One of my teachers passed on Sunday. It was right after breakfast. I stood by the backdoor, looking into the woods, and felt him cross over.
Back in the 1990s I studied with two Celtic Teachers, Pahdeval and Da Fischer. They’d taken me as far as they could. Several hundred miles separated them and almost to the day they both told me I had to learn Gaelic – Scots Gaelic – to continue my studies because am Beurlad (Modern English) doesn’t support the concepts I studied with them.
Easy decision. Learn Gaelic. Could they teach me?
Yes, and there was another I had to study with, Calum Crùbach. In Alba Nuadh (Nova Scotia).
That’s a fairly big place. Where, specifically?
Falbh agus fios aige (Go and he’ll know).
Susan and I enrolled in a Gaelic summer school up there, an anniversary present to ourselves. We made lots of friends. One fellow, Malcolm, always seemed to be around. His humor was dry and infectious. He’d tell you a story straightfaced then burst out laughing when you caught on to the joke. He was a bawdy gentleman; courteous, gracious, considerate, always helpful, and would openly stare at a woman’s chest as if nothing else mattered.
It was a wonderful time and, as graduation approached, I had tshirts made up for the class, something to remember each other by.
I wasn’t sure of my Gaelic and he had a thick accent although he wasn’t teaching (he was studying pìob mhòr – traditional bagpiping). I asked him to help with my translations.
Happy to. He came up with a few translations that made advanced students laugh and blush. I asked Malcolm to translate “Don’t know the words, don’t know the language, gonna wing it.”
One teacher, a Scottish School M’arm if ever there was one (she was a Presbyterian minister’s wife and it showed. A lot), read one of the translations and walked away, shaking her head. “That’s not what it says, not at all at all at all.”
Tapadh Leibh, Malcolm (Thank you, Malcolm).
That’s when he corrected me. “Calum.”
Calum came from the Outer Isles and a line of Celtic StoryTellers. He had a tale for everything. Teaching stories, thinking stories, growing stories. Lore.
He asked me to help him translate fairy tales into a colinear Gaelic-am Beurlad to keep the language alive. He did it to teach me, more than anything else. To get me use to the rhythms, the meanings. The why of the Celts and Gaels, what cultural anthropologists know as the ceremony versus the ritual.
He taught me the traditions (fios agam) behind Scotch (if you think it’s just for drinking or celebrating, you…have studied differently than I have), the myths and not-myths of the Celts and Gaels. He taught me to sing the waulks, to summon the seas and quiet the earths.
He taught me how to see through the present to the past, into the deep past, and to respect the Old Ones of the Isles for choosing to reveal themselves to me and not to others.
He told me my name.
And he’s moved on.
Stad gu math, a’ Chalium.