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Treasure Hunt in the Highlands
by Monica Cameron

Dear Dad,

My flight landed at London’s Heathrow Airport just minutes after its estimated time of arrival.  The landing was so smooth in contrast to the bumpy overnight ride over the Atlantic that we weary, frightened passengers broke out in spontaneous applause.

“Pilot,” a passenger called out, “you can drive my caddie anytime!”  We other passengers laughed, struggled to our feet, and tried to stretch our muscles.  The long flight and the murderous jet-lag left most of us tired and irritable, but we worked to be civil as we claimed our luggage and headed for the customs counters.  I couldn’t believe that Jennifer Cameron of Kansas in the United States of America was one of the travelers who lined up at a counter marked by a sign that said “English Speaking Travelers Here.”  I was happy that I was eight in line, and made it past the counter with only a cursory look by a customs officer.  I began a methodical search of the various signs held by persons awaiting the deplaned passengers and soon found one which read “Edinburgh Scotland, via Rail.”  “Sir, how do I get to the railroad station?”  I inquired of the uniformed man holding the sign.

“Stay close, Luv.  I’m the bus driver who will take you there, along with those other folks over near the door.”  The driver nodded his head toward a group of approximately twenty people.  “We’ll be leaving, Mum, in fifteen minutes.”  So I must go for now, Dad.

I’m Back, Dad,

I’ve never traveled this great a distance before, but I’m elated to be making the trip.  It’s my mission to search for your roots in Scotland, and I’ve researched the area from Glasgow to Loch Lomond to Inverness to Fort William.

I heard the driver call “All aboard,” and by this time several others had joined the group so the bus was nearly filled.  Skillfully the driver drove through the morning traffic and took us into London and to the railroad station.  “Careful, Luv,” he said as he helped each lady to the sidewalk.  “Watch it, Sir,” he cautioned each man.  “You’ll have time for coffee here, and some buns.  Oops!  That’s something else in the United States, isn’t it?”  The passengers laughed.  “You can sleep on the train till you get to the siding,” he continued.  Most of the group looked perplexed, but a man who had previously toured the area explained, “The siding is where two trains meet.  One train goes to Edinburgh; we have to wait a few minutes for it to arrive.  The siding just sits out in the countryside, but we’ll be there for only a brief time.  I don’t know where the other train goes.”  I was thankful that he knew the European method of making train connections, and I was glad I was part of a group.

The train ride was just as the man had described it, and we followed the bus-driver’s advice to sleep.  After our group transferred to the second train, it began to roll toward Edinburgh, and I noticed that some of the seats faced the engine and some faced the rear of the coach.  Tables between the rows provided spaces for games, and bridge players quickly converged there.  As for me, I preferred to fight my bad case of jet lag so I found a forward-facing seat and sank into it.  This rest proved to be an asset, for after my arrival in Edinburgh I had the opportunity to join a tour of the castle high on a hill.  The wide paved driveway, the parade ground, and the steep pedestrian slope taxed my energy, but I was determined to see it all.  When I returned to the station to board a train for Glasgow, I was physically tired but mentally stimulated.  The window provided a good view of the countryside, and someone pointed out that Balmoral castle, a gift of Albert to his wife Queen Victoria, was barely visible off to the right.  The ride was smooth and gentle through low hills, and the gentle rock of the railroad coach soon lulled me to sleep.

Love for now - - Jen

Day 2

Dear Dad - - more about yesterday:

“Glasgow, Glasgow,” shouted the train conductor.  The passengers rose and pushed to the door.  “Lucky for me, “I thought, “that all my luggage except this small case was sent ahead.”  As we left the train I saw a taxi that bore a sign, “Holiday Inn, Glasgow.”  I went to the hotel and the haven of my room.  A shower rejuvenated me, and I found the restaurant and bar area where a buffet was beautifully prepared with an abundance of fruits and vegetables tastefully presented with the meats and fish.  I had arrived in the dining area late, so only a few others dallied over their dinners and pastries.  The coffee was hot.  The food was good.  The day is spent - - and so am I.  I am ready to call it a day. - - Love, Jen.

Day 6

Dear Dad,

Time is flying by at too great a pace.  I’ve loved every minute of these days so crammed with beauty and history and the depth of the lore of the clans.  I dream of Sir Ewen Cameron and Bonnie Prince Charlie, and Mary who suffered death at the hand of her cousin Elizabeth.  I visualize our ancestors’ lands in Lochaber with sheep grazing on the hillsides in times of peace and clansmen rallying to support Lochiel in times of battle.  Time is my adversary, for I have so little of it left here in this, our ancestral country.  Tomorrow, Dad, I plan to go to the site of the great battle of Culloden.

Love, Jen

Day 10

Dear Dad.

Well, I guess you could say that Time won.  My flights from here to Shannon and from there back home are approaching all too rapidly.  I’m saving a little time today and tomorrow to bolster the industries of Scotland - - and help myself to style - - by shopping at the woolen mills.  I must buy something, of course, in our beautiful Cameron tartan.  In my mind’s eye, I see a kilt or skirt, and a shawl to match.  However, the best acquisition I’ll take home is the memory of these warm, friendly, people and their rugged hills and valleys that contributed to their military prowess.  I weep inside for the losses in their frenzied battles, and I swell with pride when I realize that Sir Ewen Cameron, so long ago in the seventeenth century, was the only chief who never submitted to Cromwell.  I remember reading that Lochiel’s word of honor was accepted by the governor, who held him in the highest regard.

I have traced your family tree, Dad, but only in a superficial way.  I must return to learn more.  Time was against me, but I gained a new and deeper appreciation of our roots.  I see in you the traits of Lochiel - - the treasured traits of our Cameron clan - - honesty, integrity and honor.  I love you, Dad, and I’ll be home on Tuesday.

Your daughter, Jen

Editor's Note: This short story, by Monica Cameron of Lenexa, Kansas was runner-up in the 2004 Cameron Prize for Best Original Short Story.