To be a New Scot is to recognize where you came from, not just where you are

To the Editor:

If you’ve yet to read Jesse Sommer’s treatise entitled “The ‘New Scot,’ Defined” — which appeared in the New Scotland Historical Association’s Winter 2018 edition of its quarterly publication “The Sentinel” — I urge you to do so. Download a copy at www.NewScotlandHistoricalAssociation.org/the-sentinel. (While you’re there, consider joining the organization. An NSHA membership is pretty much the last thing in America you can get for only $10.)

In his essay, Jesse speaks lovingly of his childhood and our hometown, New Scotland. He praises the “close-knit community” and backwoods lakes, the slower pace of things, and a nostalgia for a way of life receding into the past. It’s a beautiful depiction of the place that raised me.

Yet his ultimate takeaway, the lesson he derives despite (or because of) his own travels and military service, is that there’s something special about his fellow New Scots. In fact, he declares that “people out there are different.”

In addition to being a classmate and friend back in the day, Jesse is now my partner in a business venture (covered in this newspaper’s very pages last year) that expressly honors our hometown. Yet he and I have very different perspectives on what it means to be from New Scotland and, as I informed him when I first read his essay, I disagree with his assessment. I write this letter to the editor to add my thoughts to our community’s paper of record.

Though I lived in New Scotland my whole life and, like Jesse, am an alumnus of the elementary, junior, and senior high schools, I didn’t abandon my New Scottish identity merely because I chose to explore a different coast.

Curiosity and opportunity led me to settle in California, and with me I brought along what it means to be a New Scot. With our liquor company, I intend to bring actual bottles of New Scotland (“New Scotch”) with me, to introduce it to the interesting people I’ve met here.

To be a New Scot is to recognize where you came from, not just where you are. That’s a lesson that Americans have learned generation after generation, as a nation of immigrants whose forebearers struck out from beloved homelands in search of a new life.

With them those brave travelers brought beliefs, traditions, and identities that they didn’t surrender simply because they were in a New World.  The very name of our hometown commemorates this phenomenon, its Scottish origins forever imprinted on regional maps.

Over time, the varied backgrounds of those ancestors from all over the globe merged to forge a larger common identity, one which unifies us through our common claim to that word on the right side of the hyphen. Whether you identify as Irish-American or Jewish-American or African-American or whatever-American, all you’re doing is announcing your ancestors’ migration routes while nonetheless expressing your place in that larger American whole.

No two stories are the same. So you’re right, Jesse, people “out there” are different. That’s why it’s so critical we New Scots discover and engage them, that we share with them all the attributes which made our hometown so special, that we learn enough from them to improve New Scotland with the habits and customs and perspectives we’ve encountered when we someday return to our piece of New York. It’s the fact that we’re different that makes us all the same.

There’s much to admire in Jesse’s powerful tribute to what it means to hail from New Scotland. Read it.  It’s one of the most forceful declarations of love for upstate New York I’ve ever seen, and a reminder of how much fun we had growing up in the city of Albany and the woods around it.

Still, my friend has overlooked the real lesson of what it means to have grown up in “a railroad town,” where a train’s whistle routinely proclaimed the movement of people and products through our little community, existing among the New Scots for barely an instant on their way from a distant somewhere to an equally distant somewhere else.

That lesson is this: Instead of walls we had bridges, and on those bridges lay iron tracks leading to new worlds filled with people possessed of that same cherished sense of place which Jesse so eloquently describes in reference to our own home.

And though I may be New Scottish — imbued with “small-town values” and an appreciation for the sound of springtime peeper frogs that only the dense forest in our backyards permits — I’m still grateful for the deserts and mountains and fascinating dynamism of far flung cities all across our country, our continent, our Earth.

We can build walls if we want to, we can bring our troops home from countries that won’t know freedom without us, we can rip up our trade deals, we can turn inward and close ourselves off to the world around us.

Or, we can take what it means to be a New Scot and set off down those railroad tracks. No matter what direction they may take us, those tracks lead to people who may appreciate the values with which we were raised. Besides, I’ve come to realize that the world is just one big New Scotland. But with fewer cows.

Patrick J. Carey

San Jose, California