If Naomi Himech drives past you in January, there’s a good chance you’ll hear the peal of bagpipes on her stereo.
Every Jan. 25, she and Scots the world over ring in Burns Night—a song-filled tribute to Scotland’s national poet, Robert Burns.
Himech enjoys the poetry, and weeks before she turns to a well-thumbed pocketbook full of favourite Burns verses.
But it’s the bagpipes that really bring Scotland home.
“I’m sure I’ve been listening to them since before I was born,” she says, laughing.
The sound of bagpipes is something her mother Lavender Morgan carried a long way—from Scotland to Houston and Kitwanga.
A war bride, Lavender Morgan met her husband Ray in 1943, after he had wrapped up a mission in England and walked seven miles to meet her under an oak tree.
A Gitxsan born in Kitwanga, Himech said her father Ray was the quiet one of the two.
Lavender, on the other hand, often said she would like be reborn a Jacobite—one of the Scottish rebels who pitched a final battle against the English in the 1740s.
“I was always taught by my mom that Scotland should have their independence, and they’ve been a suppressed society,” she said. “She was quite a perfect match for my father in many ways.”
As a girl in 1920s Scotland, Himech said her mother quickly learned that she was not allowed to speak her native Gaelic outside the home.
Himech told the story of how in one of her early school days, her mother was asked to read the line out of the teacher’s book: “The cat scratched me.”
“The cat scarted me,” she read, using a Gaelic word. Her teacher said no, that was wrong, but Lavender read the line in Gaelic again until finally the teacher scolded her and she ran home.
Meanwhile, a world away in Kitwanga, her husband-to-be had been sent to a residential school where he was strictly forbidden from speaking a word of his native Gitxsan.
Such policies took a toll on her parents, Himech said, but it didn’t stop them from raising her in two cultures—a Scottish and a Gitxsan clan.
Soon after they moved to Houston in 1948, where Ray took a job with the forestry service, Himech said her parents brought Burns Night to the whole community.
Starting with small parties in their dining room, Houston’s Burns Night grew until it brought 200 guests, a troupe of highland dancers and pipers from the Royal Canadian Legion to the Community Hall.
At every Burns Night, big or small, a taste of haggis is a signature event.
“It’s not an obnoxious taste by any means,” Himech said, adding that cooks today generally make haggis in sausage casing, rather than the traditional sheep’s stomach.
“If you made home-made turkey stuffing with the heart and the liver, the bread, onions and seasoning, it’s not too much different,” she said. “It’s very rich.”
After her father retired, Himech said her parents once again moved to holding Burns Night in a small setting—this time at their home in Kitwanga.
Himech remembers her eight-year-old grand-niece running into the dining room one year and asking “Where do the Giskaast sit?” She had mixed Burns Night with a Gitxsan feast, where Giskaast (Fireweed) and other clans each have their own table.
Himech said her father was 65 when he and Lavender moved to Kitwanga. Despite many years not speaking it, she said he soon picked up his native Gitxsan language.
“That gave him quite a few years to be immersed again,” she said.
Her father also worked hard to strengthen the Gitxsan community in Kitwanga, helping to found both the Wilps Suset Drug and Alcohol Centre and Wilps Silvalaken immersion school.
Now and for the last eight years, Himech has proudly carried on her parents’ tradition, hosting a Burns Night first at Happy Jacks Pub and now at Pleasant Valley Restaurant.
As always, the night brings lots of newcomers. This year, Himech said she was excited to have a guest who had just found out about her own Scottish heritage.
And to top it off, Himech had all kinds of family join in.
Sidney Morgan carried in the haggis and Leslie Morgan gave it Burns’ famous address; Tyler Morgan read the Selkirk Grace before everyone dug in and finally, whiskey in hand, there were toasts to lads and lassies from Dillon Morgan and Kara McGonigal.
“That makes four generations,” she said. “In this day and age, I think that’s pretty good.”