Burns Books, John Wray Hunter, Hunter tartan

Burns Books, John Wray Hunter, Hunter tartan

For years I’ve courted posting essays on our web site that express my interests beyond the field of agriculture.  I love to write, and I ponder ideas on a wide array of subjects.  With the coming of a new year, one of my perennial favorite subjects, the Scots poet Robert Burns once again is “brought to mind.”   The anniversary of his birth will be upon us in a few weeks, but the opportunity to address one of his most lasting contributions to popular culture is fast slipping away.

I speak of the song many folks sing every year at this time, Auld Lang Syne. Yes Robert Burns wrote it, or at least popularized it (he claimed to be recording on paper an old folk song).  But who among us is sober enough at 11:59 on December 31 to ponder what we are even singing about.  Perhaps we are aware that we are drinking to the memory of old acquaintences, but it takes a little more digging in a Scots/English glossary to understand that Burns is remembering a childhood friend who has emigrated across an ocean.

Emigration was a common experience for Scottish folk from before Burns’ life in the late eighteenth century until the last century. Burns, in fact, first published a collection of his poems to raise the funds to emigrate to Jamaica to run a sugar plantation.  Perhaps because of the success of his works, he never left Scotland.

My own paternal grandfather and his two brothers emigrated from Scotland to Canada and the U.S. early in the twentieth century. My grandfather, John Wray Hunter, the youngest of the family was only fourteen when he and his brother Charles made the trip.  The only child to stay behind was their sister Mary.

I have heard it said that the DNA of the Scots is the most widely distributed in the world. Many of these immigrants brought their Burns poetry with them, so perhaps it is no surprise that a song written by one of those left behind has become an annual anthem for those who left them.

Today many thousands around the world continue to leave their homeland to seek a new life in a new land, but even those of us who haven’t crossed an ocean are periodically uprooted from homes and friendships to begin anew somewhere else. In Burns’ day it was probably an expectation that these old friends would never meet again.  Today through the magic of the internet we can, if we wish, remain in “virtual” contact.  I receive occasional posts on my face book page from the little girl in kindergarten who said I was, “the man she was going to marry.”  Well, I moved away and it never worked out.  At this point Diane might raise an objection to that declaration.

So one way or another there are acquaintances that we leave behind, but does that mean we should forget? And why not raise a cup to old times?