Scotland the Brave


Because, of course, the world is clamoring for an American perspective on the Scottish Independence referendum.

Seriously, though, I’ve watched the lead up to the vote with curiosity, and I want to see what happens next. It’s interesting how people define themselves and how an independent Scotland versus a UK Scotland is or is not part of that definition. It’s a question of identity.

Black and white panorama of the beach. It's a windy day and the clouds are heavy over the water. The camera is behind a patch of wind-beaten dune grass, and a lone silhouette stands at the water's edge.

“Beach Troon” by Patrick Verheij CC BY

My Grandma was born in Troon, Scotland (south of Glasgow) and came to the states during the middle of WWII, when she was 18. She stayed, married, had kids and moved around the US: New York, Colorado, Indiana.

She and my grandad took periodic trips to Europe. During one of these trips, they stopped in Glasgow. Since they were running out of clean clothes, Grandma popped down to a nearby laundromat. She saw a young couple and thought it would be fun to eavesdrop on the lovebirds. Much to her dismay, she couldn’t understand a word they said.

Granted, Glaswegian isn’t the easiest Scottish accent to get. When I studied at the University of Glasgow for a semester, I understood everyone just fine. I watched the movie My Name is Joe in the theaters over there and scoffed when I heard it was being released in the US with subtitles. Who needed subtitles? That was ridiculous…until I watched it five years after coming back to the states. Who needed subtitles? Me. Here’s a fine sample.

Grandma told me her laundromat story decades after the fact. Obviously, it was an important moment for her. As a college student, all I got out of that conversation was an epiphany that I didn’t have to pack clothes for every single day that I was traveling. Today, I hear the sadness in her story.

There are things that we think define us. What happens when we realize those things aren’t true any more?

I never talked about this with her, but from hearing stories, it seems that Grandma was “other” in the small towns where she lived with her husband and kids. Her accent made her stand out whether she wanted to or not. And there she was, the place where she shouldn’t stand out, the place where she should be able to blend in and eavesdrop like everyone else, only to discover that she was other there, too.

Close-up of thistle bloom with a loch and mountains in the background

“Scottish Thistle at Loch Tarff – South Loch Ness – Inverness Scotland” by Dave Conner CC BY

Thistle picture on Flickr

Beach picture on Flickr