Today is the birthday of my late grandmother, Gladys. There are two days in which I think about her most particularly--Christmas Eve and January 21. And when Benedict Ambrose catches me using some long-obsolete Scottish word, I am delighted, for it probably came from my Edinburgh great-grandmother, via Grandma.
I forget which antique Scotticism I used the last time B.A. noticed, but the one that I remember best (for obvious reasons) is the word "skelp," which is Scots for "to beat." My grandmother never did skelp us, but she threatened to do so on this one memorable occasion.
I was flummoxed as I had never heard the word and thought at first she had said "scalp." It created in my infant mind a legend that my grandmother, who was born in Saskatchewan--as remote a part of the British Empire you could have a baby on the quiet--was in fact a Native Canadian. At the time, we children all believed the official story that she had been adopted, so it was not as farfetched as you might think. It also indicates that I still got most of my information about First Nations people from westerns on TVO's "Magic Shadows."
Threatening to scalp (or skelp) us was unusually harsh for my grandmother, who was more likely to dodge requests to babysit because of her Nerves. She loved her grandchildren and she came to visit almost every Sunday, so I think it was the responsibility of returning us alive and unharmed to my parents that danced a hornpipe on her delicate Nerves. She had had only one child herself, so the duty of watching five must have really been a challenge.
Along with the word "skelp," my grandmother taught me the refrain to "Daisy Bell," which was 20 years out of date when she was born. But I am certain I have written about that before.