October 3, 2015

Creative Nonfiction Article By Charles E.J. Moulton: "Burns Night in the Lilac Town"

CHARLES E.J. MOULTON has been a stage performer since age eleven. His trilingual, artistic upbringing, as the son of Gun Kronzell and Herbert Moulton, lead to a hundred stage productions, countless cross-over concerts, work as a bandleader and as an acting teacher. He is a regular contributor for Idea Gems, has written for Shadows Express, Cover of Darkness, Vocal Images and Pill Hill Press. He is a tourguide, a big-band-vocalist, a filmmaker, a painter, a voice-over-speaker, a translator, is married and has a daughter. Charles E.J. Moulton's passion is creative versatility. His short story collection, Aphrodite's Curse: 21 Tales of Love and Terror can be purchased by clicking the link.

Burns Night in the Lilac Town
Herbert Eyre Moulton
By Herbert Eyre Moulton

This is the story --- more or less --- of what when two charming and resourceful young ladies quite flabbergasted our entire federation of chums, buddies, and miscreants raffishly known as The Anti-Decency League of Greater Chicagoland, or ADL for short, and this by dint of one of the most outrageous escapades that any of us had ever carried off.
It was back in the late 1940's, when most of us were only a year or two out of high school and intent on discovering new and original methods of shocking and, if possible, outsmarting the petty-bourgeoise, convention-strangled society into which all of us, quite without our consent, had been born. We had always. prided ourselves on our happy-go-lucky, nose-thumbing flaunting of the rules that had been laid down for us. But with this one coup-de-théâtre, these two accomplished doxies, Joan and Ginny (AKA the Duchess and her wily handmaid) set all our previous antics and accomplishments in the shade once and for all ...
How? By appearing in our midst one night with the most glittering trophies that any of us had ever seen or even dreamt about --- introducing into a nice normal Saturday night get-together a trio of handsome and virile Scots Highlanders in full marching regalia: kilted, sporanned, silver-buckled and complete with skirling bagpipes and tootling flute, recruited directly from Edinburgh's famed Royal Scots Marching Band, which earlier in the week had opened its first-ever engagement in America. For the record: Alex, Angus and Robbie.
This sudden, completely unexpected appearance on our home-scene, right "SPLAT!!!" in the middle of one of our pleasant but unexceptional bashes, sparked a night of almost barbaric plentitude, of impromptu Highland Flings and  improvised Sword Dances (using our kitchen cutlery), of spontaneous Sing-Songs and Robert Burns poetry-recitations crowding one upon another, of toasts and Usquebaugh-quaffing unprecedented this side of Auld Reekie (Edinburgh to the uninitiated), of outlandish stunts like the communal conga-line "Colonel Bogeying" out the back door, down the stairs, around the corner, along the town's main drag, then through the street door, up the front stairs, and back into the apartment without losing a beat; and set dances with Angus as a most professional caller, leading up to the most sumptuous banquet any of us had ever wallowed in and which threatened to go on till daybreak --- then a grisly episode involving a temporary off-limits bathroom and a universal agony of bursting bladders and curses both loud and deep, and all to the ear-splitting squawling of a barage of bagpipes, like the Sorcerer's Apprentice, seemingly impossible to turn off. ("Sweet God," as my mother Nell moaned sometime during this surrealastic charade, "Is there no way to turn that one and his bagpipes off?!") --- mere blips, really, in an otherwise seamless montage of uninterrupted feasting-and-fun, the likes of which our everyday, dull-as-ditchwater suburbs have never experienced before or since ...
With its extended highs, and its alarms and excursions leading up to a pandemonium-blixted climax, this was an occasion that is still being talked about in the hushed, incredulous tones usually reserved for extra-terrestrial sightings or once-in-a-lifetime jackpot killings on one of those quiz shows forever cluttering up our TV-screens ...
And all due to the sheer persuasive chutzpah of our two vivacious vestals.

Wi’a hundred pipers
Who or what is a true Scotsman --- and how to become one when you'd like to be, but aren't? Questions such as these took on an urgent new impact one sunny autumn day in the late 40's when the Entertainment pages of the Chicago newspapers carried an annoncement intriguing enough to turn plain ordinary citizens (starting with our own suburban WASPS) into natives of Clydeside or denizons of Edinburgh Castle:
And that was only the beginning. The text led off with a starting call-to-arms lifted from the old Scots Marching Song THE HUNDRED PIPERS:
"Wi'a hundred pipers an' a' an' a',
We'll up an' gi' them a blaw, a blaw!"
Aye, pipers such as those who'd soon be winging their way from Auld Reekie to the Windy City, where, for the first time ever, the celebrated Royal Scots Marching Band and Pipers would be performing a full program of marching-and-bagpipe music as featured in the legendary Royal Tattoo, a time-honored spectacle, which from time immemorial had been a fixture at Edinburgh's historic castle --- hair-raising, in-your-face skirling of bagpipes, bolstered by pounding drums and tootling winds and brass --- flashes of steel and silver, fur-trimmed sporrans bouncing like demented shaving-brushes on the brilliantly-colored kilts of Royal Stewart or Black Watch, with a full corps of skilled dancers offering a fantastic program ranging from set-dances such as reels, hornpipes, strathspeys and jigs. This truly once-in-a-lifetime happening, involving scores of skilled performers, heirs to centuries of stormy and dramatic history, from the earliest Viking raids, down through the tragic fortunes of Robert the Bruce, William Wallace and the doomed and romantic last of the Stuarts, Bonnie Prince Charlie, right down to the fierce "Ladies from Hell" of World War I --- would be opening shortly at Chicago's time-honored Stadium, erstwhile showplace of national political conventions and other forms of light entertainment from international sporting events to Sonja Henie's renowned Ice Revue and Ringling Bros.-Barnum and Bailey three ring circus. (Somehow my parents had managed to take me to them all!)
The annoncement had acted like a high-wattage volt of electricity on Scot and non-Scot alike, galvanizing, in our case, even the most comatose of our drones to hotfoot it to the W. Madison Street ticket-office. No matter which category of Scots- Americans, if any, one belonged to, the important thing was to be there and celebrate the occasion with as much ceremony and enthusiasm as possible, for who could say when an oppurtunity as rare as this would come our way again?
Three Categories of Scots-Americans

As for our own serried ranks, these could be said to fall, like Caesar's Gaul, into three separate categories, with varying pride and interest in what might be callled their Heathery-Hebridian Heritage ---
Heading the list would be the happy few who could call themselves The Real Thing, 100 % genuine Scots-Americans, beginning (in our own circle) with the indomitable Stephen clan, whose progenitor, organist-Sunday-composer-bon-vivant-and-munifiscent host, Robert M. Stephen, was born and bred in that most regal of cities, the classical Highland capital of Edinburgh. Thus, the birthplace of our beloved "Codgerkin", with his unstoppable train of richly rolled "R's", and his equally unstoppable free hand in pouring out brimming flagons of his signature Ballantine's, as he did almost every Sunday morning after church services at  St. Mark's Episcopal, where I, often as not, gargled tuneful anthems, mostly of his own melodious composition ...
Besides the "Codg" were his gracious wife ("Herbert, I'm nothing but a cross old dame")and their two stalwart sons (my. self-appointed chauffeur-bodyguards) Robert M. Jr. ("The Baron") and his one-year younger brother George, equally brawny, but less flamboyant and more retiring, with a limp acquired, along with a Purple Heart, in a dust-up with General Rommel's crack desert-troops at El Alemain.
(Years later, I am pleased to say, the Baron, more expansive and baronial than ever, would hold an honored place in the world of higher education as one of the most popular and influential Professors of Political Science in America's midwest, with none of his sweeping humor or liberality diminished, and still eager to act as my unofficial bodyguard (whenever he thought I needed one.) As for George, that gentle soul later married a pleasant widow-lady of some means, and retired with her to Florida's West Coast, where he could really work at perfecting his golf game --- an original Scots institution (as you will recall.)
Getting back to those halycon days of the 40's, I remember those weekly post-church sessions at the Stephen's cosy, book-and-music-lined bungalow on Glen Ellyn's Annadale Avenue, with Lucille's freshly baked Scotch shortbread, Codger's generous hand at pouring out draughts of golden Ballantine's, and the boys' non-stop argle-bargle with me covering any topic from European History to our astonishing President Harry S. Truman, as among the most life-enhancing of my entire life.
Besides the bounteous Stephens, this upper stratum of 100 % Scots-Americans included, as well, assorted MacRaes, MacDonalds, and most notably, the gifted, mercurial, oft-infuriating, and highly disputatious St. Clairs, probably my family's closest friends in that part of the world, of a clan hailed in past days by no less than Sir Walter Scott in these words ---
"So still they blaze, when fate is nigh,
The Lordly line of high St. Clair ..."
It was their own daughter Joan who blazed highest and almost constantly, an electric storm in herself, and known to most of us as simply the Duchess, the Duchess of Sage, the surname being all that remained from a disastrous wartime marriage. Suffice to say that it was Joan, aided and abetted by her chum and closest confederate, the comely and quietly lethal Ginny Lee, who, all on her lonesome, rounded up and delivered into our midst the magnifiscent trio of Highlanders, whose sudden and fortuitous presence in our company was the motivation and raison d'être for this entire chronicle.
Now for the second category of Scots-Americans ...
This second stage of the tartan-tinged pecking-order would include what might be termed the loyal and patriotic half-breeds --- namely various Robertsons, Gregorys, Taylors, Leslies, Staufenbergs, and, last, but anything but least, my own family, by virtue of my paternal grandmother, Minnie R. Moulton, born Maria Ross Harper in Philadelphia in 1858, and descended (on the Scots side) from the Laings of Aberdeen, where since the 16th century (Mary Queen of Scots, Darnley, Knox!), they had been holding forth at the piquantly named Todholes-on-the-Pitgalvany. Another Philadelphia-Scots kinsman of ours was Samuel Ross, whose cousin Betsy gained immortality --- well, everybody knows how: sewing the first American flag for George Washington. (I do remember relatives of my Grandmother Moulton's generation speaking familarly.of "Cousin Betsy", so that, whenever glory was borne past in a parade, one or the other of them was bound to remark, "There goes cousin Betsy's handiwork.")
Rounding off our catalog: the Third Category, most numerous and most vocal of all, far too involved I their Scotsophilia to be considered mere Wanna-Be's, eager to investigate and, whenever possible acquire anything in the very least Scottish --- rainwear, broghams (big heavy boots for crossing sudden moors!), hand-woven tweeds, even the rough, hardy Harris, which in rainy weather always reeks faintly of seaweed --- hand-knitted goods, of course (cardigans, tams, long stockings, and all manner of tartan plaids, as colorful as sartorially possible: a perfect example of what they used to demean as a "run-on-sentence", okay?")
Even fonder were --- (and are) these all-Scots freaks of any of the myriad Scottish delicacies available, many of them in posh speciality shops, but also on the shelves of most upscale super-marts --- Scotch ham and salmon, shortbread and cakes of all breeds and sizes, teeth-shattering taffy and chunky marmelades (the best, laced with Whiskey!) and tinned broths and soups, even Haggis!
Likewise held in highest esteem: The Poems and Songs of Robert Burns (arguably the poet closest to the people's hearts). And for Scots and non-Scots alike, that greatest of Scotland's bequests to mankind, known both in the native Gaelic and the language of the Sassanachs: USQUEBAUGH, or just plain Whiskey, Water of Life. Internationally appreciated, nay, loved, no matter what the label --- be it Bell's, Dewar's, Johnny Walker,  Glenfiddle, or any of countless magi names, never forgetting the jokey old chestnut listing the telephone number of His Holiness the Pope: VAT 69 --- Slainte! No matter what! (Does Irish Gaelic count at all?) Anyway, Bottoms Up! Glasses raised, as well, to any of the countless by-products as Drambuie and Scotch Mist, each in his own way a bit of Heaven.

Her Grace The Duchess Regrets
Ah yes, the opening night performance --- how to make as proud a showing as we could --- going smoothly enough, except for one small, but puzzling detail in a logistics operation roughly comparable to the D-Day landings in Normandy a handful of years before. Suddenly it became clear that the staunchest and most vociferous Scots-enthusiast hadn't signed up, had in fact inexplicably begged off attending the premiere, giving as an excuse the lamest in the catalog: "Due to a previous engagement." Prithee, WHAT "PREVIOUS ENGAGEMENT"? I know: DON'T ASK/ DONT TELL. (We never DID find out --- Frustrating is NOT the word!) By all this is meant (who else?) Joan, Duchess of Sage. This "lordly line of St. Clair", of which Joan was the young chatelaine, were perhaps the most interesting of all our many fascinating friends and asquaintances. They seemed to embody everything one imagines the classic Scottish temperament to be --- moody, dramatic, unpredictable, liable to switch in an instant from the darkly dour to highly charged exuberance with no warning-signal whatsoever --- yet singly or collectively such marvelous company that one gladly put up with all the rest of it, as one does (and gladly) with friends one truly cherishes. (Oddly enough, the Stephen clan were in almost every way, the exact opposite of the St. Clairs, and yet were just as "Scottish" of all their traits. Which is what makes Celts --- and my mother Nell was no exception --- brilliant sunshine one minute, a downpour the next. YOU try to figure them out --- but one thing is certain --- they are none of them dull. Infuriating, they can be (and often are), but boring? No way!
Joan's abrupt cancellation of her performance at the "Royal Scots" Premiere at the Stadium was all too typical of that demi-diva, whose imperious manner and regal eccentricity had, as already mentioned, earned her the soubriquet of Her Grace the Duchess (not yet 30 and already almost a Royal!). Hers was manner so formidable that any poor wretch heard muttering, White-Rabbit-like, "The Duchess! Oh! the Duchess! Won't she be simply savage?" could only mean, not Lewis Carroll's titled termagant, but the dazzler ensconced at the St. Clair family compound over on Glen Ellyn's wooded Riford Road. (In this account of that singular evening, when the Royal Scots Band briefly invaded Lombard-The-Lilac-Town, you will encounter two more of the St. Clair dynasty: Robert, Joan's brother, who, in this case, is merely a face in the crowd, and their mother (the Doyenne) Hazel, a gentle exception to everything already said about the Scottish temperament. Let me assure you that we have been every bit as puzzled as anyone by the quirks of the "pawky" Scots soul, my Dad and I, trying to keep up with my Irish mother's rapid changes of mood. Her saving grace was her blessed Irish sense of humor that never let her take herself too seriously. The winning formula: (and here's where the metaphors careen wildly off the tracks) Quicksilver VS. Dark storm-clouds: gloom, dark storm-clouds only occasionally relieved by shafts of sunshine. Anybody able to figure all that out, please let us in on that secret!
When the news of Joan's absense from the premiere-party became known, I believe we were all more than slightly relieved --- for once, somebody else might be able to get a word in edgeways. Besides which, she would doubtless make up for it the following Saturday when gracing the performance, with her favorite confederate, the lovely, but lethal Ginny Lee in attendance. Not for the first time would the query arise: what have the two of them been up to THIS time? For, as always when this dulcet duo was involved, something extraordinary, something quite outré would be afoot. And for those not quite familiar with that nifty little French adjective, here's what the Concise Oxford Dictionary says about it:
"Outré: Outside the bounds of propriety, eccentric, outraging decorum."
Talk about le mot juste!
As our tale unfolds, the appropriateness of this definition will become crystal-clear. For, as the old saying has it, thereby hangs a tale, not to belabor the French word-borrowings (but just one more?), one that holds the very raison d'etre of this entire narrative.
Aye, this was a happening that still lives in the collective memory as one of the boldest and most bizarre in the entire annals of the ADL, of Herbert-Parties, perhaps of the party going history of Greater Chicagoland, Subdivision: Western Suburbs. Once again the query: what had those two ornamental doxies, Joan and Ginny, wrought?
What --- to put it as simply as possible --- what they had wrought was introduce into a perfectly ordinary, normal Saturday evening Herbert-party a magnificent trio of virile and talented Scottish Highlanders in full parade dress, direct from Edinburgh Castle by way of the Chicago Stadium, complete with bagpipes and silver flute.
Was there ever such a spectacular entrance made into a gathering as this? COULD there ever be? And all because these two high-spirited and enterprising bimbos from Glen Ellyn, USA, got so carried away by the pulse-quickening, bladder-tickling spectacle they had been witnessing, an evening that so beggered every precious description and nullified every form of anticipation that, even before the final ovation had subsided, the two of them had hitched up their chic New Look skirts and trundled hurriedly backstage...
There, with adrenaline bubbling and adulation reaching orgasmic proportions, they gave themselves up to the melée of stamping, sweating Scots gladiators (or so they seemed to Our Girls), still vibrating from their three hours’ performance and the attendant triumph --- gave themselves up? No! They positively let themselves be engulfed, and, both girls babbling non-stop, they so enraptured three of the kilted hunks in particular --- namely Angus, the ultimate chauffeur-manager, Alex, prize piper and part time pianist-accompanist; and Robbie, star flutist and all of 18, a gentle ginger-haired gift for the Gods --- so enraptured and enchanted them that all three immediately dropped whatever plans they’d had for the evening and snapped up the girls invitation to journey forthwith, out to the western suburb of Lombard (Yep!! The promised goal:) Lombard , the Lilac Town, an ongoing party at the Moultons’ with Nell and the 2 Herbs, and all their works and pomps. 
~Charles E.J. Moulton

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