People travel for many reasons. I have traveled for business, pleasure, and to meet long lost family members; but, this trip has been quite different. There is a strange sensation of immense purpose that struck me a few days before I departed. I suddenly realised that I was taking my mom on her last trip. I had no way of anticipating what I would feel. It’s one of those things that there really is no way to plan for, you just have to take it as it comes and trust in your inner strength to get you through. The MacIntyre’s family motto is “Per Ardua,” which, roughly translated, means “Through Difficulties.” The last year and a half truly gave new meaning to this ancient phrase; and, now, part of those difficulties was coming to a close.
Making the Plans
I was not prepared to lose my Mom when I did. I did not want to return to Scotland for this reason. Who wants to be the one to fulfill their Mother’s last request? I asked my Dad, Uncle, and Sister to make the journey with me, and for various reasons they could not. I’ll be honest and say that I kind of felt like I was alone holding the bag, quite literally. But, perhaps this is the way it was meant to be. Maybe, this trip was meant to help me discover, or rediscover, something about me, my Mom, or life in general. But still, I wanted someone there with me to help me get up if I should stumble, both literally and figuratively.
Francis has my best friend, he has stood by me when I have been a jerk, a pain in the ass, destructive, and down right self absorbed. If you want to know who your real friends are, its the ones that stick by you, when you wouldn’t even stick by you. I have learned more from and because of him than any other person outside my immediate family. He has truly helped me become a better and stronger person. It Francis who invited me on the trip to South-East Asia in February, and it completely changed my life. I returned the favour of that trip by extending an invitation for him to join me on this special journey to Scotland.
The only place that Francis had ever been in Scotland was Edinburgh. He sailed there with Clarissa, his wife, on the luxury cruise ship, Crystal Serenity. That trip was during the legendary Fringe festival, which is a spectacular time to go, but it is still Edinburgh. Now, I like Edinburgh; but, to me, it is not REALLY Scotland. It is full of Scottish history, and culture, but it is not the “heart” of Scotland. Francis has always wanted to see the “REAL” Scotland, and I knew that this trip would do that for him.
I was also fortunate in that another good friend, Don, was also planning a trip to Scotland this summer. Don is a brother of mine in the St. Andrew’s Society of Philadelphia. He could pass for Ernest Hemingway’s brother. You know the look, like a character that fell off of a cough drop box or a package of frozen fish sticks. He is a successful man with a big personality, great spirit, and a warm heart. His ability to mentor and encourage is a tremendous thing.
Don has visited the Isle of Skye many times over recent years, always renting the same little crofter’s cottage on the south coast in the village of Isleornsay. Over lunch at the Union League one afternoon, he said to me, “Well, why don’t you plan your trip at the same time I am heading over and we can all meet up on Skye and have a great time. This sounded like the ideal situation. I could go with Francis to fullfill my Mom’s request, and then we could randevous with Don and others on Skye, a place i have longed to visit, and Francis would really love the hiking and nature. It was perfect.
The Journey Begins
Packed and ready to go, Francis and I loaded our bags into the car and went to pick up Don. I had packed my mom, as everyone had directed, in my carry-on bag. Well, let me clarify, a bag a borrowed from Francis. I don’t like to check a bag unless I really have to, and since my Mom’s urn was going to take up a fair amount of space, AND because I had my large hiking boots, I needed more space. So, rather than take my big huge suitcase, I used my regular carry on as my checked bag, and borrowed a small duffle from Francis.
We picked up Don and headed off to PHL. Everything was going perfect, but I was nervous as I approached the TSA agents. My one suitcase was checked, but I had to get Mom through. I knew that she would show up as a big huge block of something on the X-Ray machine, but that was assured by many that after a few questions, she would be cleared and I would be off to catch my flight. As I passed through the security scanner, and began to collect my belongings on the other end, I noticed that the belt had stopped and the duffle bag was still in the X-Ray machine. “Supervisor for a bag check,” yelled the x-ray operator. I knew the fun was a bout to begin.
A female TSA agent came over and took the bag out of the machine. I informed her that there was an urn in the bag. She then called for her supervisor. This gentlemen took a few coins, laid them in a plastic pan, placed her urn on top of the coins and took her back to scan her again. If the coins showed up through her, she would be cleared to go. Well, she passed the test. He gently brought her back to me and told the other TSA agent to swab the bag and I would be cleared to go. When she swabbed, the machine alarmed. Now, the fun begins.
It felt like they all started swarming me. I could feel my blood pressure rising, and I knew that every camera was going to be on me, as well as Francis and Don who were standing there watching. Francis then said something to me, I’m not sure what as he was a bit away, BUT, he said one word that did not make me feel more relaxed. I softly spoke the word, “Mom.” Now, why would that word bother me? Say “Mom” and “Bomb.” Do you hear how they kind of sound alike? Now look at your self in a mirror saying both of those words. Do you see how they mouth movement is similar. I was immediately concerned that this would cause more difficulty. Word of advice to all of my friends: If you are traveling with someone who gets flagged by TSA, do not say ANYTHING! I’m serious, not a single word. TSA does not have a sense of humour, and something that you may think is funny, can cause much more difficulty. I don’t think that this did cause any more of an issue; BUT, it very easily could have.
They continued to swab, search, ask me questions, and body search me. They also pulled my checked suitcase to have it inspected. Then, a guy in sunglasses, and a black vest that said “Department of Homeland Security Explosives Supervisor” appeared. I tried to maintain my calm breathing and kept repeating my Tara Mantras in my head. I heard the one TSA supervisor tell the explosives guy that they had searched my name and nothing came up. They scanned Mom again, and the explosives guy cleared it. THEN, two male TSA agents repacked my bag, treating everything very carefully and with respect. YES, the TSA was very respectful of my Mom and of my travel alter which I had in my bag as well. They then had me go into the little private room with them. While in there, they asked me the same questions again and did a more “hands on” body search. BUT, I will again say that they were respectful.
At that point they finally cleared me. I needed a DRINK!! Francis, Don and I would meet up with our other travel companion Jim, and headed to an Irish pub in the gate area. Two pints later, we were ready to head for our gate and board. My nerves were still a little rattled, and I was not going to settle down until we were in the air and I knew we were on our way. We got to our seats, I took 50mg of benedryl, and for the first time in my life, I fell asleep on a plane.
Flying into Glasgow is always an amazing flight. The low altitude, the beautiful green countryside, the villages, it all makes me happy. As we landed, and I was assured that all was well by the arrival of my checked bag, which had been pulled off by TSA, I was ready to go. We buzzed through Immigration and off to our rental car.
Francis has often, in a brotherly kind of way, made fun of my connection to Scotland. Well, apart from a few minor traffic infractions while trying to get settled back into a right-hand drive vehicle, I was able to, from memory, drive all the way to my families hometown of Greenock, AND, drive to the James Watt Pub for breakfast. Tired, a bit bedraggled, and still in our flight clothes, we walked in and ordered some food and coffee.
I asked the girl who was waiting on us if she knew the best route to the Greenock Cemetery on Inverkip. She did not, but she would ask. Well, this was not a good sign to me because Greenock Cemetery is HUGE, one of the largest in Europe actually. How could she not know. She returned with a member of the kitchen staff who gave me a napkin with some long directions on how to get there. I nodded and thanked her for the help, but I knew it was wrong. If I were coming into the town on the A8, I knew just how to get there, and these directions did not match that. But, they tried to help, and I was grateful, but fortunately I did not follow their directions. Instead, I opted to go back on to the main road and follow the way that I remembered for getting there. You know what? I did it, I got us there in about three minutes. The directions from the staff would have taken me way out of town.
Finding Aunt Ruby
When I visited Greenock with my Grandfather in 1997, we had tried to locate my Aunt Ruby’s grave. But, something held him back. I still do not know what. We had gone to Greenock Cemetery; we had pulled up to the office, but he would not let us ask if they could look in their records for the listing. On one hand he wanted to find it, on the other, he didn’t. This always bothered me. I wanted to find this grave, and I knew it must be at Greenock Cemetery. This time, I had a grave reference from a family Facebook page.
After driving through the massive necropolis, I realised that there was no way that we would be able to find section KKKK, as I was informed by family. I finally found a staff member and asked him if he might be able to help. In his heavy Glaswegian accent, he directed me to the cemetery office. Upon entering, a cheering lady was happy to help. I gave her the location information I had, and she asked me to have a seat. Within a few moments she returned carrying a centuries old, leather bound book. “Well, you were almost correct. It is actually a McIntyre grave, and it is actually section 2K” she said. “McIntyre is my family name,” I replied. “Then we must have the correct plot,” she said as she laid the book down.
Looking over the register, I could see that the plot was purchased by my great-great-great grandfather, James McIntyre. When he died, it was transferred to my great-great grandfather Robert McIntyre (later MacIntyre). There were several family members buried there, the first in 1893, and the last in 1952. The lady was nice to enough to provide me with a map, with the appropriate section highlighted in purple. She also introduced me to one of their undertakers, who was taking a ride up to that area, and could help us look. TERRIFIC!
“Follow me up,” he said, as we got into our cars. We drove past the upright, the crooked, the old, and the new headstones. Finally, we stopped along the side of the road. “This is one of the oldest sections,” said the young man. We began our search. He showed us that all of the graves are supposed to have a plot number carved into the base of the headstones, but, being one of the oldest sections, they could be worn away, covered by moss, or simply gone.
This gentleman walked all over the section, with us, just as determined as we were. We looped around again and again, trying to find the barely visible plot numbers. We stopped by one large plot. “This is my bosses family plot. They have managed the cemetery for generations,” he said while indicating the nicely maintained plot with a large hedge outlining it. As we walked around to the back of that plot, there was a small toppled headstone, laying on its back. The last names on the stone, “McIntyre.” We began to compare the names on the stone to list in the register. Sure enough, this was it. Aunt Ruby wasn’t listed on it, but this was most definitely it. I just had to stop and kneel down to touch the stone. I went looking for one distant relative and ended up finding eight.
(In the next post, I will share meeting my friend in Glasgow, and the trip to Taynuilt.)