Friday, May 6, 2016

Where the Present Meets the Past

Less than a mile southeast of the Glasgow, Scotland Airport, the intersection of Renfrew and Dundonald Roads in Paisley, Renfrewshire, is a place where the present meets the past. Where those two roads cross sits a Kentucky Fried Chicken store. Next door is an Esso gas station, and beyond that, a Tesco Express grocery. Directly across Renfrew Road from the Esso station is a stone cairn, sitting on a concrete triangle that splits the lanes of Dundonald Road. The cairn contains a plaque commemorating an event that happened on that spot seven hundred years ago – long before anyone bought gasoline or ate chicken made famous by a Kentucky Colonel.

On March 2, 1316, 19 year-old Marjorie Bruce was within a few weeks of the birth of her first and only child. The young Scottish woman decided to go horseback riding, something most women in that condition would probably never consider. Her choice proved fateful, and she did not return alive from her ride.
At the place where Renfrew and Dundonald Roads meet, across the street from where that KFC now stands, something spooked her horse, and Marjorie was thrown to the ground. The trauma of the fall inflicted catastrophic injuries on her and triggered premature labor. A passerby either saw the accident or arrived minutes later and Marjorie, knowing she was dying and that her unborn baby must be saved, instructed the man to deliver the child.
Renfrew and Dundonald Roads: the cairn is inside the triangle
 near center. KFC is the white roofed building on lower left.
History did not record whether the unknown man knew the woman or who she was. He was probably a farmer or local tradesman, and we can only guess at what he was thinking, knowing that at least one life was in his hands. History did record what then happened in those crucial moments. The man performed a Caesarean Section, cutting into the woman and retrieving the baby, as the young mother lay dying.
Marjorie, who died an hour or so later, lived long enough to name the baby Robert, after her father. Presumably at some point, the man who performed the Caesarean and saved the baby's life, figured out that this woman was Marjorie Bruce – the daughter of Robert the Bruce, King of Scotland, and the wife of Walter Stewart, 6th High Steward of Scotland. Her son, who lived to be 74 years old, became at age 55, Robert II, King of Scotland, the first King of the House of Stewart (later known as Stuart).
In 2016, thanks to the unknown man on Renfrew Road, a family line that nearly ended 700 years ago is alive and well. I know that for certain as, although I am not myself descended from Marjorie and Robert, I know people who are. Three of them live in the same house I live in, and several others live nearby.
Facing southwest on Renfrew Road
Had Marjorie's baby Robert died that day in 1316, my wife Tiffany would not exist, nor would our two children, because Marjorie Bruce is my wife's 19th great-grandmother. Tiffany's sister Amy (and two children), brother Tim (three children), their mother Jan, and the entire line extending back 20 generations would never have been.
Any number of things might have happened on March 2, 1316 to alter the course of history, both for Scotland as a country, and for 700 years of descendants of the Bruce clan. Tiffany, our kids, and that side of the family are alive because an unknown man did a heroic thing, saving the life of an infant by performing an exceptionally difficult operation under the most primitive of conditions.
I wonder if it occurred to him that an action that surely tested his nerve to the limit would result in the continuation of a family line that would flourish long after his death? Could he have known that thousands of future people would be born because he did an extraordinary thing? Probably, he was too engaged in his unexpected and difficult task to think of such things.
The Google photo showing the KFC, the gas station, and the cairn marking that remarkable event create an odd connection of present and past. We can easily imagine the numbers of people who daily stop at the KFC on Renfrew Road. On their way in, they pass the cairn, they buy chicken and such, and pass the cairn again on their way out. Some of them could surely be beneficiaries of what happened on that spot, and perhaps they aren't aware. If they do know, we hope that while eating their chicken, they take a moment to celebrate what happened at the historic place across the street.
Looking south on Renfrew, the cairn is on left, beyond the white car.
On right is the Esso and the KFC.
Not far from our house is an airport roughly the size of the Glasgow Airport. Oddly enough, just as in Paisley, Scotland, less than a mile to the southeast is a Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant. Although we have no stone cairn, I'm thinking we should gather all of the local descendants of Marjorie (my wife's nearby family), and meet at the KFC near our house. Although it is not fine dining, I think the man who performed life saving surgery 700 years ago might appreciate the symbolism of a family gathering to celebrate a courageous event, at a place representing a meeting of the present and the past.

Larry Manch is an author, teacher, guitar player, freelance writer, and columnist. His books include: 'The Toughest Hundred Dollars & Other Rock & Roll Stories', 'A Sports Junkie', 'The Avery Appointment', 'Between the Fuzzy Parts'.

He also writes about baseball for Climbing Tal's Hill, food and travel on Miles & Meals, and music/guitars on The Backbeat.

He lives in Central Texas with his wife and family.

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