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The Good Stuff
Short Story
The Kilt
by Debbie McCurry
Length: 1,798 words 

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The Kilt

The beam of bright light, created by the sun reflecting through the glass of the window, seems to highlight the colours of the material Maureen is manoeuvring in her hands on the sewing machine.  Her mind keeps telling her that the red, black and white tartan pattern looks familiar, and she starts to rack her brains to recall the memories that seem to want to rush back to the past.  Childhood memories ... the attic … a trunk … something inside … same material … what was it ... a garment … wrapped up carefully.  Oh yes, she remembers now!

… The year when she turned ten, and visited her maternal grandmother’s house during school holidays.  The aroma of honeysuckle vines and scented roses that filled the air.  Her grandmother’s lavender scent that would smother your nostrils every time she hugged you.  The rambling old house made to accommodate a large family, with lots of nooks and crannies for her to explore.  Her curiosity would have a field day whenever she visited Gran’s place.

On previous visits she wasn’t game to go exploring in the attic.  Maureen had an instinctive fear of heights.  Those steep, narrow stairs leading up to the darkened doorway frightened her, and she’d run away shaking her head, yet feeling annoyed with herself for being such a “scaredy cat”.  But, this year, she decided she was going to venture up to the attic, no matter how fearful it made her feel.  Taking her mother’s torch, she ascended the stairs carefully, willing herself not to look down.

Reaching the doorway at the top, she thought to herself, “Well, that wasn’t so bad.  Now, to finish what I plan to do.  I wonder if there’s any treasure hidden away up here.”

By torchlight, the attic appeared small and spooky.  When Maureen found the light switch, the room took on a whole new outlook.  She couldn’t believe her eyes!  There was so much stuff stored up here.  Now she knew what her mother meant about Gran being a hoarder. 

Out of the corner of her eye, Maureen noticed a small window, up high, near the ceiling.  Looking straight down from the window, a large wooden box caught her attention. Being a typical, inquisitive child, she made her way, over and around several other items stacked in front, to reach it. 

Wiping the dust from the box’s lid, she discovered a strange drawing of two, nearly naked men, standing on either side of a giant shield.  They were each carrying a long-handled axe over their shoulder.  The drawing was etched into the timber, with the word “Chameron” underneath it.  Maureen became excited about what might be inside this mysterious box and looked for a way to open it.  After searching for a latch or lock, she decided that it must open by just lifting the lid.  Heaving with all her strength, the heavy lid slowly opened, until it fell back against the wall with a loud “THUD”. 

With eyes like saucers, Maureen stared in wonder at the mystifying things inside.  Unable to contain herself, she grabbed the first thing on top.  It was a large roll of strange-looking paper with a funny, waxy blob sticking it down.  When Maureen pulled at it, the roll slowly unwound, to reveal a drawing of a tree, with lots of branches on it.  On each of the branches were lots of words, in a writing she had never seen before.  Maureen thought this drawing might be one of those “family trees” she remembered learning about at school.

She lay the drawing carefully aside and lifted out a book that looked really old, with a crinkly, battered cover, and pages with worn edges.

“This could be someone’s diary”, thought Maureen, “Because it doesn’t have a cover like a story book.”

Opening the cover, she saw an inscription on the inside, in that funny writing again. She flicked through some of the pages, and her frown of annoyance increased.  She was not able to recognise what it said.  With a sigh of frustration, she placed the book with the “family tree”.

Maureen glanced inside the box again, and noticed an old envelope sitting on top of a large object, carefully positioned at the bottom. 

“Which one will I take out next?  It might be best to lift them out together, and then decide.”

As she lifted them out, the envelope slid off the top, and fell to the floor.  A bundle of photographs spilled out.  Maureen quickly bent down to pick them up, and lost her grip on the other item in her hands. 

“What a mess!  I hope I haven’t broken anything, or Gran will be really upset with me.”

Retrieving the spilt items, one particular photo caught her eye.  A tall, proud man, dressed in some sort of costume and carrying a strange musical instrument, stared back at her from his black and white frame of frozen time.  For some reason, Maureen seemed to be drawn to this photo.  As she picked it up to take a closer look, she felt goose bumps all over her body. 

Turning the photo over, Maureen found the same funny writing.  But there were three words she could recognise – “Sir Ewen Cameron”. 

“This must be the man’s name.  But what is a man doing wearing a skirt?”

Maureen mulled over in her mind all the puzzling things her young brain had trouble comprehending.  She vigorously shook her head, like a dog does when it’s wet, as if trying to rid herself of all those confusing thoughts. 

Suddenly, the silence of the attic was interrupted by noises from down below.  “I have looked for Maureen everywhere.  Where has that mischievous girl got to?”

Maureen recognised her mother’s voice … and her mother sounded annoyed.  Maureen knew she was in trouble if her Mum and Gran found her in the attic! 

In her hurry to arrange the things back into the trunk, Maureen fumbled the large item, and it started to unravel from its wrapping.  Maureen gasped with surprise as red, black and white material was partially revealed.  Barely able to contain her excitement, she continued unwrapping it, until the skirt made its appearance from the shrouding that had protected it for so long. 

As if to confirm what she could see, Maureen looked back and forth, from the skirt to the photo several times. 

“Wow!  This has to be the skirt the man in the photo is wearing.  I can’t see the colours in the photo, but the pattern is exactly the same.”

“Ah, I see you’ve discovered the family heirlooms, my dear.”  Maureen’s grandmother’s softly spoken voice came from behind her.

Maureen jumped with fright, and dropped the skirt she was holding in her hands.  She turned to see her Gran smiling at her, and her Mum looking at her with a scowl on her face.

“You wicked girl!  I knew you were up to something when I discovered my torch missing”, her mother said in a threatening tone. 

“Now, now, Colleen, the child has an inquiring mind.  She hasn’t done any harm”, her Gran said soothingly.

Although Maureen was concerned about being in trouble, she couldn’t hold back her questions.  “Gran, can you tell me about all the unusual things I’ve found in this big box, please?”

Over the next two hours, Gran explained to Maureen about their family history.  She told her how they originated from a Scottish highland clan.  She explained how her great-grandfather-three-times-removed, Angus Cameron, migrated to Australia from Scotland, bringing all these family heirlooms with him … in this trunk.  These things had been passed on to him from his father.

It was tradition for each new generation to take on the responsibility of keeping the heirlooms safe.  Normally the eldest son took the responsibility but Gran had them passed on to her in her father’s will; because there were no male offspring, there were only girls.  Gran was the eldest girl. 

Maureen learned from her Gran that an ancestor, called John Cameron, drew the “family tree” onto the rolled-up parchment many hundreds of years ago - in 1426!   Each new branch was added by the next generation.  Gran informed Maureen that the funny writing on the drawing, and in the old, battered diary, was an ancient Celtic language, from which the Scottish language originated. 

The diary belonged to another ancestor called Thomas Cameron, who started writing diary entries in 1501, and continued writing about his life adventures until he died.

Maureen looked at her Gran, and told her about the funny reaction she had to the photograph.

“Ah, Sir Ewen Cameron was one of the most powerful and famous of the clan’s chiefs.  That is a photo taken of a painting of him, hanging in the Cameron clan castle at Lochiel.  The “skirt” is indeed the one worn by him in the photo.  But, it’s really called a “kilt”, which is part of the traditional costume worn by Scottish Highland clansmen.” 

Without warning, the voice of Maureen’s annoyed mum interrupted the conversation between the grandmother and grandchild.  “Mother, why didn’t you tell me about our family history when I was younger?”

“Well, Colleen, I didn’t think it was necessary.  The trunk, and its contents are going to be handed on to you brother, Robert, when I pass away.”  Gran had a wry smile on her face, as she turned to give Maureen a wink with her left eye.

… Images of the past quickly leave Maureen’s thoughts, as the sound of the front-door banging shut grabs her attention!

“Hi, Mum! Sorry I‘m a bit late getting home from school, but I was talking with my friends and lost track of the time.”

“Don’t worry, Megan, I’m sure you and the girls had lots to gossip about.  Can you come into the spare room for a minute, sweetie?” asks Maureen.

Megan enters the room, and notices the tartan material on the sewing machine. “How’s it going with my tartan skirt for the dance recital, Mum?”

“Oh, okay.  It’ll be ready by this weekend for you to use at your final rehearsal”, replies Maureen.

Megan comes closer to her mother and looks with attention at her. “Is everything all right, Mum? You look like you’ve been crying.”

“Do I really? I hadn’t even realised,” says Maureen, as she touches her cheek to feel for the moisture of tears. “It’s fine, sweetie.  I’ve just been reminiscing about the past, and your Great-Gran Megan.  You were named after her.”

Maureen folds her daughter into her arms.  She hugs her, then gives her a wink with her left eye as she says, “I think you and I should go to visit your Uncle Rob.  He has some family treasures I’m sure you’ll be interested in.”

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 Member of Queen's Own Cameron Highlanders Rifle Regiment in Full Dress Uniform, Kilt and Sporran
Member of Queen's Own Cameron Highlanders Rifle Regiment in Full Dress Uniform, Kilt and Sporran Photographic Print
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