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Sunday, December 07, 2008

The Scottish Christmas Walk of 2008

Greetings and Salutations to All my Kith and Kin and All the Ships in Outer Space:

Today is Sunday 07 December 2008, the forty-first anniversary of my induction into the United States Army.

I always liked the idea that I went into the Army on the anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.

Yesterday, Saturday 06 December 2008, was the annual Scottish Christmas Walk in Alexandria, Virginia, and boy, what a day it was!

Although the parade begins at 1100 Hours, it's always necessary to arrive hours earlier, in order to ensure finding adequate parking.

I parked my big four wheel drive pickup truck down by the river, and walked up the hill to the courthouse.

I wandered into La Madeleine, where I met President Rex Maddox and his wife, Pat, and eventually, numerous other members of Clan Henderson drifted in.

It was nice to be able to sit down and be inside, out of the cold weather.

After we'd killed some time, I walked across the street with a young couple (whose names I've forgotten) in hopes of doing some Christmas shopping among the myriad exhibits being offered in the courthouse plaza.

But, I didn't see anything I wanted to buy, and anyway, how could I buy something and then go march in the parade, since I didn't know if there would be enough time for me to walk back down to my truck before the parade started?

Actually, I had more than enough time, as it takes a long, long, long time to form up and begin the parade, so we stood around for quite a while.

As I walked to where we were forming up, I encountered a uniformed Scot carrying three full-sized flags, which he was trying to give away.

He told me he was here all by himself, representing Scotland's renowned Black Watch military regiment.

This was the largest gathering of Clan Henderson ever documented, probably occasioned by the personal appearance of our clan chief, Alistair D. Henderson of Fordell, who came here all the way from Australia.

Almost all of the Henderson men were wearing kilts, and many of them had swords, which is really saying something, for purchasing a kilt is expensive, as is purchasing a sword.

Since I live on a disability retirement pension, I consider myself very fortunate to own a kilt, complete with all my Highland regalia accessories, and a traditional Scottish basket hilt sword.

David S. Henderson, the high commissioner and clan chieftain for North America was there from North Carolina, and I was delighted to meet him, as I had grown up in North Carolina.

I admired a comely lass wearing a long green hooded cloak, who looked quite Medieval, and complimented her on it.

It turned out that she was Cari(?) Henderson, the new bride of David Henderson, the son of David S. Henderson.

She reminded me of the scenes in BRAVEHEART, of the Princess of Wales, and I wondered why women today couldn't dress more like that, as those styles were so pretty.

I also met another sweet lassie from Washington (the state), who had a sticker identifying her as being in the "Sisterhood of the Traveling Kilt", an obvious parody of the movie, SISTERHOOD OF THE TRAVELING PANTS, a "chick flick" that I've never actually seen.

I think her name was Ellen Bentley, but I might have that wrong.

She told me that they're a group of gals who take turns wearing the same kilt, which they take to various Scottish events all over the world.

Despite the cold temperatures, it was very pleasant being in the midst of our large gathering of clansmen, chatting and getting acquainted.

As we milled around, I think our combined body heat made the day less chilly, and one fellow compared it to the survival technique employed by penguins during Antarctic storms.

Eventually, the parade got started, and we marched along, to sounds of bagpipes, drums, occasional gunfire, and cheering spectators.

Our clan bodyguard looked very impressive, holding forth their swords in salute, as our color bearers carried the flags of the United States of America, Australia (in honor of our chief), and Scotland.

Oh, but in defiance of the bitter cold, the streets were crowded with throngs of onlookers!

Among the marchers in our clan were a family with two little boys, and the wee tykes were dressed in kilts, and carried rubber swords and shields.

To everyone's delighted amusement, they scampered back and forth, waving their swords, attacking each other, and sometimes tumbling down and momentarily bawling until Mommy picked them up, and then, they'd instantly be right back at their playful pursuits.

One of the boys had a Glengarry cap way too big for him, and it kept falling over his eyes.

Enroute, we met a man dressed up in a Scottish terrier costume, and the young'uns just loved him!

When we reached the end of the parade route, Christian Garin, the head of our clan's bodyguard, urged everyone to stay together until after we'd gotten our group photograph.

Excellent photographs were taken by Gary Carnaday(?) and his wife (whose name I've forgotten!), who came here from Oklahoma City.

So many pictures were taken, by multiple photographers, that it would be impossible and impractical to e-mail them, so I'm hoping someone in our clan will make them available on a CD, or DVD, or at a web site.

You should see that camera that Gary uses!

He says he bought it for using when he goes scuba diving.

Afterwards, I began walking down to the river.

As I walked along, because I was all dressed up, wearing my kilt, with my sword at my side, and medals arrayed on my coat, tourists would ask me if the parade was still going on, and I replied that I thought it might be over, but there would still be a concert by the massed pipe and drum bands.

One group of ladies stopped me and asked if that was a knife I was wearing in my sock.

So, I explained to them about the custom of wearing a sgian dubh (pronounced "skeen doo"), and why it was done.

Sgian dubh, which is Gaelic, translates into "black knife", and the reason it's called a "black knife" is because it is normally carried concealed from view, usually secreted beneath the kilt, under the armpit.

Out of courtesy, when visiting a clansman, all other weapons are left outside the door of the home.

But, the sgian dubh is a weapon of last resort, and to be polite, it is taken from its hiding place and put in plain view, usually tucked into the top of one's hose.

Some speculate the sgian dubh is also used for eating, which might be true, but regimental dirks include a small fork and knife for eating purposes, so the sgian dubh would not be used in those instances.

I thought I was pretty tough, and that after living in Idaho, cold weather would have no affect on me.

Hey, I'm a typical macho guy, right?

NOTHING can affect ME!

I can take anything!

But, when I got to my pickup truck, I was moving in slow motion, utterly exhausted, and in severe pain.

I could hardly take my coat off and put on my sweater.

I was a good long while starting up my engine and getting out of that parking lot.

Before going to the church to participate in our clan's ceilidh (pronounced "kay lee"), I happened to drive through some secluded suburban neighborhoods in Alexandria.

I believe that in some of those Alexandria suburbs, if federal agents ever have to shoot it out with local residents, the federal agents will lose and be annihilated.

Those secluded neighborhoods are like a massive maze, unnavigable by strangers, as you need a GPS to find your way in, and you also need a GPS to find your way out.

I arrived at Saint Mark's Episcopal Church hours early, but fortunately, they left the door open for me.

Only the foyer was open, as all the rooms were locked, but still, I could be inside and relax in a comfortably upholstered chair, while rehearsing my songs and strumming my guitar.

It was cold in the foyer, but not nearly as cold as it was outside.

So, I played my guitar and waited - - - and waited - - - and waited - - - and waited.

The sun went down.

It was dark.

Parking lot lights activated.

I hunted for the light switch and illuminated the foyer.

WHERE was Clan Henderson?

Had they cancelled the ceilidh at the last minute?

Was someone in a terrible accident?

But, as I began singing "DANNY BOY", there was a pounding at the rear door.

It was Christian Garin needing to unload food from his car, AND it was snowing!

As I was helping Christian Garin at the back door, Mike, Joan, and Bill Henderson arrived at the front door, with lots and lots and lots of more food to be unloaded and carried in.

We kept alternately locking ourselves out of the church, because we couldn't figure out how to unlock the door and prop it open.

But, a visiting Army chaplain, a lieutenant colonel, showed us how it was done, and we had no more difficulty.

Yes, we had a HUGE turnout at our ceilidh, probably the biggest one our clan's ever had.

Chieftain Henderson's wife, Lilly, requested I instantly make up a poem on the spot, commemorating an amusing incident during the parade involving earmuffs, David Henderson, and Larry Henderson.

Yes, I was certainly put "on the spot", and so, I did a bit of pacing and worrying, as I wracked my brain trying to hurriedly create some amusing rhymes.

Before the meal began, there were snacks.

One of the snacks was (I think) dates sliced open and filled with cream cheese.

They were delicious, but I thought they looked exactly like squashed cockroaches!

Chaplain Fred Sanford (yet another "Tar Heel" from North Carolina!) pronounced an amusing traditional Scottish blessing on the meal, and we all went at it.

The tables were laden with plenty of hams, chicken, meat balls, fruits, melons, cookies, candies, and pies, along with a big bowl of non-alcoholic punch.

The entertainment began with a fellow named MacEwen(?), from Nashville, Tennessee, who recited the complete Robert Burns epic poem of TAM O' SHANTER, all from memory!

Mike Henderson said I looked worried that I might not still be the clan's bard.

But, actually, I was sitting there thinking that this guy is much better at it than I am, so why isn't he the clan's bard?

The only reason I'm the bard is because no one else wanted the job!

I was AMAZED at his ability to MEMORIZE that entire lengthy poem!

Could you believe anybody could do that?


Then I was invited to give my brief poem, the one that had to be spontaneously created right then and there!

Let's see if I can remember what I said:

"From North Carolina, came the Henderson call,
Make up a poem and start a Henderson brawl.
I was put on the spot and not given much time
To wrack my brain and think up a rhyme.
Here is the tale they wanted told
Which was caused by that day's cold.
David Henderson wore earmuffs to march in the parade.
Larry Henderson took them, and gave nothing in trade.
So, put up your swords, and don't draw your gun.
It's just Tar Heel mischief stirring up fun!"

Then, Douglas Henderson played the piano, and we all stood and sang "WALTZING MATILDA" for our chief and his lady.

We were entertained by our two (02) bagpipers, one of whom is currently on active duty in the United States Air Force.

I think there was other entertainment also, but I can't remember everything, nor can I remember everyone's name.

At each table, one person was selected to introduce everyone else at that table, telling something personal or amusing about them, so we got to meet everyone who was there.

Chief Alistair D. Henderson of Fordell officially installed Rex Maddox as President of the Clan Henderson Society of the United States of America.

Christian Garin officially installed a couple of guys as clan bodyguards for their respective state or region.

Awards were presented for exceptional service to the clan, but I don't remember to whom or what for.

Then, a few of us were invited up to have our kilts christened.

I bought my kilt a couple of years ago, but it's never been christened.

So, Ellen Bentley(?) from the State of Washington assisted me in the process, directed by Chaplain Fred Sanford.

A few drops of uisge beagh (pronounced "is kee bay ah"), which translates as "water of life", were placed in the bottom of a glass.

The lass knelt down, dipped a corner of my kilt into the wee dram, and handed the glass to me.

The chaplain invoked, having each of us repeat after him,

"This ain't no skirt.
This ain't no dress.
And with this drink,
This kilt is blessed!"

We then downed the drink.

What a surprise I got!

I didn't know it was real whiskey!

It didn't smell like alcohol.

I thought it would just be some of the non-alcoholic punch.

But, mox nix.

The amount ingested was only equal to a teaspoon of ordinary cough medicine, so I reckon there was no real harm done.

I did drive home without getting stopped by any police or having any collisions.

So, I reckon my kilt is now officially Scottish.

I got another surprise, too.

At the end of the ceremony, that gal kissed me!


Hey, I can't tell you how many years it's been since I've been kissed.

That is definitely something us guys need, huh?

Because of where I live, and my limited resources, I never date.

So, now, I've got a very happy memory that'll last me a long, long time, even more so, because I know nothing about that gal.

Then, Leon Hicks conducted a charity auction, benefitting an Army chaplain's program for military personnel currently in the war zones, selling numerous items, as only he can.

Probably the most interesting item being bid on was a set of books, which were truly antique.

It was eight of nine volumes, with one volume slightly damaged, of the history of Scotland's queens and England's princesses, printed over a century or two ago.

I'm guessing that it was a lot more valuable than what it sold for at the auction.

Finally, we all stood in a big circle that went all around the room, crossing arms and linking hands, as Douglas Henderson played the piano and we sang for our chief, "WILL YE NO COME BACK AGAIN?", followed by "AULD LANG SYNE".

I hauled my guitar out to my truck, and by the time I got back inside, tables and chairs had already been put away.

Boy, those guys are fast!

I was so tired and in so much pain, I could hardly walk, so it was sure good to finally get back to my room at the Ol' Soldiers' Home, so I could enjoy my Christmas tree and my flickering fireplace.

But, what a day that was!

Folks, if'n you've never been to a Scottish or Celtic event, I urge you to someday attend our annual Scottish Christmas Walk, and if you can, be sure and go to a ceilidh.

You'll love it as much as I do!

Thank you.

John Robert Mallernee, KB3KWS
Official Bard of Clan Henderson
Armed Forces Retirement Home
Washington, D.C. 20011-8400

NOTE: "My unpopular and controversial personal opinions are independent of my Scottish clan."

1 comment:

Steve & Julie said...

Hi John

Greetings from a beautiful sunny day here in Falkirk, Central Scotland!

We had great fun reading about your Scottish on Saturday. It makes us both so proud that Scotland is so well loved around the globe.

It would be great if you could find a minute to read about our “Worldwide Toast to Robert Burns.”

Our web-site has been specifically designed to co-ordinate a Worldwide Toast in honour of Burns to celebrate his 250th Anniversary. The site will help us to co-ordinate all of the toasts from around the world and make this a historic event on behalf of Burns!

So far, the response that we have received to our Worldwide Toast idea has been overwhelming and in only a few weeks our web-site has been visited by no less than 52 countries, in fact, every continent except Antarctica (and we are working on that one!!).

To help us make it work, it would be just great if you could sign up for our newsletters at to keep up to date with our progress and to please pass on the word and ask your friends and relatives to sign up too and, of course, to take part!

It really is easy since all you need to do is raise a glass, count the numbers and afterwards complete a brief form on the web-site to record your numbers. It is as simple as that.

Finally, if you happen to have time to have a look at the web-site, then you will also see that we have introduced some YouTube footage. Please excuse my Falkirk accent but we hope that they will prove of interest especially to all of the Scottish Societies abroad who are so far away but hold Scotland so close to their hearts.

Cheers the now and kind regards.

Julie & Steve

PS there is also a Budding Bard competition that you might be interested in entering?

Scottish Gemini
4 Inglis Place, Brightons, Falkirk FK2 0TE Scotland
Telephone/Fax: 01324 410260
Mobile: 07748 749324