If you grew up in the Seventies as I did, you might recall a popular children’s T-shirt of the era—one at least popular among the reputedly disaffected youth of Cocopah Elementary in Scottsdale, Arizona. The caption (no graphics) went something like this:
My Parents Went On Vacation To Las Vegas and All I Got Was This Stupid T-Shirt.
Not just Las Vegas, of course; but Seattle, Chicago, New York, and so forth. Yet all we kids got—for the message was contagious despite the various places I had been with my parents—was a dusty, sunbaked playground in Scottsdale.
Fast-forward thousands of miles, and even more years than it seems, to the grassy, rain-soaked Highlands of Scotland where I just finished a hurried, harried “roots” trip with my wife and kids en route to a family sabbatical in Ireland.
I had long wanted to visit my ancestral stomping grounds in the area around Inverness, ever since reading the extraordinary story of the Clan Grant and my matrilineal lineage. My grandmother’s brother spent the time and money to write and publish our bona fide saga as a proper book for the extended family, the end result being one of the more valuable volumes in my entire library: From Kittery to Kansas, which traces our roots generation by generation from fifteenth-century Scotland to twentieth-century America.
From Peter Grant’s crossing the Atlantic in 1651 as a prisoner of Cromwell on the Unity, bound for indentured servitude in the Massachusetts Bay Colony…to me, crossing Shea Boulevard on my Schwinn in 1979 for homeroom at Cocopah.
I like to think that I did my forbears proud by wearing the Clan Grant tartan for a wedding kilt, but it’s easy to feel that in other ways I’ve betrayed a legacy of warriors, pioneers, and entrepreneurs.
And then in other ways, I feel like I got cheated.
Driving through the Highlands in late August, from Grantown-on-Spey down to Drumnadrochit, I had the occasion not only to recall those T-shirts from childhood, but to want one in adulthood. Despite having children of grade-school age in the backseat, I wanted to wear one with a caption something like this:
My Ancestors Lived in Castles in Scotland and All I Got Was a Cul-de-Sac in Scottsdale.
How else was I supposed to feel standing on the ramparts at Urquhart overlooking the shimmering lake on a (rare) sunny day, other than a wee bit special what with hundreds of other tourists swarming the grounds where I would have lived back in the day?
Or sitting on the hilltop foundation where a private chapel likely stood, listening to the cry of live bagpipes sound like a call to prayer or battle or both in the bloodline?
Cheated, I say!
Of course, back in the day I might have just as easily ended up dead on the battlefield or in a sickbed long before the age I am now.
Perhaps it was this romance of genealogical regression that left me something of a club-wielding brute at times with my wife and kids. Hurried and harried an itinerary it was, with too much ground covered in too little time, and three tired, hyper children in the backseat, live wires to their tired father’s (less so their mother’s) short fuse up front. Suffice it to say that for every summer sunburst outside the car, a Winters tempest blew inside it.
The fact that it was Scotland kept the count to a reasonable number, but still, at times it got ugly.
I recall similar moments when I was among the children crossing America by station wagon in the 1970s, but they pale in number and comparison to the priceless memories of car trips that enrich me to this day. I hope, and dare to presume, that the same will hold true for my kids.
Nevertheless, upon our arrival in Ireland there was due cause not only to recover from, but also reckon with, those uglier moments of the week before.
Weaknesses, patterns, compulsions, and dysfunctions: such is the cerebral terminology we often use to deal with those uglier moments. Do any of these words resonate the texture and energy of the “issues” I needed to confront? Not nearly enough.
Fortunately, it just so happens that I had begun an online course on spiritual hearing the month before our departure. After the inevitable interruption in Scotland, with much of what I had studied seemingly vanquished in the interim, I took the time upon settling in at the house here in West Cork to review the manual and notes from the first ten classes.
And only then did I realize, now that we have come to Ireland, the country of my patrilineal heritage, what a true “roots” trip I have undertaken alright.
God loves a good double entendre.
To be continued tomorrow.
Bradford Winters is a screenwriter/producer in television whose work has included such series as Oz, Kings, Boss, and The Americans. His poems have appeared in Sewanee Theological Review, Spoon River Poetry Review, and Georgetown Review, among other journals. He lives in Brooklyn with his wife and three children.