Tuesday, November 21, 2006

The First Thanksgiving
An answer to Dr. Clement Moore - for my American family

The first year was over, they'd settled the land.
Now Plymouth was home to a small Pilgrim band
The good ship "Mayflower" had long since sailed away,
As each one prepared for the Thanksgiving Day.
Governor Bradford had made his decree.
"All must make ready a festivity.
The Lord, in his mercy has smiled on our plight
Our harvest is good, and our cause it is right.
Through winter and sickness, for all these months past,
We've toiled and we've labored, 'til now at long last
There are crops in the pantry, and beer in the keg,
So each as we're able, make ready I beg."

Some men to the woods with musket and snare
For duck, goose and turkey, wild deer and hare.
Some to the long boats with hook, line and reel
For sea bass and cod or even an eel.
Some to the thickets, to bring extra wood
For each stove and fireplace in their neighborhood.
And some to fetch trimmings like corn cob and leaf
So each table is set with a cheery motif.
The womenfolk pounding make ready the grain
From the indian corn which they found when they came.
No butter was churning, no milk in the pail,
For they brought no cattle when first under sail,
But there was soup in the kettle and flagons of ale.
There was peeling and slicing and kneading and baking,
There was mincing and roasting with chopping and grating.
And sifting and searing, and spreading and smearing,
And wonderful dishes to eat kept appearing.
Then barrels upturned with planks on the tops
Made tables they covered with fine linen cloths.
All is made ready, the guests then appear,
Chief Massasoit with braves to the rear.
These were the natives whose help they derived.
And without their assistance none may have survived.
They gave them the corn which grew better than wheat.
And taught them that fish made crops tall and sweet.
After their chief, came a proud delegation
It seemed there advanced, the whole Wampanoag nation.
The Pilgrims, astonished, just welcomed them stay
And join in the feast they were sharing that day.

When all were seated at table and board,
Governor Bradford said, "Let's praise the Lord."
Doffing his hat and with eyes raised to heaven
He gave thanks to God for the blessings He'd given.
And barely had echoed the solemn "Amen",
When the village of Plymouth resounded again.
There was sniffing and smiling and clanging and clinking
And shouting and passing and eating and drinking
'Til everyone feasting was filled till replete,
And gave groans of approval for good things to eat.
Then after their meal there was smoking and toasting.
And singing and chanting and laughing and boasting.
And piping and drumming and dancing and reeling
And jigging and clapping, a wealth of good feeling.
In soothe, for three days there was nothing but cheer
As Christian and heathen* gave thanks for the year. *Indian

They crossed the Atlantic, they braved the wild seas,
Faced winter so harsh it brought them to their knees.
During this time half their number had perished,
But they never lost sight of the quest they all cherished.
Their harvest was taken, their laboring done,
In sixteen hundred and twenty one.

Since then every year, though the decades roll by,
As November days shorten with cloudy grey sky,
When Warblers and Martins have flown t’ward the ring,
And the fields lying fallow are waiting for spring.
It is then that we gather on Thanksgiving Day,
Surrounded by loved ones we bow heads and pray.
Remembering the Pilgrims whose struggle and toil
Won them Freedom and Justice on this foreign soil.
Our tables are laden with turkey and hams
Sweet corn and turnips, potatoes and yams.
Cranberry jelly and stuffing nearby
Freshly baked bread and of course pumpkin pie.
From ocean to ocean across this great land
From the shores of New England to the tall Redwood stand,
We pause to forgather with family and friend
And thank God for the goodness, may it never end?

Dr Neil S. McLeod - November 21, 1991

* Indian may be sustituted for the word “heathen”, which is not supposed to imply barbarian just a non-Christian

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Veteran's Day

A Man Who Will Listen
A story from Ian MacLeod of Western Australia - He was approached while wearing his father’s battle medals by an old soldier at a parade for Veterans.

You look like a man who will listen
The old veteran stammered to me,
There’s something I really must tell you
For it has been bothering me.

It has been bothering me, mister,
Since that day on the Kokoda Trail
When we stumbled into this encampment
Where this Jappo was dying and pale.

I minded the booby traps round him,
With deft fear a crept in to find
The slice from the calf of his oppo,
He’d eaten, goin’ out of his mind.

It was tragic, that bastard was dying,
Yet I could not leave him alone,
For he’d tell that my troupe had been through there,
Then the whole Jappo Army’d have known.

So I put my gun up to his temple
I paused ’fore I let the shot go,
And that Jappo he smiled as if grateful,
And that’s what’s been botherin’ me so.

I see by the salad you’re wearing
Your heritage leads you to know
There are things that a man can not answer
That just go on botherin’ him so.

So I told him, “You did him a favour.”
“You spared him a death of regret.”
“For instead of dying a coward
You made him an honorable vet.”

Then the old soldier’s brow seemed less furrowed
His distant eye fixed firm on mine,
And he thanked me for lifting the worry
That had bothered him, such a long time.

Friday, November 10, 2006

The Cobbler's Son

Ohannes (John) Makhdomian has been repairing my shoes for thirty years. He has a shop in the Farmers Market on Fairfax. He is famous now for doing a wonderful job at a fair price.

When my shoes need mending
I take them round to John
The cobbler in the market
For he can mend what’s wrong.
The shelves around his little stall
Are lined with paper bags
All waiting for their owners
And marked with paper tags.

I shake his hard-worn leathern grip
As he hands my shoes to me,
I know they are perfect - I don’t doubt,
As I ask him for his fee.
Then taking out each shoe,
I admire all that I inspect,
It’s not for need I pass the time
It’s done out of respect.

His eyes seem grey and sorrowful
They thinly veil his woe,
And when I ask he tells me
It all happened long ago.
It’s been eleven already
He’s getting out next year
My son, he got into a fight
And I’m left working here.

It was at a birthday party
When he was seventeen
But a boy lay bleeding, dying,
Before he quit the scene.
They had an altercation
My son put in his boot,
Then his friend drew a knife out
And stuck it in, the brute.

He wrote me saying the other day,
The chance to change he’d take
He said that he was sorry
That he’d made a big mistake.
So perhaps he’s learned his lesson
Perhaps it’s for the good,
I saw the tear so close to flood
And then I understood.

I understood the roughness
Of the stubble on his face,
And the disappointed sadness
When a father feels disgrace.
His teeth they all need mending
Like shoes all worn and torn.
His self esteem all cut away
His heart’s wrent and forlorn.

So when my shoes need mending
I take them round to John
The cobbler in the market
For he can mend what’s wrong.
I won’t take them elsewhere
His work is neat and good
For a bond has grown between us
And that is understood.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Old Glory Faded
For City National Bank, and any one else who flies our nation’s flag and forgets to take care of it.

Sing this to the old tune and see how you feel:

It’s a sad old flag, a tattered old rag,
Forgotten neglected and torn,
A symbol of the land we loved
Once pride of the place I was born.

I really hate to see Old Glory faded
Greyed and tattered fluttering at the mast
Denied the respect and stature of the past
In our country where the values are all jaded.

That it would now seem fit to pass a law
Forbidding us from burning that prized symbol
Speaks volumes to the force that makes me tremble,
Detracting from the praise it had before.

Where are the boys and girls who gave their lives,
The men and women who stood proudly to salute,
With patriotism undaunted, hearts resolute.
Tell me in this land the pulse still thrives.

Along the boulevards that crease our city
Hanging there neglected and torn
Forgotten, ignored and forlorn
You’ll see our nation’s flag and it is a pity.

At dawn no veteran’s chest to swell with pride
At sunset, no guard to draw it down,
Just lip-service lighting from the ground,
Something in our spirit seems to have died.

Sing it to the old tune and see how you feel:
It’s a sad old flag, a tattered old rag,
Forgotten neglected and torn,
A symbol of the land we loved
Once pride of the place I was born.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

A Kirkin' O' The Tartan

The Kirkin’ O’ the Tartan
Saturday November 4th 2006
Photo courtesy of Karen Johnson

Why do we do this?
Why did a small group of Saint Andrew Society of Southern California members get together in the sanctuary of St. Barnabas the Apostle Anglican Church to have Fr. Scott Kingsbury officiate over and bless our tartans. Well let me give you a few reasons as I explained to the congregation when I was acting as Tartan Master.

For sixty five years American Scots have been taking their tartans to church to be blessed. It is an American tradition to hold this ceremony, and it has now spread around the world. It was established in 1941 by the then President of the Saint Andrew Society of Washington D.C., the Reverend Peter Marshall, Pastor of the New York Avenue Presbyterian Church, and later Chaplain of the Senate; The Kirkin’ O’ The Tartan was held at several different churches until 1952, then was settled at the National Cathedral. By now it is a tradition. Certainly since I started going to these services in 1976 I cannot remember a year when there was not a Kirkin’ somewhere in the southland. This is the first reason why we kirk the tartan, it is a tradition.

Hereditary Pride
Scottish folk have looked back longingly at the gems that fill out the sweet memories of the ancestral homeland. The little treasures like the piece of tartan hidden away in a family bible, or wrapped around a bairn to keep it warm against the ‘cauld blast’, or setting of the wedding dress. With it come the stories, the tales of home and the well remembered songs. Our fondness for and our pride in our heritage is another reason to celebrate the tartan.

Deep down in the heart of every Scot there is a resentment at being told that you must do or must not do something. It gets up our noses. Particularly if the command comes from someone we don’t respect. We have been told that we were forbidden to play the pipes, forbidden to ware the tartan, and forbidden speak our native tongue. We were even forbidden to bear arms. It therefore gives us particular delight to be able to parade our tartans in true style, especially when accompanied by the pipes and drums. It appeals to the contrary nature which I believe lies just beneath the surface within us all. If only for our Contrariness we Kirk the Tartan.

Celebrating our Scottish heritage is really a form of American Patriotism. Consider the contributions made by our countrymen to this American nation. Half the signers of the Declaration of Independence, more than half the Treasurers, and at least half of our presidents have been Scots or of Scottish decent; and that is just scratching the surface. We already know the Englishman’s nightmare is the constant confrontation with Scotland’s contribution to practically everything that is familiar that he uses in his day to day life. Much the same could be said of the multiplicity of the influence we as a group have had in America.

Since the early Colonial times, Scots, hard working and hard suffering, migrated to the Appalachians, invested in New Jersey, fought in the seven year French-Indian War, opened up the heartland, and felled the trees. They were doctors and teachers, trusted managers and accountants. They were governors, and cabinet members, lawyers and judges, prominent military leaders like Crockett and Grant, and inventors and scientists like Robert Fulton and John Muir and Alexander Graham Bell. They are the writers like Washinton Irving and Edgar Allen Poe and Herman Melville, they are the newspaper magnets who started The Boston News letter and the Chicago Tribune. They are the businessmen who invented meat packing, and the industrialists like the steel manufacturer Andrew Carnegie. They are the singers and the artists, designers of the cable cars. There are the Scottish Societies like the Burns Clubs and Clan Associations, and there are the ministers like Witherspoon who provided the framework for our constitution, and John Lloyd Ogilvey, Chaplain to the Senate who guided our nation’s leaders in prayer. It is out of patriotism that we gather today to sport our family colors.

Oh! and one more reason. It is fun to gather together, and bring these symbols of our heritage and present them to the maker of the Universe, and ask Him to bless us who wear these colors, and to keep His hand on our shoulders and guide us, and to provide for us as He sees fit
Jabez - 1 Chronicles 4:9-10.

A Toast to the Tartan

Here’s to the Tartan
The blue the green of it
The fighting sheen of it;
The yellow and red of it,
And every thread of it.
The fair have sighed for it,
The brave have died for it,
Foemen sought for it,
Heroes fought for it,
Honor the name of it,
Drink the fame of it.
The Tartan.

After Murdoch MacLean