Our lost together locations

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Scotland: My Real Ancestral Homeland.

I was born in Toronto. I'm Jewish. I've been told my whole life that my homeland was/is Israel, but I've never felt that way. Mind you, I've never been there either. (Though we're headed there for four weeks in the middle of January!) My grandparents were born in Poland, Russia and Scotland, making me ½ Polish, ¼ Russian and ¼ Scottish.

As I've said before, I never met my dad's mom and barely knew my dad's dad. That's the Polish side. I knew my mom's parents quite well, or as much as I was capable of knowing them, based on my not asking questions and them not volunteering much by way of information about their formative years and lives in general.

I'm not really sure what it is about me and Scotland. I know there's certainly my mom's mom as the primary link; the start of it all. I know there's a love of plaid/tartan/kilts. So much so, that I gave serious consideration to wearing a kilt when I married Jodi. Mind you, that was not a popular option with anyone other than me! I know that my parents' friends, the Livingstones, are both born in Scotland and I've always thought very highly of them. And not just because Alan worked for Laura Secord in the 70s and their front room was PACKED with chocolate!!!

Regardless of where or when it started, I've always wanted to go to Scotland, and when the whole five months away came up....well.....Scotland happens to be one of Jodi's favourite countries. It was a no-brainer really. Had I really been on the ball, I would have done a lot of research about my family before we left, but I didn't, and this (unfortunately) resulted in Jodi (and me) spending more time in libraries in Edinburgh and Glasgow then I/we had planned.

Thanks to a great website, www.scotlandspeople.org, while in Belfast, just before closing time at the Starbucks (FYI...when in the UK for an extended period of time, and in need of “free” WiFi, get a UK Starbucks card for 5 pounds, and use that to access free Internet in the Starbucks. It's the same in Toronto too. I can't speak for other cities or countries though.) I found my grandmother's birth record. It brought me to tears, and is doing the same thing now. I don't know what it is, but I'm very emotional as it pertains to mom's mom, and think the greatest compliment I can pay towards Jodi and my sister-in-law Julie, is that she really would have liked both of them. A lot.

We left Belfast for Scotland, and I finally stepped foot on the land that I had cherished for as long as I can remember. Upon getting on the train in Stranraer, I saw an Irn Bru (Yes Scott Gaertner, the Holy Grail!!!) machine. I put in my pound coin and pushed the button.


I pushed it again.


I pushed the next one down.

YAHOO!!! Down came....

diet Irn Bru.

So wrong in so many ways, but hey....it was close to what I wanted needed. “Scotland's other national drink”, after (scotch) whisky. Since then, I managed to get several smaller bottles and a monstrous 2 litre bottle. I was a happy man. Apparently, it's quite a hangover remedy, but I don't drink that much and don't get hangovers, so I wouldn't know. The first time I had it was when I went with my dad to Hamish's Fish & Chips, near Pharmacy and St. Clair, about 25 years ago.

That was a regular thing that we'd do, me and my dad. Go somewhere to eat or grocery shop. It seems I'm more like my dad than I've been willing to admit. Until recently. We'd go to Spadina for Chinese, and not just because he grew up in Kensington Market (just west/north of downtown Chinatown), but because that was where the authentic Chinese was to be found. Now, Toronto has five or more “Chinatowns”, but there was always be one for me, and Kum Jug Yuen remains from the restaurants that we used to go to: Lung Fung, Kum Kuk Yuen and Goodyear are no more. I'll always remember being asked for “I.Q.” when we'd go down there for dinner and (underage) beer in high school, and the look on Doug Martin's face, when a guy came out of the kitchen at Kum Jug Yuen with hip-waders on.

So, I'd had Irn-Bru with “nasties” (artificial sweeteners), and we were on a train for Edinburgh (Ed-in-bra is the way to pronounce so you're in the “know”). We saw cows, horses and sheep, but no “Highland Cows”, which would have to wait. If you haven't seen one, they're really a sight to behold.

Edinburgh was great. Great beer at great prices. The salads are painfully small, but the produce tastes way better, so buying apples, pears, carrots and peppers at grocery stores helped with my/our vegetation intake. We have not had a bad tour yet, in Dublin, Galway, Belfast, London or Edinburgh. As teachers, we really appreciate a good entertaining and informative tour!

As good as Edinburgh was, Glasgow was where I wanted, or needed, to be. Agnes (AKA Grandma) was born in Shettleston, which was a suburb of Glasgow, and is now a part of the city. South-east of the city centre. Interestingly enough, Shettleston is the only place in the E.U. (European Union) where the average life expectancy is dropping. Yep, dropping. She lived to be almost 82, but she also left Scotland for Canada at 18.

I knew her first place of residence was 96 Gray Street, and that the street didn't exist anymore. I emailed the Shettleston Housing Authority about the change in street names. I got no reply, and in fact, still haven't. Lazy f**kers. I did however get a TON of assistance from librarians in Edinburgh (at the National Archives and public library) and Glasgow (at the public library – thanks Hazel!) and found out that the street name had changed to Denbeck.

Thanks to Google Maps, I found Denbeck.

By now, we were staying with our friends Zoe and Alex, between Glasgow and Edinburgh, in Carstairs (near Lanark). We rented a car in Glasgow, and had LOTS of adventures with driving on the left-side of the road, and also figuring out how to start the car, as we drove up to the Highlands. Sight-seeing, whisky tours (Glenmorangie & The Macallan – two of our three faves – Highland Park being the other), LOTS of pictures, beaches, walking, and a rather eclectic hostel/hotel in Balintraid.

Getting back to Zoe and Alex's was easy enough, mainly because Jodi did the navigating (which seemed to be rather arduous with the maps we had!) and I did the driving. Then came Friday morning. Me taking the car back to the rental agency, after trying to find Denbeck Street. In what is considered to be less-than-ideal Glasgow. Using Google Maps again, I had directions from Carstairs to Shettleston, and then Shettleston to the rental agency.

I got “lost” twice on the way to Shettleston. Once, because there was construction at a roundabout, and subsequently, there were no signs saying which entrance/exit was which. My visit to the Shell station was less than helpful, as the guy said he didn't live in the neighbourhood, and the woman said she wasn't sure about where I was going.

So I went back the way I came and decided (after a mental coin flip) to go straight at the roundabout. Then I got to a street where I decided to go left and ask for help. The first place of business was closed, and the second was open. Woohoo! The two people in there were really helpful, and I got some directions from there to where I wanted to be going – which was only a couple of miles away.

After a couple of wrong (and corrective illegal) turns, I saw a street name I recognized and parked the car, hoping/praying that it wouldn't be stolen or damaged. I walked the ½ block to Denbeck and saw that the corner house was 92. I walked down, and the numbers got lower. I looked at the other side of the street and the numbers weren't any bigger. There was no 96. There was however a church across the street from 92, and I wondered if that had been 95 in 1908.

Two engineers, getting out of their service truck in front of the church, weren't from around there and of no assistance. I took some pictures of 92, hid my camera in my bag – lest we forget we're in council housing (that's what they call it in the UK. The projects/slums in the U.S., and assisted/government housing in Canada) and I'm not too keen on losing The Baby. There was a social work facility around the corner and I asked some questions of staff, and they pointed me towards a 79 year old blind man. He confirmed that Gray Street became Denbeck, and that the church had been there for as long as he could remember. He had to go to a meeting, but he was quite interested where I was from.

(Which brings me to the whole accent thing. Spending 39 years in Toronto has meant that everyone else has an accent, except me. Most people assume I'm American when they hear me speak, but I'm frankly confused by this. What do I sound like to others? Aside from the fact that I hate my voice when I hear it played back.)

I didn't make any wrong turns heading to the rental agency, minus the whole wrong off-ramp/illegal turn to get back on thing. Oh, and the ending up too far down the one-way street to leave the car, so I did a circle. But it was relatively stress-free, PLUS, I got to listen to Fred on BBC Radio Scotland, and I do like Fred. He's a funny fella. fred@bbc.co.uk. I need to remember to look him up. I do believe he's a comedian on top of his radio work.

So, I got the car back, and had a few hours to myself in Glasgow. Having navigated the city a few times with Jodi – okay Jodi navigated and I walked and picked up a thing or two about where things where, and I had walking directions to The Wee Curry Shop, I was all good! FAN-FREAKIN'-TAS-TICK curry at The Wee Curry Shop. If you're in Glasgow and like curry, it's a must. But they don't open for lunch until noon. Getting there at 11:20 meant that I wandered around, found a bar and had a cheap pint of yummy beer. The beer in Scotland is second to none! That includes Canada, the U.S., England, Holland and Belgium. World-class, in my mind.

Had lunch, bought some bottles of beer (as I'm apt to do!) and headed to the train station. I just caught the train before it headed off to Lanark, and I just caught a bus headed for Carstairs. Getting back was a breeze, which was MUCH easier than the trials/tribulations that Jodi and I had trying to get back to Zoe and Alex's after a night in Glasgow earlier in the week.

We headed up to Fort William (and the Nevis Mountain Range) with Zoe and Alex – YAY NO MORE DRIVING FOR ME!!! Their vehicle being standard meant I was off the hook, since I haven't driven stick since I was 17 and only did it a couple of times. We stayed at a great place on the locks (where they're twinned with the Rideau Canal in Ottawa, so seeing the Maple Leaf (Canadian flag) was uber-weird!) and took a gondola up part of the range and walked down. We went to a tasty (but small portioned!) restaurant that night, and then wandered around in the misty rain the next morning/day, in search of a water fall. Steil was where it was, I do believe.

Before we knew it, we were headed for Glasgow, and an overnight bus ride to London.

I was sad to be leaving Zoe and Alex, sad to be saying goodbye to Glasgow, and saddest to be leaving Scotland. The people are great, even if Glaswegian “English” is an adventure to interpret – which is probably why the city is hiring interpreters to help out those more challenged than me. The sights are mind-boggling, but we did get lucky with the lack of rain and warm-ish weather we encountered.

As I walked along Denbeck Street I felt like I was with my grandmother once again.

As I've said before, this journey/adventure that Jodi and I started September 20th was a difficult one to wrap my head around. It was made even harder because of my father being in ill-health. He's been in the hospital four times in two months. This is a pattern that I recognize from my grandparents. It's not a pattern that makes me warm and fuzzy. I'm bothered by the fact that I'm unable to help my mom to do things around the house, or to cook some food for them, or anything for that matter – since I'm not in Toronto. Having a sense that I was taking a few steps in my grandmother's past has made it a little easier on my mind, as it's something that I can share with mom when I get back home.

Or online for now.


David said...


DefiniteArticle said...

I wish we were better prepared with addresses when we visited Scotland. We did visit Paisley (where one of Scott's great-grandmothers was born), but I wound up collecting most of my data years later when I was home with Baby Palindrome. I hope we get to go with the girls -- they have roots on Skye and in the Shetlands through the Glasgow and Aberdeen areas (with everyone eventually landing in Harlem or Queens...). The Italian/Sicilian side is a little more challenging, but the Ellis Island data is helpful. Thanks for taking us with you down Denbeck Street! I'm glad you had the Irn Bru and hope you avoided the diet Ribena.

David said...

I think my great-grandmother was born in Paisley. Maybe it was my great-grandfather. No diet Ribena. LOVED the 2L bottle of Irn Bru, but I haven't posted that pic yet! :)