ok, here we go...

This is going to be a little more brief than I originally intended, as I was not expecting to have to be chef this evening and I'm getting a late start. Plus, there's a scheduled Blogger outage at 5 PM tonight, which translates to 8 PM Eastern time, so I'm going to try to beat it.
Where to start, where to start...
Well, in a nutshell, my grandparents were from "the auld land", my grandfather, who was adopted as a wee bairn, was born in North Berwick and my grandmother in Glasgow. I don't know anything about my grandfather prior to his being adopted, but I do know that my grandmother's family was originally from Skye. My grandfather's adopted name was Spencer, and owes it's lineage to the Earl de Spens of France, the family having come to Scotland in the dark days of the 17th century. They owed their allegiance to the Mac Duffs, hence the crest in my sidebar. The Mac Duff crest is the lion rampant, the same as the flag of Scotland. Both families emigrated to the United States when my grandparents were very young, settling in the Newark, New Jersey area, a hotbed of Scots for many, many years. They met, courted and were married in the teens of the twentieth century, moving to what was then the garden spot of New Jersey, the Monmouth County area. They bought a very nice Craftsman style bungalow in the town of East Keansburg. When their various relatives saw what a nice area it was, some of them followed; Aunt Bessie and Cousin Tennis; Tommy Largy and his family; The Shiblaghs, Bill and Minnie. The street they settled into was mostly Irish, but those were the days of less than friendly attitudes for the English, so they all got along famously. My father, John and his sister, Gail, were born in the early twenties, and eventually were married (not to each other!) and raised families of their own. That's where I came into the picture. Here is what I know about them, my experiences with them and how I came to be who and what I am today.
My grandfather, John Gorely Spencer, supported his family by selling real estate, but his true passion in life was magic. He as a master showman and a genius at sleight of hand. He toured the Northeastern US as "Gorely the Great", and played on the bills of some famous magicians of the day.
My grandmother, Isobelle "Tootie" Spencer, nee Warren, was a housekeeper, but she could have made a fortune as a seamstress, there was no one her equal with needle and thread nor no more artist with crochet needles and yarn. Or a baker, more on that later.
These are the people I knew as Pop and Nana Toot.
I was fortunate to have spent a lot of time with them when I was young and here, in no special order, are some of my fondest memories of those times with them.

Their house was never warm. Indeed, when they purchased the house, there was a modern (for the day) central heating system, which they immediately disabled and had a kerosene space heater installed in a corner of the kitchen. They, like most folks of the day, spent the majority of their indoor time in the kitchen. Whether cooking, eating or socializing, the kitchen was the hotbed of activity. There were times when you could see your breath in the rest of the house and then the fireplace in the parlor was lit, but for the most part, you wore several layers of flannel next to your skin in order to be somewhere in the vicinity of comfortable in the fall and winter. We drank lots of tea and spent many the afternoon and evening huddled under a comforter in front of the fire in the cold days.
The house was full of little things that came over from home, things that were easy to pack and carry on an ocean voyage; the Staffordshire dog on the mantle, along with their clock. Not an expensive clock, just an ordinary clock, with faux marble finish and little lion's heads on each side, holding a little ring in their mouth, like some miniature of a knocker that might grace the door of some great country home. It was a clock that needed to be wound and, on special occasions, with my grandmother's hand hovering just above mine, I was allowed to wind it with it's huge steel key.
"Not too much now, laddie, not too much. You'll bind up the workins'", she would say. When the house was quiet, you could hear it tick, tock, tick, tock in almost every room, and when it would strike one on the quarter hour, the half hour, the three-quarter hour and then the full on hour, you could hear it everywhere. It was a low, mellow chime, slow and measured. I loved it then and I love it now... it sits on my dining room mantle. I can still feel her hand hovering above mine and smell the scent of her soap as I wind it, and I still say to myself, "Not too much now, laddie, not too much".

Food. There was always food. Nana loved to cook and Pop loved to eat, so they were well met to that end. Breakfast was an event filled with plates of hot biscuits and scones, sausages, eggs, usually poached, but sometimes offered up in the center of slices of bread with holes in them - Angels on Horseback they were; bacon, which was purchased from the Irish grocery store on the corner and usually was, in my memory, a slab of white fat with the slimmest of pink veins running through it, cut thick and fried to death in a cast iron frying pan. As it cooked, Nana would pour off the grease into a large blue bowl, to be stored in the icebox and used for future cooking or baking as needed. It was always an adventure when the plate of bacon was carried to the table, a steaming, quivering mass of translucent goo, set down before Pop, who would slice himself a huge portion, have at it with knife and fork and, with grease running down his chin would always exclaim,
"Ah, that's bounty for you, eh?".
On Sunday morning Nana would make oatmeal. Not the modern, instant stuff, but rolled oats that, along with a generous pinch of salt, were boiled for what seemed forever, until they took on the consistency of wall paper paste, filling the kitchen with a wonderful smell that, on the odd occasion I happen upon that same smell these days, puts me in mind of the oat bucket in a horse's stable. Anyway, when the stuff was done, it was poured into a huge earthenware bowl and carried, with some ceremony, to the kitchen table, where Pop waited with "his set", meaning his wooden bowl and horn spoon that he would only use to eat his oatmeal and oatmeal was only to be eaten by him from that bowl and with that spoon. His father made them for him when he was a child and he swore that they were the only proper vessel and utensil for the eating of oatmeal, as they did not spoil the taste of the fare like a silver spoon might. You just don't know what a wonderful sound that horn spoon made as it scraped and banged against the bottom of that wooden bowl as he work the last bit of oatmeal out of it. True music.

After breakfast was washing up, then Nana set to the rest of her house work; dusting, scrubbing, polishing, laundry. She would wash her window linens once a month and dry them on a stretching frame, which was made from thin strips of wood, pierced by thousands of pins on which you would catch the linens and stretch them flat as they dried so they wouldn't bunch up. I suffered many a prick and pierced finger on that damned thing.
While the cleaning on, she would scurry back and forth to the kitchen, baking more goods for tea and supper (lunch). Nana and I would take a break for tea, sometimes we were joined by frail old aunt Bessie, who live a few houses down the way. She always dress like she was going to a funeral, in my memory. Black dresses with knitted black colors and cuffs, grey stockings and black shoes with thick soles and heels. He white hair was always a shock and she wore silver jewelry, always. Her brogue was so thick that even Nana would have to ask her to repeat her words at times. Small, thin and bird-like in her frailty, he appearance belied her humor and her robust laugh. She saw humor in everything and never, ever uttered ill of anyone that I can remember. She shared her home with her nephew, Tennis. Before I tell you more of him, let me finish up the typical day with Nana and Pop;
After tea, Aunt Bessie would go back to her home, after helping with the dishes, which, despite Nan's pleas that she didn't have to, would roll up her sleeves, mount the small step stool kept in the kitchen under the sink and thrash about in the water and suds until everything sparkled as new. She said the same thing, always, to me when she left;
"So long, my good boy", in that thick accent of hers. On the warm days when the window in the front of the house were open, I could hear her thick heels clop down the walk, until they faded away.
Pop usually came home for supper at mid-day, which consisted of cold meats, potted cheese, biscuits, marmalade, jam and tea. He would eat hurriedly, than bolt back to the office. Nana and I would sometimes wait until he was done, take our fare outside and sit on the back porch or in the shade of a tree in the backyard and have a more leisurely sup, enjoying the nice weather and the birds and butterflies that would visit her flower and vegetable garden. Ah, the gardens. Her flower gardens were not huge, but, in typical cottage style, they were a thick and varied collection of perennials and annuals, interspersed with herbs and roses. Her vegetable garden was just big enough to produce a few things in season to add some fresh items to the table in their time. She never had to toil in her gardens, she was a natural gardener and could coax things to grow under the most adverse conditions. She also adhered to "the auld ways" as she called them. There was always a gathering of family and friends to mark the solstice and the Equinox twice a year. Songs would be sung, bells rung, ale drunk and odd ceremonies that, until I got older and studied and adopted "the auld ways" myself, I didn't understand. Why, I wondered, on the shortest, coldest day of the year, would they stand in circles around their apple trees and sing songs in an ancient language I didn't understand, share a bowl of ale and beat the trees, gently, with rolled up newspapers? Why, in the early Spring, would Nana make little clay figures of fat women and bury them in the garden before sowing her vegetable seeds? Oh, now I know and now I wish she had been more liberal in sharing those wonderful traditions with me, but I'm sure my parents had something to say about that. Knowing what I know now, it puts Nana in a different light now it did back then.
So, on to dinner. Usually late, around seven or eight at the earliest, it was modest fare, sometimes a meatloaf or some mutton and potatoes, or, even though neither of them practiced any organized (recognized) religion, fish on Friday. Usually breaded and fried flounder filets, I guess the fact they were fried in that left over bacon grease negated any religious benefit of that exercise, served with, always, home made noodles and cheese (macaroni and cheese these days), made with globs of butter and grated sharp Cheddar cheese, baked to the point of minor eruption, then topped with more butter and bread crumbs, stuck under the broiler until it gained a hard brown crust and served in a ruby red glass dish with matching lid. Pop and I would always fight over the crust, and, pretending to look the other way, tolerate each other sneaking a piece from the bowl when we thought the other wasn't looking. Dinner on Sunday was grand. A leg of lamb, or a roast beef, thick gravy littered with onion, mashed potatoes, peas, green beans ("snaps"), corn, biscuits, bread, a pitcher of ice cold milk and maybe a little jar of chutney. One of the special little things that Nana brought with her to America as a child was her grandmother's little silver dinner bell. It was hand crafted from solid silver, with a little pinecone on the top of the handle its only ornamentation. No one rang that Sunday night dinner bell, but me. Three little rings to announce the dinner was ready. When everyone was assembled at the table, which sometimes was just us three or a company of a dozen, I always sat in Pops father's chair, an ancient maple Queen Ann style armchair, with wooden arms and upholstered seat and back. I always felt like a king sitting on my throne when in that chair. And I still do. It, along with that little silver dinner bell, holds a special place in our dining room. That little bell has announced every Christmas dinner and every Thanksgiving dinner for the past twenty nine years I've been married and I've enjoyed Christmas dinner and Thanksgiving dinner sitting on my throne.
King, indeed...

By the gods, it's getting late. Just a few more tonight and I'll share more in another day or so.
Great Cousin Tennis was the first person I ever saw play the bagpipes. It was on a sultry summers night when we heard him "blow up" in his backyard down the street. I ran down the street and up his drive to the back yard and there he was, tuning his drones and keying "E" on the chanter, to get the beast all set, and then, he was off. No plaintive airs nor military marches for him, he was a student of the pibroch, the "classical music" of the pipes. Complex, almost impossible grace note fingerings and phrases that, while seeming repetitive, were just different from the preceding by a note or two, slowing building to a slightly quicker and more complex measure, then the coda, then build to another even more complex measure. I would sit and listen to him play for hours, standing in the yard, completly oblivious to all around him, save that wonderful sweet music. I had to wait almost twenty years to take up the pipes myself and I curse myself for not asking him to teach me to play then. Not that my parents would have let me, but, who knows. I had to settle for learning the tin whistle.

I'm sorry, but I have to let off here. My fingers are starting to get numb and my mind is too full of memories to sort them out fully and give the equal time they all deserve. They say that youth is wasted on the young, but reason and knowledge is wasted on the old. I wish I had that reason and knowledge to more appreciate who Nana and Pop were in their time and immerse myself more deeply into my heritage than I did. What I came away with is just a shadow of what was real to them, but they and their ways are a part of me, this I cannot deny.
Happy Tartan Day to one and all, and I thank you for sharing your time with me.
Slainte Mhath!

what say you..?


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