I can never seem to remember to wear green on St. Patrick’s Day.
Maybe that’s because I’m not Irish and, subconsciously, do not want to betray my Scottish heritage.
I’ve always felt a little out of place on St. Patrick’s Day, when people party, drink beer and eat corned beef and cabbage.
I love corned beef and cabbage, but I hate beer. It’s bitter and foul, and I can’t imagine why anyone would want to consume it.
Otherwise, I realize St. Patty’s Day is a popular time of celebration for many people. Throughout my life I’ve gone to school or work on March 17 to find my peers wearing green and making plans for the evening, which invariably would involve drinking copious amounts of green beer — to me, a foreign concept.
As weird as it may sound, the one good thing about St. Patrick’s Day is that it makes me think of my paternal grandmother, Isabella Shields Calder, who was Scottish. Maybe I’m a little jealous that the Irish get to have an annual celebration and we Scots don’t.
Anyway, Grammie came to the U.S. from Paisley, Scotland, many years ago, married my grandfather and lived in Durham, Maine, where my father was born.
When we were little, she would came to stay with us at our house in Skowhegan on holidays and in the summertime.
I remember her Scottish brogue, which was intriguing to my 7-year-old ears.
“Ohhh, you’re a leetle devillll,” she’d say to my brother, David, who was always getting into mischief and who, along with his friends, would throw apples at her second-story bedroom window just to rile her.
Grammie was high-spirited and excitable. She had big blue eyes and long gray hair she kept pinned on top of her head in a tidy bun. When we seven kids got rambunctious, she was prone to outbursts of emotion. Some of my siblings saw that as an opportunity to tease her.
“Laurrrra, you’re a rrrring leaderrrrr!” Grammie would declare, rolling her “r’s” and scolding my sister Laura, who was three years my senior.
My sister Jane and I were the youngest, and Laura liked to orchestrate our daily play, which often included untoward activity such as poking holes in Christmas presents that were wrapped and under the tree or throwing snowballs at passing cars. Therefore, Grammie focused her disciplinary actions on Laura, which was good for me and Jane, because our grandmother always viewed us as innocent and above reproach.
“You’rrre a bonnie, bonnie lass,” she’d croon, pressing me to her bosom in an affectionate hug.
For all of her emotional fragility, Grammie was tough as nails.
I’ll never forget the year we had the hardwood floor refinished in our living room and all the furniture had been removed from that room, as well as from the hall leading to the upstairs.
The large, round steel grate covering the hot-air oil furnace near the base of the stairs also had been removed temporarily — the grate on which Grammie loved to stand to get warm when she came downstairs in the morning.
She had been upstairs taking a nap in the middle of the day and, unbeknownst to anyone, descended the stairs and walked right into the furnace hole, which swallowed her up nearly to her neck. We heard a blood-curdling scream. I thought for sure she had killed herself. Miraculously, she suffered no broken bones and emerged from the trauma unscathed, although she insisted Dad take her home to Durham immediately. She’d had enough.
Grammie, whose nicknames were Belle and Bella, was generous.
One summer, she threw us girls an outdoor party. I was about 6 and had a disagreement with my sisters and therefore opted to stay on the porch when they got their picture taken on the lawn with the neighborhood kids and our dog, Sam. Whenever I see that picture, sans myself, I regret I threw a tantrum that day.
One year Grammie bought us Scottish plaid woolen kilts with those giant brass safety pins attached. We sisters wore them to school, proud to show off the fact that we were Scottish.
She also bought hard candy especially for us. When we visited her old Cape Cod-style house in Durham, she’d reach into a glass jar full of coins and pass some into our eager little hands. Her house was immaculate and organized, with everything in its place. We had to take our shoes off when we entered.
I still have dreams of that house, even though Grammie has been gone 47 years.
She died in the summer of 1967, when I was 11. I never got to her funeral, as I was in Aroostook County with my best friend, Terri, and her family, visiting her grandmother.
My mother didn’t have the heart to tell me she had died, knowing I was so far away from home; so they had the funeral in Durham without me. I look at the photos of my six siblings after the funeral, all dressed up and standing in a line outside the funeral home, and I sometimes regret that I was not there. Yet secretly I was grateful to my mother all those years ago, for shielding me from what would have been a traumatic event. She knew my sensitive soul well.
I loved my grandmother. Whenever I hear a Scottish accent, something deep within me stirs — something old, and comfortably familiar.
Grammie often told us that Maine reminded her of Scotland, the home she never returned to before she died.
I’d like to visit there one day, before I’m too old. I wonder if it will feel like going home?
Amy Calder has been a Morning Sentinel reporter 26 years. Her column appears her Mondays. She may be reached at [email protected]