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TITLE: An American Traveler In Scotland May 10, 2014
By Virginia Bliss
05/10/14
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This piece was entered for the topic "First World Problem" in April 2014. It placed sixth in Advanced, but did not place in the top twenty overall.
Mr. MacTavish sniffed at my Ralph Lauren suit. “Looks like he’s gaun tae Westminster.”

Mrs. MacTavish frowned. “Angus, the morra lend him yer troosers.”

“Aye, Janet. Show the lad his room.”

My room was up a steep flight of stairs. My closet at home’s bigger than this.

“The bed’s got a dounie, an’ I’ll give ye’ a hot water bottle.”

“Where’s the thermostat?”

“The whit?”

“Uh—the thing you control the heat with.”

“If it’s heat ye’re wantin’, thare’s the electric fire.”

It’s Scotland, it’s March, and the house has no central heating.

“And the bathroom?”

“Doun the stairs.”

The bathroom contained only a tub.

How embarrassing.

“Angus, the bathroom doesn’t seem to have a toilet.”

“It’s the BATH room. The cludgie’s across the hall.”

“Supper’s served.” Janet motioned at the dining room.

We sat at the old wooden table, and Angus said grace. “Heivenly Faither, thank ye’ fur the breid ye’ put afore us.”

Before him was a platter containing what looked like a sack. He cut it open and scooped out something resembling hamburger. He passed my plate to Janet who added what appeared to be orangey mashed potatoes.

“This is haggis.” Angus pointed to the sack. “We always ha’e neeps and tatties with it.”

“What’s haggis?

“Sheep stomach filled with minced liver, heart, tongue, onions, suet, oats, an’ spices. Then ye’ boil it.”

Upon tasting the neeps and tatties, I concluded that it did indeed contain mashed potatoes as well as some other vegetable that presumably was responsible for the orange color and bitter taste.

“Mr. Cunningham, ye ken my cousin Isobel?”

“Call me Jim, Angus. Yes, when Great Aunt Isobel died in January, she left me all her money. Her last wish was that I visit you two.”

“An’ would ye’ aye get the money if ye’ dinna visit us?”

“Oh yes. It was her request, not a condition.”

“Then ye’re a braw lad Hamish, and we’re proud ye’re our kin.”

Janet smiled. “Are ye’ married?”

“No. I’m still looking for the right girl.”

I took out my laptop. “You have Internet access here?”

The elderly couple stared. “Na. The morra ye’ can try at the village library.”

“You have a phone.”

“Aye.”

“I mean a smartphone.”

“Ye’ mean a mobile. Nae service.”

It had never entered my head that rural areas in a modern country would lack cell and Internet connections.

I traipsed upstairs with a hot water bottle, turned on the electric fire for a few minutes, and then climbed into bed.

Hard to believe that just last evening I was flying out of New York. Arrived in London’s Heathrow, and caught a flight to Aberdeen. Where I was greeted by a raw and rainy afternoon, the very stereotype of Scottish weather. I took a bus to this little village of Kenrick Brae, the home of my ancestors.

I’ve fulfilled Aunt Isobel’s wish. In a few days I’ll leave to spend the rest of my vacation in Italy.

I drifted off to sleep dreaming of sidewalk cafes, fine food and wine, glistening beaches, nightclub dancing, modern conveniences, and of course meeting the girl of my dreams.

I’m quite comfortable actually…wool blankets, feather dounie, hot water bottle…

At 7am Angus woke me. “Breakfast at 7:30.”

Janet set before me a bowl of what I assumed was oatmeal. I started to put milk and sugar on it, when Angus stopped me.

“A heathenish thing, putten that on good Scots parritch.”

“What should I put on it?”

“Butter. Here.”

Janet poured tea.

No juice or coffee.

In Italy there’ll be coffee.


Dressed in a pair of Angus’ tweed trousers, I took a bus to the village.

Not much except a church, post office, a few shops. A passerby showed me the way to the library.

The sign said “Built in 1470”. Can anything that old have Internet access?

The librarian showed me where to plug in my laptop. Forget wireless.

I waited, hoping for a connection.

“Slow, isn’t it.”

I looked up to see a young woman with long, curly hair the color of marmalade. Her skin was milk white; her blue sweater matched her eyes.

“I’m tech support. My name’s Mairi.”

“Pleased to meet you. I’m Jim.”

“American. Whaur’re ye’ staying?”

“With the MacTavishes.”

“Aye. A grand auld couple.”

“They are.”

“Staying lang?”

The morning sun was streaming through the stained glass windows, creating little sparkles on Mairi’s hair. Suddenly my plans for Italy didn’t seem important. “Aye. I think I’ll stay awhile.”
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