Feeling the Burns

Feeling the Burns

This is the season my Scottish genes begin to sound their pipes. Our Murray ancestors hang on the walls of memory and hallways in the old Inn. The Murray clan history, traced by our Uncle Bill, provides the names of those who left bonnie Scotland to arrive in Almost Heaven.

The name Murray is believed to derive from Gaelic word “moireabh” meaning seaward or seaboard. The wistful goodbye of a Scotsman framed in enamel preserves the economic desperation of men who went to sea and war because they were landless.

We can claim linage back to a castle with a private army, and John Murray, the first Duke of Atholl. but I learned my lesson about when to tell tales. Daniel was nearly 4 when I introduced him to the Scottish side of the family tree. I thought he’d appreciate hearing about the fierce Scots who fought in WWI, and their nickname and the Duke of Atholl and Blair castle.

I forgot that the “th” sound takes time to develop so it was a shock to hear him loudly announce to the other children in Sunday School that he had a Duke of Asshole and Ladies of Hell in his family.

The family storyline is filled with accounts of armed struggle and civil war, brothers against brothers, fathers against sons. There’s even a contest over the Murray motto: a mermaid holding a mirror and comb with the words “Tout Prest”, (Quite Ready), or a bare-chested man holding a key and a dagger under the words “Furth Fortune and Fill the Fetters”.

Not a promising legacy for peace as we face a new year. Even the understated tone of R. Chambers, the Scot Murray historian (1841) points out the problem.  “Sir Alexander Murray of Stanhope was one of those men, who, of some talent and insight, are so little under the government of human prudence and good temper that they prove rather a trouble than a benefit to their fellow creatures.”

I don’t need to read old histories to see what happens when we are “so little under the government of human prudence and good temper”. It will take more than Hogmanay cakes to sweeten this transition of power. I find comfort in the Robert Burns song we sing as one year ends and another begins.

The ‘auld lang syne’ roughly translates as ‘for old times’ sake’, and the song is about preserving friendship as we look back over the events of a hard year and ahead to a restoration of peace.

Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And auld lang syne.

For auld lang syne, my jo, (dear)
For auld lang syne,
We’ll tak a cup o’ kindness yet,
For auld lang syne,

We twa hae paidl’d i’ the burn,
Frae mornin’ sun till dine;
But seas between us braid hae roar’d
Sin auld lang syne.

And there’s a hand, my trusty fiere!
And gie’s a hand o’ thine!
And we’ll tak a right guid willy waught,
For auld lang syne.

It helps to know a “right guid willy waught” means to drink deeply of the cup of kindness and loyalty. So, this year, come midnight, we’ll recover the Scottish tradition of standing in a circle holding hands. At the final verse (‘And there’s a hand, my trusty friend’) we’ll cross our arms so that our left hand holds the hand of the person on the right, and our right hand holds the person’s hand on our left as we sing”

“For auld lang syne, my dears. For auld lang syne.”