by trade, apologized to a wee mouse whose wee house his plow had disturbed – a good example of Burns’ search for universal meaning in the commonplace.

The evening concluded as Scotty led us through a singalong of Scottish songs, followed by some Scottish country dancing, an impassioned speech by Ross Hamilton about brotherhood and understanding amongst people and his demonstration of hand puppet “dancing” to a Scottish reel.

In the words that my hometown newspaper used to end all party reports: “A fine time was had by all!” Oh – I almost forgot! Our wee dog, Peppy, who accompanies us almost everywhere, joined us for the ceilidh portion of the evening. He slept through most of it but when it came time to join hands around a circle to sing “Auld Lang Syne,” Peppy decided to participate. Trotting into the circle, he took up his begging stance on hind legs with front paws pleadingly chopping the air. Scotty and Ross separated their hands, each taking him by a front paw, and we continued our singing and circling. As the Brits would put it, Peppy was “as happy as Larry!” Another Scottish wannabee!