Thursday, January 29, 2015

They just don't make haggis like they used to

Fair fa' your honest, sonsie face,
Great chieftain o' the puddin'-race!
Aboon them a' ye tak yer place,
Painch, tripe, or thairm:
Weel are ye wordy o' a grace
As lang's my airm.
Address to a Haggis
Robert Burns
As I believe most of you know, I am originally from Scotland. I came to America, with my parents, in 1963 to join my sister who had been here for a couple of years. I turned 14 about 10 days after we got here. If there is a worse age at which to totally uproot someone from all they ever knew, I'm sure I don't know what that age would be.

It was a tough situation to be in. In school, for example, I went from an environment where we were expected to stand whenever the headmaster entered our classroom, and teachers used corporal punishment to maintain discipline, to a place where a kid was stabbed in my home room. Why was he stabbed? Well, as I would have said at the time, “I dinna ken (I don't know),” but the story that went around was that it had been the result of an unfortunate accident. The kid tripped and fell on the knife...14 times. Hey, I'm not saying I believed it, I'm just telling you what I heard.

You would think that speaking English would have been a big plus. Right? Well, maybe not. Initially, my Scottish accent was thick enough that I might as well have been speaking a foreign language, especially if my parents were around, because the accent got thicker if we outnumbered the Americans in any given situation. My friends would nod and smile as they listened to my parents, but most of the time they didn't have a clue. “Can ye bide a wee bit to have some gammon and totties fur yer tea, hen?” could easily bring the answer, “October 13th,” when in fact my friend had just been asked if she could stay a little while and have and ham and potatoes for supper. Oh, how we laughed. McHa, McHa, McHa, McHa.

I tried very hard to lose the accent, right from the get go. It seemed people were less interested in what I was saying than how I was saying it. Also, I wanted to be a rock and roll disc jockey and, in those days, you had to, as George Carlin has said, sound like you were from nowhere.

I really came to love living in America, but there were, certainly at first, some funky things about being a stranger in a strange land. For example, we had to confirm our resident alien status by filling out a form at the post office every January. Why the post office? You tell me. I know it's still about the easiest place to get a passport, if that gives you a clue.

Also, I was ineligible for certain scholarships, grants and student loans because I was not a citizen. The biggest thing was probably being able to be drafted while not having the right to vote. It seems like that should have been a matched set, but it wasn't. Uncle Sam might have been a distant relation, but he was always able to come around when there was war work to be done.

All this comes up now because this time of year is when Scots and people who wish they were Scots, gather for a Burns Supper to honor Scottish poet Robert Burns. The centerpiece of the evening is when The Haggis is brought into the hall, accompanied by bagpipers. Before this main course is consumed, someone will read Burns' “Address to a Haggis,” and a terrrrrific time will be had by all.

Except, since 1971 when the USDA ruled [l]livestock lungs shall not be saved for use as human food,”  one hasn't been able to get a true haggis in the United States. A haggis is made by mincing and stuffing sheep offal (lungs, heart,liver, suet) along with oatmeal, onions and various spices, into a sheep's stomach and baking the entire thing.

I know what you're thinking. Yum, right? And, why is the government interfering in our ability to enjoy such a marvelous dish. I think it's because they can.

I don't know for sure, but I'm willing to guess, that the amount of outrage generated by this particular governmental interference was probably easily contained. I mean, I've never eaten haggis and don't see doing so in the foreseeable future. How many people have? Besides, I only found out about this cavalier act a few days ago when I tore a page out of a magazine in my doctor's office that told of the ban. Yeah. You heard me. I tore a page (well, part of a page) out of a magazine. It was the Scot in me rebelling against the Sassenachs. What can I tell you?

All this Scottish-ness has led me to actually consider this: Would I still have gotten cancer if I had never come this country? Look, I know it's a ridiculous thought, one that can't be considered in stand alone fashion. This country has provided me with everything that is of importance to me, so to pick out one bit like that is pointless. I get that. Still, is seems at least as worth an answer as “Do You Know the Way to San Jose?”

There are a variety of versions of the story that gives this blog its name. The pony is the constant in all of them. A man is on his way to a party when he comes across a young boy shoveling ass over tea kettle at an enormous mountain of manure. The man asks the child if he wouldn't rather go with him to the party than shovel all that poop. The kid says, “No way man. With all that poop... there must be a pony in there somewhere.”