Russell M. Middleton - St. Andrew's Induction
This site originally published in MICHIGAN in 2002.
Russell M. Middleton
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St. Andrew's Society of Detroit
New Member Induction, 7 Jan 2002
What didn't get said.
First, I'd like to thank my friend, Carole Rankin, an intelligent and beautiful woman. Carole is an avid gardener, and under her devoted and loving attention, both her flowers and I have blossomed.
I'd also like to thank my family, represented by my sister, Shona Austin. Her love and support over the years has been priceless.
(Due to the time constraints of the induction ceremony, I didn't get to share most of my story.)
Many centuries ago, Longshanks, a.k.a. Edward I, of England said, "The trouble with Scotland is, that it is full of Scots." Now, as a consequence of "The Clearances", and a yearning for opportunities, there are more Scots scattered around the world than in Scotland, and British aristocracy says, 'Thank God'!!
But we, the Diaspora, didn't disappear into the abyss of the cultural melting pot. Although, many of us have tested our endurance for treading water in the sea of globalism, we have survived. Because, as Nigel Tranter puts it, 'we are an independent, individualistic, awkward if you like - people, with long memories.' So, with the support of our families and communities, through the strength of our own character, and sometimes, through sheer, naked, thick skulled, stubbornness, we Scots continue to be a vibrant ingredient in the multi-cultural soup of humanity.
My story begins in the mists of antiquity, but I'll pick it up during the "The Last War", when a bonny lassie from Kilmarnock, Ayrshire, met a handsome foreigner serving HRH George VI, in the 4th Canadian Armoured Division, 9th Field Squadron RCE (Royal Canadian Engineer). He survived a friendly fire incident involving Bomber Command during the closing of the "Falaise Gap", in Northern France, in August 1944, with only a minor wound. As a Sapper in the Royal Canadian Engineers, his duties included the building of roads and bridges, the clearing of land mines, and other construction or demolition work, often under enemy fire. She worked at the Ardeer Factory of Imperial Chemical Industries Limited near Irvine in Ayrshire, inspecting large naval artillery shells. Few of us remember what a "World War" for a "just cause" really means. My parents were married in Saskatchewan, Canada, in 1947 and moved to Michigan in 1948.
My mother, Jean Craig Wilson McLeod, instilled in me a pride for all things Scottish. But, it wasn't until September 1970, that the tentacles of the British Isles began to weave themselves inextricably into my soul. Through exemplary performance at the 3415th Technical School, Lowry AFB, Denver, Colorado, seven months loading nuclear bombs on B-52's at Minot AFB, North Dakota, and good luck, I was sent to the 320th Munitions Maintenance Squadron, RAF Upper Heyford, Oxfordshire, by the United States Air Force. For nearly three years (2 years, 11 months, 14 days, to be precise), I lived in the Midlands of England surround by more culture and history than could be absorbed in a hundred lifetimes. On every point of the compass were places of legend and myth, Coventry to the North, Cambridge to the East, London, Canterbury, Winchester, Stonehenge, and the Salisbury Plain to the South, and the Cotswold hills and Wales to the West.
I was working on modern jet aircraft, whose awesome power could carry them to the edge of space. But I also witnessed the frail sputter of a Le Rhône 9C, 9 cylinder, air cooled rotary, in a Sopwith Pup at The Shuttleworth Collection, Old Warden Park, near Biggleswade, in Bedfordshire. And, heard the glorious sound of a Rolls Royce Merlin, as it pulled a Spitfire'...dancing through the skies on laughter-silvered wings; and joining the tumbling mirth of sun-split clouds; wheeled and soared and swung high in the sunlight. And chased the shouting wind along, and flung the eager craft through footless halls of air. Up, up the long, delirious, burning blue and topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace where never lark, or even eagle flew...'--from High Flight by Magee--
While at Upper Heyford, a friend of mine (Gary R. Gebhardt, 1949 - 2003) introduced me to "Lord of the Rings" by J.R.R. Tolkien. To read about Middle-Earth while living in the Midlands of England was pure magic. Like most of my fellow airman, I would have stayed in the British Isles forever. And that was before I traveled to Scotland. But travel I did, thanks to my parents who flew to England around Christmas 1971 and took me to Scotland on an all too brief visit. To a land, in the words of Nigel Tranter,"...sufficiently dramatic in itself. Where scarcely a yard of the country is without its story to tell, of heroism and treachery, of warfare or worship, of flourish or folly or heartbreak - for the Scots never did anything by half. This, the most ancient kingdom in Christendom, has more castles, abbeys, battlefields, graveyards, monuments, stone-circles, inscribed stones, and relics of every kind - and eyesores too, admittedly - than any other land of its size, in Highlands and Lowlands, mainland and islands."
I know now that I was lucky beyond measure to go to the United Kingdom instead of South East Asia at the beginning of the 70's, and my heart broke when I had to come back to the States. I promised myself that I would return to the 'Sceptred Isle' as soon as possible. I had no idea that the journey back to the Isles would take twenty-two years. But at the age of twenty-three, there was so much I didn't know. Like the cool reception I would receive as a veteran of military service, in a time of rampant anti-war sentiment.
I returned to Grand Valley State College in January 1974, to resume the academic career I'd begun in 1968. At first my studies went well, but after one and a half years I lost my focus. I tried working in a small auto repair shop. Then I tried working in a larger factory. Eventually I was seduced by truck driving. I think it was the illusion of independence and the time with my own thoughts that attracted me. In August and September of 1976, I went through a six week course at Diesel Truck Driver Training School in Sun Prairie, Wisconsin and become a "professional" driver. For a year and a half I drove long haul, delivering freight to New Jersey, Georgia, Texas, California, and Oregon, then more locally. For sixteen years, out of the companies twenty three year existence, I was the principle driver for Progressive Heat Treating, a small heat-treating firm in Grand Rapids, Michigan, traveling to Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois. For another eight years I drove for Atmosphere Annealing in Lansing, Michigan.
I was married in 1979 and divorced in 1983. Then my life took a turn for the better, I met a beautiful woman named Gail Brown. She was a recent graduate of the University of Michigan Law School with two teenage daughters. Gail and I were members of the Fountain Street Church choir, of Grand Rapids, Michigan. We married on 27 Sep 1986. On Monday, May 30, 1988, the choir, with other choirs from around the United States, was invited to perform Mozart's Requiem in D Minor, in New York's acoustically renown Carnegie Hall. It's all a blur now.
The 90's, the fourth decade of my life, was a time of trial for me. On the 7 August 1994 our dog, a German Shepard-Husky mix I'd known for ten years, died. A loyal and faithful companion who, when you were sitting quietly with your hands in you lap, would come and sit next to you and lean on you and put one paw on your hands. He made me believe that we were truly members of the same pack.
"Good-night, sweet prince, and flights of angels sing thee to thy rest!" ~ William Shakespeare, "Hamlet", Act 5 scene 2
My father died of heart failure on 20 November 1996. A harder working man, with more courage, strength, and honesty, I have never met. When he was informed by his cardiologist that his heart was wearing out he said, "Well, I guess we'll run her as far as she'll go." Russell George Middleton is buried in the South Martin, Michigan, cemetery next to his grandfather George Middleton who was the son of Margaret Sutherland. She was born in Scotland, in 1823. As a piper played 'The Green Hills Of Tyrol' on that late November day, I found new meaning in the belief that "the spirit of the fallen come alive in the pipes --- Every note is their call to life, their call to courage, and a reminder that in this world, no one goes alone, no one dies in vain."
And just in case my soul needed further tempering in the furnace of life, on the day after my father's funeral, my late wife, Gail, was diagnosed with cancer. She waged a valiant fight for life, for twenty months. During the first nine months she bore the ravages of chemotherapy under the care of a local oncologist, until the dread "P" word (palliative) was all he had left to offer. Then, we drove to Houston, Texas, on the trail of an alternative treatment that sounded promising. We flew back to Houston three more times for follow up exams and each time the prognosis was hopeful. But Gail succumbed to septic shock at noon on the 4th of July 1998. We were all there, her best friend Rachel, her two daughters, Amy and Emily, her mother Marvel, her sister Judy, her minister Charley Herrick, and I. It was a gray, wet day.
But the 90's had not been all tragedy. Gail gave me the greatest gift, short of life itself, which anyone has ever bestowed. The ember of love for Scotland that was kindled at my birth, fueled during my time at Upper Heyford, had smoldered quietly through the years until it was fanned alive when Gail took me to Scotland. In early May 1995, while Gail and I were driving home from a family gathering, in Plymouth, Michigan, she said, "let's go to Scotland this summer." So we stopped at Borders Books, in Novi, picked up a few travel guides and by late August we were standing in the knave of Kelso Abbey. We also explored Jedburgh Abbey, Melrose Abbey, Dryburgh Abbey, and on our way to Scott's View we discovered a statue of William Wallace overlooking the Tweed.
We trod the battlements of Stirling Castle and gazed out toward Bannockburn. We climbed to the top of the other Wallace Monument and looked down on Stirling Bridge. We hiked the Braes of Balquhidder and stood silently at the grave of Robert MacGregor. On a misty morning we walked Drumossie Moor where the sassenachs hoped the Flower of Scotland had been drowned forever in Highland blood. We scanned for Nessie, to the sublime sound of a piper playing from the top of Urquhart Castle. We drove up Bealach nam Bo (the pass of the cattle), the highest road in Scotland (at 626m 2053 feet above sea level). "The road incorporates a number of hairpin bends and is unsuitable for learner drivers, caravans or those of a nervous disposition." From the top of the Applecross Peninsula, Gail and I enjoyed a spectacular view across the Inner Sound, and the Isle of Raasay toward the rugged profile of the Cuillins of Skye.
I lead Gail to Dunvegan Castle, stronghold of the Chiefs of MacLeod for nearly eight centuries, which I had visited some twenty-three years earlier. We sailed back across the Sound of Sleat on a Cal-Mac ferry, from Armadale to Mallaig with tickets so faint as to be illegible, because it would have been extravagant to replace the printer ribbon so late in the season. We stood on the shore of Iona, where St. Columba brought Christianity to Alba, a millennium and a half ago. We experienced a mysterious chill will driving up Glen Coe, at noon, on a warm, sunny, summers day. And as we left the Highlands via the shores of Loch Lomond the fire in my soul grew hotter, for this was 1995, the year of the film Braveheart and the film Rob Roy.
And finally on 4 Aug 01, at the 152nd Annual, St. Andrews Society of Detroit, Highland Games, while standing, in my kilt, in front of the food vendors area, a drummer from the Shrine Pipe Band walked up and said, "You look Scottish, could you do us a favor? We need someone to carry a flag for our band." "I'd be honoured," I said. But it wasn't just for one band; it was for the whole of the Massed Bands. As I carried the Cross of St. Andrew across that field in front of over a hundred pipers my soul soared, it was rapture.
On that day who and what I am became clear to me. I know now my heart is true and I will protect the weak and defend justice. My spirit is like steel so that I may confront evil where ever I find it. My mind is fertile so that I may learn and understand God's handiwork. My loyalty is measured in lifetimes because - I am a Scot!
My life, so far, has been an amazing voyage of discovery. Yet I know there is infinitely more to learn . And like any journey, the joy of it is multiplied many times by the sharing of the trip, and remembering the adventures along the way, with my fellow travelers.
Now, thanks to The St. Andrew's Society of Detroit, who have organized Highland Games for over a century and a half, this poor ploughman's son has found his way home. Now, it is my turn to pick up the challenge of helping other Scots find their way home too.
Russell M. Middleton
7 Jan 2002
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