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A Stone's throw: Highland games


Betty Stone



Once upon a time I attended some Highland games in Scotland. The day was pretty as a picture book with crisp, bright sunshine, green grass, scads of red-headed people who resembled my grandfather, cute little pre-teen girls in bright green skirts dancing, I think, the Highland fling, and vendors' tents scattered across the meadow. And dogs. Nearly everyone had brought his dog. 


The games were interesting. Someone has said that Scottish games look as if the Scots had just tried to figure out what kind of odd feats they could do with ordinary things -- how high they could pitch a pack of straw, how far they could throw a millstone, or whether they could toss a telephone pole end over end. Officially I think they are called sheaf-pitching, stone-tossing, and caber -- that's the telephone pole -- tossing. There are others like the hammer throw and one in which they sling a big rock around on a strap. You get the idea. 


It is colorful, the men in their bright plaid tartan skirts -- uh, kilts, I mean. Highland games are a festive tradition that has traveled across the big water and over this big country as well. The biggest gathering in the United States is in California, and the second biggest is at Grandfather Mountain in North Carolina. Some day I would like to go to the North Carolina games. 


In the meantime, I was tickled to learn that they were having some in Starkville a couple of weeks ago. 


I persuaded my daughter, whose husband is of Scottish descent and even has a kilt and all that paraphernalia, to go with me. Of course it rained that morning. We dawdled around the house until the rain had stopped, pulled out our sketchy directions and headed west. 


Nora Frances, my daughter, had driven from Jackson. Her husband, Vaughan, had been in Nashville and came from that direction; and, of course I was in Columbus. They had to take both of their cars back to Jackson from Starkville, and I was to return here; so we had to convoy to Starkville. I think each one of us was using different instructions because at one intersection we went in three different directions. Vaughan tried to direct us by waving a purple and yellow umbrella out the window and raising and lowering it. When we finally ended up at the same place, he said, "Y'all don't follow the leader very well, do you?" He should have known.  


The rain had stopped, but not the wind. I had grabbed my Buchanan tartan scarf in honor of the occasion when we left, but it did precious little to keep me warm. Some spectators were wisely wrapped in blankets. 


On the other hand, some had gotten barefooted, the better to negotiate the mud. They had mud spatters up to their calves. 


We arrived just in time for the lunch break, so we had a nice interlude and some delicious oysters over at Oby's and were back at the game field in time for the caber toss, one of the "heavy" competitions, followed by the sheaf toss, one of the "high" competitions. 


The day remained cold and windy, and the crowd was small. There was a good baker's dozen of kilted men contestants, several wearing the same color tartan, and one with a beard dyed hot pink and wearing one red sock and one green one. I saw no blue-faced painted Braveheart, however. 


Although they were few in number, they were in the spirit. There were about half again as many spectators, not a big crowd on a damp, cold and windy day. There was one big black dog to fill the canine requirement. 


Was it a failure? No way. To be sure, it did not live up to that ideal in Scotland; but, hey, they gave it a big effort. I applaud them. I hope the custom catches on and that someday, when the crowds are large and the weather ideal, they can look back and say, "Remember how it was in the early days? Why, we were the intrepid trailblazers!"


Betty Boyls Stone is a freelance writer, who grew up in Columbus.


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