*To honor the spirit of this 4th of July weekend, here is a tribute to New York’s Ellis Island and the freedom which is USA’s genius from Great Scots Magazine, Nov/Dec 1999, told in the voice of “The Old Man”, Gus, who died at age 14 in 2005.
There aren’t many things in life that get my goat—maybe now and then a Lord-of-the-universe cat, or a dog walking by on his ‘big dog’ toes. But there’s one thing that gets me every time: suitcases! Bring out one suitcase and I get nervous. Bring out two and I get depressed. Bring out more than two and I’m in withdrawal.
My perception is not astrophysics, it’s my Scottie observational skills: the more bags, the longer the trip; the longer the trip, the more likely I’ll be left home alone taking care of a house sitter!
I’ve thought a great deal about this reaction to suitcases and what it means in the heart of a Scottie, ever since Dad came back from New York last February with photos and stories about Ellis Island and the museum of U.S. immigration there.
I’m Gus, the 10 year-old veteran at Great Scots Magazine, and I’ve got a good head on my shoulders which Dad says makes me aware of things others miss. I’ve spent a lot of time with Dad’s Ellis Island photos and I see a truth in them overlooked by others and important to Scotties everywhere.
What I see is the flip side of “rambling” and adventure. I see the dark side of travel seldom talked about: the staying behind.
Now this suitcase business is a matter of importance to us and a subject on which our Persons require canine enlightenment.
The problem with suitcases is not that a Scottie dislikes travel; in fact, travel and adventure are our middle names. The problem is not that we dislike being at home, since home is our castle; nor is it that we’re incapable of enjoying our own company. Anyone who knows us at all knows we enjoy our own wee space and thoughts. Furthermore, we’re certainly not so mean spirited as to begrudge our master adventures denied to us. No. The suitcase problem is far deeper and more serious for a Scottie.
You need to know that to a Scottie the suitcase is a source of pain so central, so visceral, it marks our whole demeanor. The suitcase, you see, means one thing: separation from the one we love.
Insight into the dark side of suitcases came home to me with piercing clarity the more I learned about Ellis Island. As I see it Ellis Island is the ‘museum of the suitcase.’ Let me explain.
Ellis Island, located in the New York harbor, was America’s “front doors to freedom” to 12 million immigrants between 1892 and 1938. Restored and opened as a museum in 1990, Ellis Island now commemorates the immigrants’ stories of trepidation and triumph, courage and rejection, and the lasting image of the American dream.
Dad says the museum’s displays and oral history recordings of immigrants’ impressions and memories are unforgettably done. He even said at one point he had to sit down quietly to have a good cry—overwhelmed by the power and drama of this record of human courage and will. He says most of the 12 million who came through Ellis Island came virtually broke, with their entire world in a suitcase, and little more than dreams in their eyes. The new world promised them nothing in those days—no social security, no welfare— nothing but the gift of opportunity. But Dad says they weren’t whiners or ‘victims’; they were too busy making a dream for themselves out of sheer grit and hard work!
I can identify with all of that— those pioneers had what I call ‘the Scottie spirit’ in which size is an attitude and ‘diehard’ is your second name. Those tough-minded immigrants are my kind of folks!
But there is a side to all this immigration stuff that’s not talked about in the displays at Ellis Island. It’s a dark side of suitcases which perhaps only a sensitive Scottie sees: it’s the pain of all the dogs left behind. For them, there came a day, an awful day, when suitcases took their masters away … forever.
Those dogs never saw their Persons again. Their world went blank with a stroke without ever knowing what or why or how. Those left behind knew only one thing: separation!
There is, of course, admirable courage in adventurers, whose ‘diehard’ spirit carries them forth against all odds to make new worlds. They sacrifice much for their dreams.
There is another form of courage, however, which is uncelebrated at Ellis Island, and easily forgotten. It’s the unromantic courage of those who are left behind who battle every night the demon separation. They, too, sacrifice for the dream. In fact, they who are left behind are the sacrifice!
And that’s the side of suitcases that came home to me from Dad’s trip to Ellis Island. I realize not every Scottie was left behind. Dad says a man named John Naylor, himself a Scottish immigrant, brought the first Scottish Terriers to America in the 1880s.
But the more I look at the pictures of immigrants at Ellis Island, and the more I contemplate the sea of suitcases everywhere, the more palpable becomes the image of the one dear possession missing: the dogs who stayed behind.
Dad says we’re all spiritual immigrants, searching for our own ‘promise land.’ He says life is a journey in which our bodies are ‘suitcases’ of our spirit while we pursue our genius. He tells me that’s why my one broken ear is okay, since it just “adds character to my suitcase!”
His notion of suitcases helps me somewhat to deal with my innate dread of luggage. Even so, the problem a Scottie faces over suitcases is more than cerebral, it’s existential.
I think of two Scottie friends in my city, Gordon and Ashleigh, whose Person packed her bags one day and went to the hospital. They never saw her again.
That’s what suitcases signify to Scotties: separation, pure and simple. And to those whose sense of separation is measured by instincts rather than calendars, a day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years, a day. Dad always says, “the good life begins with a Scottie!” But I tell him that to this Scottie the good life begins and ends with him.
So the next time you reach for your suitcases, give a care for your Scotties. We don’t ask for much. We don’t ask that you cease your adventures or that you give up your quest for the good life. We simply ask that in all your goings and comings in quest of “bigger, better, and more,” that you remember us. To our eyes the only world worth having, whether new world or old, is the world shared with our Persons.
Ellis Island is a remarkable place. Dad says it should be mandatory ‘education’ for every citizen.
And I suppose a ‘museum to the suitcase’ has its place.
Still, for this sensitive Scottie, suitcases remain depressing. I wish all suitcases would disappear. Come to think of it, I know just the place where they all should be locked away: on Ellis Island.
Joseph Harvill, Scottiephile
The song says, “Summertime, and the livin’ is easy …”
Living isn’t exactly easy for Burnsie and me this summer, but it’s already heavy with nostalgia and fun.
I say it’s not easy because my hot water pipes burst under my old house requiring demolition of my Utility Room floor — all the way down to the dirt my old adobe is built on. That meant washer/dryer/hot water heater had to be moved outside under the porch, leaving me without hot water while I pulled up layer after layer of old-school flooring. No hot water while the plumber laid new copper pipe. No hot water while I searched for and ordered from a galaxy far, far away the right tile to put down on a new Utility Room floor. No hot water for showers while I waited for my tile setter friend to find weekends to do my job. Summertime in the desert Southwest is the wrong time to be without hot showers.
But broken plumbing hasn’t stopped the boys of summer. My Boys treated me to a nighttime baseball game with fireworks show for Father’s Day. Watched Albuquerque’s Minor League team, the Isotopes, play the Tacoma Reiniers. During the fireworks show that followed the game I found myself back in Oakland, CA., sixty years ago, delicious memories of rare times I had Dad all to myself at the ballpark.
Every kid who loves his Dad wishes for more play time together, time not hijacked by work or siblings or other agendas. This kid never got enough. So remembering those rare baseball outings, the hotdogs and peanuts of sixty years ago, was sweet reminder of treasures in the Temple of My Yesterdays.
Those treasured memories of old-time “boys of summer” brought me home in another way too. I’ve been more conscious of play time with Burnsie. His whole life he’s shared me with Albie. Since Albie’s death in early June it’s just the two of us. Recently, on a 97-degree afternoon, after feeding donkeys at the corral, Burns and I played together in the Asian Corner pond. Just the two of us, the pup in him frapping with the boy in me.
A bullfrog croaks love songs from that waterfall site every summer evening so it took no coaxing for Burns to jump into the wading pool to “find the frog!” Shoes off, at the edge of the upper pool, my feet in the cool water, I watched Burns plunge his head under water again and again in wild abandon rooting around pond stones after the elusive frog and I was the ‘farm boy’ I longed to be growing up in a big city. I splashed him with my hands, soaking his black fur; he barked approval and sprayed me aggressively as he shook his wet coat. Two ‘kids’ playing in a wading pool!
I’ve spent my life chasing the transcendent, but the older I get the more I grow ‘down’ instead of ‘up’ and the more I discover myself wishing to be a ground-hugger rather than a high-flyer.
The medieval Persian mystic, Rumi, wrote:
“When you make peace with your father,
he will look peaceful . . .
Make peace with the universe.
Take joy in it. It will turn to gold.
Resurrection will be now. Every moment
a new beauty, and never any boredom.”
My summertime livin’ isn’t “easy”, but for this hugger of what is simple, basic, and real, it is rich and unusually GOOD!
Joseph Harvill, Scottiephile
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