Thursday, July 7, 2011

Raise The Clans

Tonight marks the beginning of the 56th Annual Grandfather Mountain Highland Games. The opening ceremony is dramatic and symbolic and beautiful, and I can hardly wait! It is called the "Raising of the Clans," and long ago it was an appeal to support a cause or ideal -- usually to unite the clans for battle. Modern times have altered its purpose, but the raising of the clans is an important part of many Highland games.

At Grandfather Mountain, the ceremony begins after dark. A representative from each of the clans/families in attendance bears a torch, and these representatives assemble on the field in such a way as to form a St. Andrew's Cross -- a living cross of light. In turn, each clan is called, and its representative comes forward to say a few words; most often the clan motto is recited and perhaps a few other things are said, but always, always, they express their pride in being involved in this magnificent gathering.

Off to one side, high atop an observation tower, a lone piper stands. As the torches burn brightly against the night sky, he plays, and the effect is so stirring as to bring tears to many eyes.

What a beautiful way to celebrate family and heritage! Makes me proud to be a Scot! "From the Isles' northenmost realm came the Scot, bred with the stoutest will, the canniest wit, and the bravest heart. For reasons dire did Scots forsake kin and kith and set across the face of the earth to fend for themselves, and in the process, theiy built nations, empires, and new worlds ... A Scot is a Scot, even unto an hundred generations." (Copied from Scotland Rising, Ltd.)

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Remembering Memphis

Some years ago, my band, Marcille Wallis & Friends, performed for the Memphis Scottish Society's Burns Nicht Supper. In addition to its being an amazing event -- one of the world's highest-attended celebrations of Scotland's national poet, Robert Burns -- it was a time for our band (Donna Chapman, Frances Pisacane, Ann & Cal Lloyd, Greg McGrath) and me to get to really know each other as not only musicians, but as friends. We've reminisced a lot about that time ... about the long hours spent in Greg's and my mini-van as we all made the trip from Tampa to Memphis and back, telling stories about our respective pasts and sharing glimpses into our present lives.

And we reminisce about the wonderful dinner to which the Scottish society treated us, the experience that a few of us had sampling haggis for the first time (and the "bullet" dodged by Greg and Frances, both of whom were vegetarians), the fun of playing for the Memphis Scottish Country Dancers, and of course, the fun we had in our own performance set. The trip wasn't all work and no play, either, as the night previous to the dinner we visited the legendary Beale Street, birthplace of Rock 'N Roll, to see the iconic Sun Record Company, BB King's night club, and hear The Blues spilling out from practically every open doorway. For me personally, the trip afforded my first-ever glimpse of the Mighty Mississippi.

It's the Mississippi River and the many friends we made on that trip to Memphis that are on my mind as I write this note. Though as of this moment, the river has crested to just shy of its all-time record high flood stage, and soon the waters will begin receding, there will be weeks and months -- if not years -- of massive clean-up efforts. I'm sure that every one of my band-mates, as well as every one of the friends who like this page, join me in sending our heartfelt best wishes to the citizens of Memphis -- indeed, to all who live along the path of the raging river. We know your indomitable Scots spirit will see you through!

Friday, April 22, 2011

Happy Earth Day from the South

Some time back, my friend Claudia started a Facebook discussion as to whether football or auto racing was more typically Southern. A spirited debate ensued, during which time Claudia, obviously a football fan, asserted most passionately that football was the true sport of the South. I knew she was wrong, but not being a NASCAR fan myself, was unable to muster anything more than a few weak counterpoints to her excellent arguments ... until today. Today, Claudia, I give you:

Mattress Racing

I can hear ya'll snickering from here. It's not that. And don't bother to Google this folks; you probably won't get very far. You'll see pages and pages of ads for racecar bedding for little boys, videos of people racing down ski slopes atop mattresses, and pictures of people racing on open water using mattresses as rafts. But the mattress racing I'm talking about involves old bedding and race cars. If I have my facts correct from listening to the local radio station broadcasting from beautiful downtown Live Oak, Florida, mattresses dot the racetrack and initially it's comical to watch the drivers try to dodge them -- and each other -- as they race around the track. But the real fun apparently begins when drivers are forced to run over the things, which often get stuck underneath the car until maybe getting wrapped around the drive shaft and perhaps igniting.

Ain't got nothin' in football that even comes close to that.

Mattress racing.  Now that's Southern -- that's us -- for you. Nothing, not even used bedding goes to waste. Everything has a use, and if you hang on to it long enough, you'll discover its use. Southerners, the original recyclers; long before "Reduce, Reuse, Recycle" became the catchphrase for modern environmentalists, we adhered to the mantra "Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without."

Happy Earth Day, Claudia and everybody else!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The Magic Pan

We're going back out on the road in a little less than a week.  Dulcimer?  Check.  CD inventory?  Check.  Iron Frying Pan?  Oh, you better believe -- Check!  The dulcimer and the CDs are tools of my trade, but that old black skillet is an important part of our life.

The pan once belonged to my grandmother; Meemaw, we called her.  It's at least 50 years old and probably a decade or two (or more) older than that.  It's been lovingly, properly, cared for over the years ... if you know how to care for cast iron cookware, then you know what "proper care" entails: we never use soap to clean it.  If you don't understand how to care for these utensils (or if you happen to work for the health department) you probably think this sounds pretty gross.  But this treatment helps to season the pan and contributes to its non-stick properties.  Every year, before we go on the road, I take time to re-"season" the pan by giving it a good scrubbing, coating it with a thin sheen of peanut oil and then placing it in a 200° oven for a couple of hours; this accounts for the shine you see in the picture.


I can't even imagine trying to figure the number of meals I've consumed that have been prepared with that pan.  Nowadays I stir-fry a lot of vegetables, occasionally fix bacon or sausage, and it's my go-to for certain Cuban dishes.  

I make a mean corned beef hash with it, and there's a funny story associated with the hash: When my brother and I were little, we used to spend many weeks during the summer with our grandparents in Brooksville, Florida.  Mind you, we called our Brooksville grandmother "Mimi," and though she was not the owner of this particular pan, she did have a pan something like it; I imagine that many, if not most, Southern women of that generation used cast iron cookware.  Among our favorites of Mimi's dishes was corned beef hash, and when we went back home, we would plead with our mother to make hash.  But hers was never quite as good.  I hope I didn't hurt her feelings by telling her that it wasn't "quite right," and I never could exactly tell her what was different, but it ... just wasn't the same.  As an adult, I tried to make hash myself, but it just wasn't right ... until this pan came into my possession.  The very first time I made hash with this pan, I discovered that Mimi's secret ingredient must've been the cast iron pan she used.  Scientifically, it can probably be explained by the evenness with which the pan conducts heat.  I tend to think it must be magic.

The one dish that I've never learned to make, in spite of possessing the magic pan, is Meemaw's fried chicken.  I know she used this very pan to make her chicken: a perfectly seasoned, golden brown, crispy yet tender, moist but never greasy masterpiece.  I should've asked her to teach me, but somehow never got around to it.  Scientifically, there's probably a step -- or perhaps two -- that I never observed and therefore have missed in my own attempts.  I tend to think, though, there was a secret ingredient: Love.


We have to be pretty spare in our choices of what to take on the road with us.  Everything has a purpose, and if an item can serve multiple purposes, all the better.  Like I said before, the dulcimer and the CDs are tools of my trade.  But the old black skillet serves its purpose as a cooking utensil, as a treasured "antique," as an heirloom connecting me to my wonderful Meemaw.  All of the memories and all of the love have seasoned that pan, and consequently memories and love season every meal that is prepared using it.