Saturday, August 29, 2009

Mermaids in Atlantic City . . .

We're here in Atlantic City for just 2 days. It's windy and cold, with off-shore storms bringing the rain that reminds me of Oregon, but we strolled along the famous boardwalk, saw Atlantic sea gulls gliding and turning everywhere, their large black-tipped wings almost a part of the sea and sky. People crowd the boardwalk, wearing shorts, hats, kids, and dodging push-carts full of end-of-summer visitors. They seem to tapdance down worn smooth boardwalks, past salt water taffy shops, high-rise hotels glittering C*A*S*I*N*O, red suitcases, formal door attendants on guard, muzak wafting out to mingle with jazz. Kids haul folded beach chairs up from the beach, the last of summer, dog walkers, bicyclists, skate boarders, seniors traveling in clumps, over on Atlantic Avenue, jitney busses careen in and out of traffic, and beyond all, nearly hidden behind the tall sand dunes, the ocean. A welcome respite with family and friends.

We stopped at the Atlantic City Convention Center Sheraton to look at a few historical icons -- the first Miss America, Margaret Gorman, 1921. And what did she win but a 3 foot high Golden Mermaid trophy. She returned in 1922 in full Statue of Liberty regalia and looked just like a flapper girl, her winning smile so energetic, it reverses all my conceptions about a beauty queen. If she had walked down Haight Ashbury in San Francisco in the late 60's or early 70's, she would have fit right in! Tomorrow we're back in Philadelphia to finish packing for our next journey, Scotland.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

On the shores of Lake Michigan . . .

I’m still reeling from the pleasure of spending the afternoon with Ron and Heather here in Upper Michigan. We rode through the woods to the lake, hopping out of the car at for vistas of Lake Michigan, finally stopping at Sleeping Bear Dune National Lakeshore, to see summer hikers of all persuasions and ages struggling up its 450 foot incline.

Manitou Island in Lake Michigan from Dune Overlook

Later, we sat at a long table on their enclosed patio surrounded by poplars, the sun shimmering through. The table was loaded with grilled salmon, mixed green salad, fresh bread, tossed summer squash, all flavors rising to our noses with anticipation. Heather reached out and said, “Let’s begin with the Selkirk Grace.” They recited it by heart, with fervor AND the proper Scottish pronunciation. What they didn’t know is this poem attributed to Robert Burns is the opening to my book, but this was the first time I’d ever heard it aloud (or that anyone else knew of it).

Some hae meat and canna eat,
And some wad eat that want it,
But we hae meat and we can eat,
Sae the Lord be thankit.

Heather later confided that she hated the poem when she was younger for her family recited it at every meal. “They sounded like knuckle-draggers,” she said, as “we hae meat and we can eat” called forth the image of cave dwellers, at least then to a teenager.

Her grandparents had come over from Scotland in the early 1900s to settle in flat farming land in the thumb of Michigan, where one had a chance to own land. Her grandmother talked of the surprise of raising a variety of vegetables, well past the meager three – oats, bere, and potatoes.

The memory of that day, sitting under those sun-dappled trees, that salmon, grilled with mustard and maple syrup, lingers on. I was left with the sense of why Scottish immigrants would remember their green, green homeland with its glens and fogs, heather and stormy seas, but just as eagerly embrace their new homelands, whether in the United States, Canada, India, or Australia. Maybe too, I begin to understand why the Scots love Robbie Burns.