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Finding Scotland

I was searching for clues. I knew the name of my grandfather's childhood home, I knew it was in northern Scotland, in the town of Marnoch. I knew that my grandfater left relations in the old country.  I wanted to discover where he came from, where I came from.

I flew from Boston to London; drove to Scotland, to Marnoch, and was drawn to a Marnoch church high up on a hill, to a good view point, to get a lay of the land. The house was near.  I parked my car and stepped onto soil where my grandfather's feet may once have trodden.

From the top of the hill my eyes fell upon rolling green farmland, an orderly kirkyard contained by stone walls next to a stream, amongst scattered dwellings, with a small castle nestled in a treed valley by a feeder brook, and next to where I stood, the old stone church of Marnoch, a workshop behind, a man ambling away with the help of two canes -- this man who did not see me -- disappeared into the workshop barn. I followed and called "hello" along the path of the vanished man. He emerged.

"Hello!" I called, being the friendly agreeable tourist. "I have come from the United States in search of the home where my grandfather was born. I think it was called 'Pointsfield.' Do you know of this place, sir?"

The old man gazed through me, serenely, thinking, then hobbled out with a cane quivering under the weight in each hand. He hobbled through the muddy driveway, to edge of the hill. He gazed discerningly over the fields to the northwest. His quivering ceased. With a fixed gaze and clear resolve he raised one of his canes, stood, unwavering, like the Scottish stones strewn about the countryside over which he was now presiding. He pointed with precision at the exact spot where the house could be found.

"Pooins-feeld be'joost uver th'heeil. Thare."

I thanked the gentleman, and began to follow his directions, but as the roads became smaller and smaller, my confidence began to waver. I could not be sure if I hadn't already driven past Pointsfield. I was nervous, almost frightened, daydreaming about hypothetical conversations at the door of Pointsfield. Will they chase me away? Will they want me to stay? Will I meet any relatives at all? How am I going to introduce myself? Will I be received well? Will I be received poorly? With anger? With indifference? My nerves and my lack of confidence in my direction of travel made me turn the car around, meekly. Go back. What are you doing?

I retraced my steps and saw a man working his fields with a tractor. I felt compelled to stop and speak with him, but drove on instead. I was choked up now, almost gasping for air, driving faster to get to nowhere. I was not about to cry, but it might have been better if I did and got it over with. I was in the land of my forefathers. This was where I came from. These were my people. It was overwhelming me. Perhaps my grandfather was with me now, his eyes somewhere behind mine, longing to be home, to be alive, to be prosperous in the land he abandoned -- in the land to which he never returned.

I turned the car around, went back to the man on the tractor, stopped the car in the entrance to his driveway and got out. I called to him. He saw me, shut off the tractor engine, climbed down, and walked over to me. I explained my situation to him, asked him about Pointsfield and about any Cowies. With great interest and joviality he replied, he said something, but I cunna oondarstaand eh waard h'wus saaay-in. He picked up on this, and the broad accent was translated for the perplexed American tourist.

He told me of his neighbor, Mrs. Grey, who was a Qoowee (Cowie) before she married. He confirmed that I was on the right course to Pointsfield before I turned around. The man was fully enjoying the moment, and was happy to repeat everything he said, several times, in a variety of forms, the intention of which was perhaps to ensure clarity and understanding, but was more likely a reinforcement of the joy he was experiencing in helping me out and being so full of knowledge on a particular subject, and so glad to be having the chat and not really wanting me to get back into my car and drive away.

In the midst of his reiterations, a woman of about 60 years, conceivably the man's wife, came up from the barn, through the mud of the driveway, protected by over-the-knee boots, carrying a bucket of God-knows-what and wearing a sample of the bucket's contents on her overalls, covering the original nature of the garment completely. Her eyes were wild and fixed on me as a child would gaze with excitement and anticipation upon a new toy held out in front of them. She walked directly towards me, the bucket sloshing its contents onto the driveway. She had the general frame and features of my grandmother, enough for me to think of her as a walking page out of Scottish history, but this woman's features were altered by her hard toiling on the farm. She filled every available space of her overalls, the surplus was accommodated by her swelling arms, fingers and cheeks. Her bulging eyes were nested amongst bulging round cheeks with bright red capillaries at the surface fighting to break through her rubbery skin.

Her accent was broad, and her enthusiasm would overrule my constant reminders that I just couldn't understand her. She pinned me to the side of my car as she downloaded her full knowledge of Qoowee's and any related Qoowee stories or anything else that came to her mind. I began to plan my escape. I tried a variety of "polite" bow-outs, but eventually resorted to getting in the car, as she carried on her conversation, rolling down the window, to allow her words inside and not to be rude, pausing, starting the car and driving away as she waved and continued talking with unchecked friendliness and enthusiasm.

I drove to the front door of their neighbor's house, the home of Mrs. Grey, about a half mile down the road. The home was adjacent to an abandoned school-house and was named, "Dunslaven," implying that this was a place to which one retreats when the toil is done. So, there are Qoowee's here. Are they relations? I parked the car, locked it, and went to the door.

The yard was well kept, the paint was fresh, the atmosphere was quite tidy indeed, in contrast to the muddle of the farms surrounding. I rang the bell and a man about my age, or a bit younger, answered. As I was asking for Mrs. Grey and explaining who I am, the young man was involuntarily showing me his twisted teeth and looking upon me as an ogre would look upon a lamb to be et for dinner. The ogre motioned for me to come into the house past the cauldron, and down the well-kept hall lined with clean rugs of oriental origins. These were incongruously delicate furnishings compared to my host. I was led into a room where a TV was on, unwatched by an elderly woman, bent over her feet, hands holding up her head to prevent it's lifeless mass from toppling between her legs and onto the floor. The young man pointed at her and said, as if referring to a table or any object in the room, "that is Mrs. Grey."

In my mind, I forgave the twisted-tooth, red faced ogre for his manners to me and to Mrs. Grey. I am the stranger and in no position to judge. I made my way awkwardly across the space between us and introduced myself to the top of her gray frizzled, uncombed head. She motioned for me to sit down, without raising it. The ogre left us with a twisted grin. I sat uneasily across from her, questioning the legitimacy of this invasion. She was clearly in some combination of physical and psychological sickness. I surveyed the trinket-filled room, the requisite Scottish Highland coal fire, family photos caught my eye. Eventually, she seemed to gather the strength to raise her eyes from the floor to look at me.

I introduced myself, explained my quest.

"Are you a Cowie?" I asked.

She answered, "Aye'm'a Qoowee."

"And are you related to the Cowie's from Pointsfield?"

"Aye, meh muther wus Pinellape, barn-a-Pointsfield."

I produced my charts and scanned for Penelope. This was the daughter of my grandfather's sister, one of two sisters who remained in Scotland and with whom we had lost all contact. The young ogre was my second cousin once removed -- one generation younger than I, Mrs. Grey's grandson.

Success! I h'foond me lung lust rrruullations uun Scotland, bout, I neh foouund th'wee hoose whare m'grundfuther wus boourne.

The magnanimity of this discovery was lost upon Mrs. Grey. She sat, inanimate. She was ill, so I offered to leave her now and return tomorrow, if she would have me. She agreed. I made a cursory attempt to explain my connection to the ogre with the ogre, but I received only twisted teeth and flushing cheeks, so I left.

Somewhat dizzy from the experience, I sought for a place to settle. I found myself a room in a small hotel in Aberchirder, the main town a few miles away. Once installed, I thought to take a breath of air by way of a rambling drive through the countryside.

I found myself asking a man if he knew where I could find the house, "Pointsfield."

"Yoou're utt tit," he shot back with a ring of surprise, intrigue and question.

Shocked, I stepped out of the car, introduced myself and explained my quest. The man referred to his mother, inside the house, as Mrs. Cowie and I said to him that we must be second cousins. He introduced himself as Colin.

It was twilight. The flat gray clouds relinquished a thin band of color which set sky apart from rolling hills. Color flanked the house. I was moved by the beauty of the scene, of the contrasts, and longed to interrupt this new conversation to take a photo, but deferred to my manners and let the opportunity pass forever.

Colin led me past the barn where we met and I took in the main house. In my mind I wrote the name "Pointsfield" upon what I saw. A single storied, stone, end-on to the street dwelling with an incongruously placed corrugated tin roof, a roof where there was once thatch, no doubt. Colin led me down the mud driveway, past farm-like debris, beyond the scrutiny of a pack of guard-cats, through a wide-open door, down a long dark hall and into a room with a TV blaring where he introduced me to his mother, Margaret Cowie. Colin then bowed out with, "Ah bhetur goo feeed th' kaht-ttle,." I stood in the kitchen, the sitting room and by the fire all at once, in the house where my grandfather was born.

In front of the coal fire over which she hunched in her head handkerchief, knit sweater and Nike sneakers, Mrs. Cowie and I talked. I took notes as she divulged her relationship to the Cowie family, and the relationships of all the Cowies she knew as she huddled and shook, seemingly incapable of getting warm inside the stone walls of the ancient house. Her late husband recently met Mrs. Grey's brother. She was widowed almost 50 years ago and has been in the house ever since.

After I had absorbed about as much as my head could absorb, I excused myself for the evening and returned to my hotel room to review my notes, and reflect on my day of family discoveries.

The next day I visited the Kirkyard, the cemetery, where I found the final resting places of great great grandparents, as promised by Mrs. Cowie. I revisited the relations met the day before. I took more notes. I took more photos. I spoke to Margaret Cowie's daughter, Helen, on the phone who reported that someone, like myself, doing genealogical research, had recently contacted her sister-in-law, an "unrelated" Cowie, in search of relations, and that the person claimed to be the granddaughter of an Isabella Cowie born at Pointsfield -- my grandfather's other sister who remained behind, the other lost link.

I was given the name of said granddaughter and their address, but there was no telephone number given, so I rang directory assistance and learned that their phone is ex-register (unlisted). I had no time to write to them; no time to telegram. They live in Nottingham, England. I left the next day.

With a nights detour to Braemar for a bit of tourism, I arrived in Nottingham by 7:00 PM the next night. I had no map of the area. I hailed a taxi driver and solicited his assistance to help me find the address, which he was pleased to do.

I rang the bell. The occupants were shocked, but warmed up quickly, and had me inside. We exchanged data and I was introduced to my second cousin, Jackie, a woman of my age and a granddaughter of my grandfather's sister (my grandfather's great-niece).

While I spoke with them, they thought Jackie's father might like a word with me. Mr. Douglas Alanach, chieftain of the Alanach clan, son of Isabella Cowie, spent his summers in Pointsfield and knew my Grandfather's mother, Grrannie Qoowee, quite well. By about 8:00 PM I was on my way across town to his home.

I found the street, and the number, and saw someone outside his house, waiting. I approached the man as he came down the driveway to meet me.

"Mr. Alanach?" I queried.

"Aye, and you must be Mr. Lovett. Aye, ya' look like a Cowie." He spoke with a proud, deep, and robust voice. His words came forth from a strong barrel chest with force like tones from the pipes (bagpipes). He ended his sentences abruptly, sharply, with dignity, and power. Douglas Alanach welcomed me into his home and filled my ear with stories of my great granny as his kind wife filled my belly with sandwiches and tea.

He told me of his summers at Pointsfield, of a wild and earthy place that won that young boy's heart. He told me of the roosters that would be perched at the foot of his bed as he woke in the morning and of the pigs and farm animals that would roam the hall of the house freely, without distinction from the outdoors. He told me of himself, as a little boy, kicking and screaming, hiding in the hills behind the house, in the sheep fields, behind rocks, unwilling to go home, unwilling for the summer to end.

I produced a framed photo of a purported relative given to me by the Grey's. It was thought to be the photo of my grandfather's sister, Jessie, when she was a young woman, perhaps 20 years old, perhaps before she left Scotland for the United States. I had inherited Jessie's wedding ring as well as her husband's. My wife and I were married in their rings.

Mr. Alanach's hands quaked as he slipped on his glasses, took the convex glass covered oval-framed photo in his hands and bellowed out instantly, proudly, "Aye, that's Jessie. We used to call her 'The Duchess.'"

After exchanges of stories and pleasantries, I left their home and drove blankly for an hour or more. My trip had revealed a universe grander than I could have imagined. I had the fortune to glimpse back into the early life of my grandfather, lost to me when I was four years old. I saw into his life before he emigrated to the United States. I looked into a life that was unknown even to his own daughter, my mother. I discovered relatives that none of my grandfather's progeny knew existed.

I found a hotel that appeared to be a converted mansion and decided to splurge and call in for the night. It was then about 10:30. In my room, I laid in bed and tried to absorb all the stories heard today and in the few days past, writing as best I could, my family tale.

I drifted off to sleep with the voices of my cousins in my head, in the company of my family.