In Scotland the Golden Eagle of the North soars above Glen Affric, but in North America at the Scottish American Society of Dunscreachen we encounter a very strange bird. The Scottish American Bald Eagle seems to be an imbalanced bird in-so-far as its left wing is atrophied and its right wing extremely overdeveloped. This seems to cause the metaphorical bird to circle endlessly around a fixed point in time, forever circling over a lost Scotland where everything worthwhile has already happened. Unable to fly in a forward direction the lopsided bird rotates over the same place in time and space believing that a romantic past can exist in a pragmatic present....
Skye opened the mailbox on his Ipad and scrolled through the emails. Most, as usual, were junk mails trying to sell something, but there was one from the Dunscreachen Scottish American Society that he was very keen to read. At last, it was notification of upcoming events organised by the Society. Besides the weekly karaoke ceilidhs and country dance and line dancing nights he was particularly excited about the annual Burns Supper and the Society's group trip to Scotland.
“Wow, fantastic,” he exclaimed, “An all-inclusive ten day escorted 'Outlander' tour for $10,000 excluding airfare and gratuities, in July. I have to put my name down right away – can't wait for July to come.”
Skye was a huge fan of the 'Outlander' series and its author Diana Gabaldon. He had read all her books and watched the TV series over and over. He felt that Claire and Jamie were his personal friends and he knew every intimate detail of their personal lives. He lived vicariously in Scotland's history and landscapes through the lush filming of locations in the TV series. He had made his own 'Outlander' costume based on the clothes and weapons that Jamie Fraser wore in the TV shows, and Skye was looking forward excitedly to wearing this outfit to the Scottish American Society Burns Supper in January.
Specially made for him by Scottish weavers in Selkirk was a nine-yard philamore (feileadh mor – Gaelic) or Great Kilt in ancient Fraser tartan. The same as the one worn by Jamie Fraser in the TV shows. Skye had gone to a class at the Dunscreachen Highland Games to learn how to roll himself into this kilt. With his excessive poundage, this had been challenging, especially when trying to get up off the floor wearing all that heavy wool.
Skye completed his outfit with an authentic leather sporran, doublet, cross belts; a bonnet with eagle feather, dirk, broadsword, hose with ghillie brogues. When he wore the Highland garb he felt like a real Highland warrior – ready to do battle against English redcoats. In his back yard he practiced the Highland Charge – with broadsword in his right hand and targe in his left, yelling the Fraser motto as he waddled across his lawn. He made a note to himself to lay off the shortbread and tablet (fudge) if he was going to be able to charge across Culloden Moor with his clan.
Skye had taken to calling himself Skye, as he was particularly fond of the romantic island on the west coast of Scotland. His birth name was Heinrich Purenduffle and it was through his great grandmother, who was half Scottish, that he felt the whisky and heather surge through his blood.
Skye had longed to go on several previous Scottish American Society trips to Scotland but his divorce and other money problems had prevented him joining. Other members of the Society had told him about The Braveheart Tour, The Rob Roy Tour, The Mary Queen of Scots Tour and The Bonnie Prince Tour. They said the tours were excellent- visiting all the filming locations, staying in luxury castle hotels with all-you-can-eat buffets and open bars – attending whisky tastings, getting 'merry and fou.' And they didn't need to worry about driving under the influence or on the wrong side of the road. Skye immediately sent off an email to the SAS secretary, putting his name down for the Burns Supper and the Outlander Tour. He could afford to go this year because he had saved enough this year by making and selling Outlander Dolls, tee-shirts, coffee mugs and life-size posters and life -size cardboard stand-ups of Claire and Jamie at several Highland Games.
The 25th of January is the birth date of the poet Robert Burns. However, the Scottish American Society would have their supper on Saturday the 23rd to suit the membership and caterers, since the 25th clashed with their Bingo night. In Scotland a Burns Supper would feature haggis, neeps and tatties. But Americans couldn't eat that sort of poor folks food and authentic haggis was banned in the USA because it didn't contain enough preservatives and growth hormones. Therefore, it was burger, hotdogs and fries as usual with several types of pies and cakes for dessert. Several bottles of malt whisky’s would also be sampled. The SAS hall was specially bedecked with portraits of the Bard draped with tartans of many clans. There were clan crests, Gaelic mottos and greetings and several pictures of Scottish Castles and glens. Skye's big moment came when he acted as 'Haggis Bearer'. Dressed in his 'Jamie Fraser' outfit he walked behind old Bill McArthur the piper, carrying a symbolic haggis—a big salami—on a platter. As they paraded around the room Bill played the out of tune strains of 'A man's a man for a' that.” Bill was getting on in years and the arthritis had rendered him an even worse player than he had been in his youth. At the top table they toasted 'The Bard' and Donald Eisenstein read Burns' poem 'To a Haggis' and plunged his sghian dhubh into the salami.
A grand night was had by all. There were many colourful tartans being worn. One lady was wearing four different tartans, each one celebrating a clan ancestor. Expensive kilts, hairy sporrans, pipers dirks, tam o' shanters and sghian-dhubh's were on display, many worn incorrectly. Everyone had a chance to toddle or swirl around to the recorded accordion music. The Immortal Memory was given by a prospective Republican politician who told us that Rabbie would have been a member of the NRA (National Rifle Association) and a supporter of the Second Amendment and would definitely have voted for Mr Trump whose mother was Scottish.
During dinner the conversation was all about the forthcoming 'Outlander Tour'. Many of the lady members of the SAS were devoted fans of Jamie Fraser and had immediately signed up for the tour on receiving notification. The quota for the tour was almost filled. The ladies talked excitedly about getting authentic costumes made that they would wear on the tour, based on the dresses that their heroine, Claire wore in the TV series. Skye gave a toast,
“Here's tae Dunscreachen but never Duneatin.”
Everyone laughed, then Piper Bill struck up and gave an excruciating rendition of the Outlander theme (a.k.a. The Skye Boat Song) and followed that with 'The Stars and Stripes' (well, bits of it that fit within the nine-note range of the bagpipes). The night ended with everyone holding hands and singing 'Auld Lang Zine'.
As he was leaving the hall, Skye got into a conversation with the Society President - Angus Jones.
“I saw you at the Games last year, Skye. You were selling your Outlander dolls. Remember, I bought several for my collection. You must come round to my place and see our doll collection. My wife has spent most of her life collecting dolls...you will be really impressed. Come tomorrow for lunch, I insist.”
Skye took his business card and agreed to come to Angus's house for a visit.
Next day Skye arrived at the address on the card. It was a large Victorian Gothic house with a beautiful wrap-around porch with pillars and spindles. Skye rang the door bell and the door was opened by Angus wearing a Confederate Army uniform.
“Come in, come in,” Angus urged, “Just another of my hobbies is collecting American Civil War memorabilia. Got this uniform in an auction in Charleston – they said it belonged to General Lee! It's real fun to dress up in period clothes, don't you think?”
“Yes, I love to dress in my authentic Highlander outfit.” replied Skye.
Skye looked around in the hallway and his gaze was returned by thousands of glassy stares from the hundreds of dolls that lined the shelves of the display cases in the hallway. As he followed Angus into the living room there were as many as a thousand more dolls staring fixedly at him. It was unnerving. At first he didn't notice Mrs Jones as she sat among a group of near life sized dolls. It was only when she spoke that Skye noticed her.
“Hello Skye, welcome to our humble home. I've made some Jello and whipped cream for lunch. Would you like some?”
“Yes, please”, replied Skye.
“My wife was a mortician and ran a successful undertaker’s business. You probably noticed that she looked you up and down and side to side. It's just a habit of hers, measuring you up for a coffin!” Angus laughed.
Skye gulped down his Jello.
“Let me show you my collections. Follow me to the basement.” Angus opened a door in the hallway and Skye followed him down a steep stair to the basement..
In the basement 'mancave' Angus went to a multi-drawer cabinet, pulled out a drawer and showed Skye the Bakelite black-and-red boxes that lay within. Angus reached in and opened one of the little boxes. Inside was a gilt edged black-and-white photograph of a sleeping boy. Skye was mystified.
“It's a photograph of a dead boy,” Angus offered. “They are called mortuary photographs. I have one of the largest collections in the USA. I just bought one on Ebay from Brazil and it should be here in a couple of days. Some people call them Post-Mortem photographs or Mortuary photos. Angus continued to show a rather confused Skye his extensive collection of mortuary photographs from the 19th and early 20th Century and then his swords, guns, medals and uniforms of the American Civil War.
Skye was fascinated and envious of the uniforms but found the mortuary photos not to his taste. He much preferred photos of Claire and Jamie and nice pictures of Scottish scenery. Although Skye liked Angus and his wife, he was glad to get away from the ghoulish house and bid the thousand staring dolls goodbye.