Moira and I have just returned from a trip to the USA. Burns is weel kent and popular in this massive country. Burns was a great admirer of George Washington for whom he wrote ‘An Ode For General Washington’s Birthday’. Washington to Burns was the epitomy of liberty, strength and freedom for the individual.
I am delighted to have received an invitation at the beginning of April from my old friend John Eliot from Coldstream Burns Club to attend the Coldstream Bridge Ceremony on May 8th. ‘Humie’ is one of those hard working secretaries who are the backbone of Burns Clubs worldwide and I am very much looking forward to the colourful event on Sunday.
Much of the early part of the month was spent preparing for our USA adventure. The usual currency exchange, visa applications and double checking arrangements keeps us busy. Before we leave, I meet with my friend, author Susi Briggs and arrange to take half a dozen copies of ‘Nip Nebs’, the children’s book in Scots I fore worded to Philadelphia for our North American friends.
Moira and I billet ourselves in Edinburgh the night before the flight as we have an early start. We take the opportunity to drink in the atmosphere and culture of ‘Auld Reekie’. Our flight takes us to JFK Airport, New York, then onward to Nashville, Tennessee. We are exhausted by the time we arrive. The day of arrival was my birthday, the longest I have ever had, 31 hours counting time zone changes. Moira remembers with about ten minutes of the day left. Ochone, Ochone!!
We are joined the following day by our dear friends from Calgary, Henry and Shona Cairney. Henry has had a major operation recently and is looking incredibly well. We find the music area of the city awash with ‘Honky Tonk’ bars and saloons. There is wall to wall music to suit every taste. In the evening we took a river cruise on the ‘General Jackson’, a restored paddle driven showboat. The after dinner entertainment was based around the history of country music and was a quality production. I am proud to say that I have ‘played Nashville’. A musician we met, Randy Moore, gave me the opportunity to perform a couple of songs in a saloon bar. Henry sang an Elvis song and had the audience encapsulated. (actually, we cleared the place).
A few days in Nashville then on to Philadelphia for the ‘business ‘ part of the trip, the RBANA Conference. We are met at the luxurious downtown hotel by many weel kent faces, Les and Nancy Strachan, Bill and Mary Jim Fulton, who are organising the conference. Many fellow Burnsians’ and reprobates appeared as the day progressed, the Medicine Hat Boys, Calgary Burns Club, RBANA President Colin Harris and many others. From home, we have Jane Brown, Bill Dawson amd the irrepressible Willie Gibson. Friday morning sees a visit to the Rosenbach Library and Museum, arranged by Bill Fulton. The Rosenbach brothers were antiquarian and rare book dealers in the city. The library contains a huge collection of rare books and manuscripts form all over the world. In the collection are Kilmarnock and Edinburgh editions along with what is thought to be the last draft of Tam O’Shanter. Of particular interest was the Kilmarnock Edition which was Mrs Frances Anna Dunlop’s own copy. When she had the book bound, additional blank pages were added to which she transcribed other works Burns sent to her for approval or comment. The collection of books is priceless and it was an absolute pleasure to view them. Philadelphia is of course the printing capital of the world with Benjamin Franklin developing the printing press. There are of course ‘Philadelphia’ copies of the Kilmarnock edition.
Dinner and a ceilidh are greatly enjoyed on the Friday night, the band, South Jersey Celtic Society were quite simply superb, providing an eclectic selection of Scottish and Irish Music. Contributions were made from the floor and the company retired to President Colin’s room for a nightcap.
The AGM on the Saturday morning saw Ken Montgomery of Medicine Hat elected as President and Henry Cairney of Calgary as Vice President. All other offices are successfully filled. I was delighted to have the opportunity to address conference and update them on activity within the RBWF. My talk focussed on plans for our new offices and membership recruitment and retention. The new membership banner was on display all weekend and was very well received.
Saturday afternoon’s seminar was delivered by Bill Dawson who presented ‘Philadelphia- it’s place in the Burns story’. It was a very interesting and well researched piece of work. Mac Irvin presented a short, light hearted paper entitled ‘Why no rhyme from Rab regarding Christmas?’
Saturday night’s Banquet saw Ronnie O’Byrne give a sparkling address to the haggis. Willie Gibson delivered an outstanding Immortal Memory which focussed on Burns influence in the history of America. I had the honour of toasting the RBANA. Music again was provided by the South Jersey Celtic Society. The party in outgoing President Colin’s room was interrupted in true Burnsian style by security that closed us down. Just as we were getting a second breath……..
The Cairneys stayed on with us for a few days after conference to enjoy a few days more holiday. I experienced my first ever baseball game which was quite an experience. We toured the State Penitentiary, now a museum. Among a collection of insects made by prisoners over the years were two beetles, stored in a Robert Burns Cigarillo case! The penitentiary once held Al Capone but was unable to detain us further!
A wonderful holiday, and great to be among friends old and new. As always the hospitality, kindness and generosity Moira and I received was simply wonderful. The world of Robert Burns has opened so many doors for Moira and I. Thank you all.
It is back hame tae auld claethes an’ purrich. I am still wading through the hundreds of emails which were waiting on me! Moving in to May, my diary is pretty full, so I am looking forward to business as usual.