Even if I were to forget what holiday is on the horizon, my surroundings at home would always remind me. My wife, Teresa, decorates every few weeks in anticipation of the next noteworthy date on the calendar. For example, there was a lot of green around the homestead in anticipation of St. Patrick’s Day a couple of weeks ago, and now all the trappings of Easter have arrived.
But a recent chiding let me know I’d failed in my end of the “bargain” to celebrate our nation’s holidays.
“Is this guy Irish?” she asked after reading a guest columnist I had allowed to write in my space on the editorial page in our weekly newspaper just before St. Patty’s Day.
OK, OK, I get it, there was nothing in the paper that week — save some timely advertising — about the big day where anyone with a drop of Irish blood in their lineage finds an excuse to celebrate. So seeing that atonement is a large part of the Irish Protestant-Catholic ethos, there must be amends!
Growing up with the last name Millican brings its rewards and funny moments. Your humble scribe is immediately identified as Irish, but while my full name — with “Ben” in the middle — should roll out with a bit of alliteration, more often than not it’s mangled by the newfound acquaintance or stranger on the other end of the phone.
Most often it’s mispronounced “McMillan,” but I’ve also been called “McGillicutty” and of course, “Milligan” — like Gilligan. (There’s no need in a family newspaper to go into what my drill instructors at Parris Island called me.)
Around 20 years ago I was “on holiday” (as they say in the British Isles) in Franklin, N.C., also known as the “Gem Capital of the World.” But amid all the rock shops I made one “gem” of a find — the Scottish Tartans Museum (scottishtartans.org) on Main Street. I was inspecting the items inside when a dignified yet genteel Scots-Irish curator approached and asked of my interest. I told him my name and of the many mispronunciations and he then informed me, “But ah, they’re all of the same original clan” — to my pleasant surprise.
It’s easier now since an expert has weighed in to help take the various bunglings of my namesake clan in stride.
It sure never bothered my father. As a wee lad he taught my brothers and me an Irish ditty or two, such as “The Bonnie Banks o’ Loch Lomond” with the memorable lyrics:
“Oh, ye’ll tak’ the high road, and I’ll tak’ the low road,
“And I’ll get to Ireland afore ye;
“But me and my true love will never meet again
“On the bonnie, bonnie banks o’ Loch Lomond.”
The astute songster will notice where my father omitted “Scotland” in place of a far fairer country, and I also recall we Southern-ized the words somewhat. I don’t recall my father singing “Danny Boy,” but like a true Irishman, a tear forms in my eye every time I hear it rendered. Perhaps Dad didn’t want his sons to see him cry.
It’s always been a dream to go on holiday to the Emerald Isle and perhaps do some bicycle touring and ancestry hunting, with my lovely golden-haired lass by my side. While there I may even hoist an Old Bushmills in memory of my “Da,” as they say, and I believe he’ll know it when I do.
Mark Millican is a former Daily Citizen staff writer.