A Servant of History by Ron Rash – Selection 13 of #DealMeIn2018

The Card: ♦2♦ Two of Diamonds

The Suit: For #dealMeIn2018, ♦♦♦Diamonds♦♦♦ is my Suit for (mostly) stories from the anthology Everywhere Stories.

The Author: Ron Rash. One of my book clubs read his great collection, “Something Rich and Strange” last year. When I drew a wild card this week, I decided to revisit a story from that book

The Selection: “Servant of History”

What is Deal Me In? I’m glad you asked!  Full details may be found here  but generally speaking it’s a reading challenge where participants try to read one short story a week for the year, the reading order being determined by the luck of the draw. See here for the list of stories I’ll be reading in 2018. Check the sidebar for links to other book bloggers who are participating in this year’s challenge.

A Servant of History

“When his ship docked in London harbor six weeks later, Wilson’s tongue had not fully healed.”

Why is it that some of us (myself admittedly included) enjoy so much stories in which someone gets his ‘comeuppance?” I suspect it’s because so often those people we ourselves know who are “full of themselves” are never held accountable for their haughtiness. My granddad used to say that such people were “too big for their britches.” But being full of oneself isn’t exactly a crime, is it? And, as much as we may want to ‘go upside someone’s head’ for such behavior, actually doing so would be an overreaction. (It would, wouldn’t it?)  My Granddad’s actually a somewhat appropriate authority for this particular story too, as he was a denizen of Appalachia as well as most of the people in this story. In his case, the mountains of West Virginia, in their case in Jackson County, North Carolina.

The story is set in 1922, when James Wilson, the story’s protagonist, and a member in good standing of the English Folk Dance and Ballad Society, journeys across the ocean to venture “among the New World’s Calibans” in search of ballads that, “though lost to time in Britain might yet survive in America’s Appalachian Mountains.” Upon arrival, he makes the acquaintance of an elderly resident who serves as his guide in the ‘neighborhood’ letting him know of an established local family, the McDonald’s who immigrated from Scotland, though long ago. His guide says the family has “their great-granny yet alive,” and that she’s “nigh a century old but got a mind sharp as a new-hone axe. She’ll know your tunes and anything else you want, but they can be a techy lot, if they taken a dislikin’ to you.”

It turns out old great-granny McDonald does indeed know some old Scottish ballads, though is hesitant to share them. Rash describes Wilson’s first meeting and seeing the old woman wonderfully: “…Wilson only then saw that the Windsor chair was occupied. The beldame’s face possessed the color and creases of a walnut hull. A black shawl draped over her shoulders, obscuring a body shrunken to a child’s stature. The old woman appeared more engulfed than seated…”

Wilson’s efforts to coax the old woman include posing as if his own Scottish heritage (not really much of one, but he exaggerates it in hopes of gaining favor) is of great and long-standing importance to him. He leaves his chair and “…walked over to the red-and-black tartan hung on the wall, let a thumb and finger rub the cloth. He nodded favorably, hoping to impart a Scotsman’s familiarity with weave and wool. ‘Our tartan hangs on a wall as well, blue and black it is, the proud tartan of Clan Campbell.'”

Suffice it to say perhaps that Wilson should have done a little more research about the Clans whose descendants he might encounter, and especially about what their relationships might have been to his clan, which he so suddenly remembers and claims allegiance to…

(below: I imagine the top tartan here might be like the one hanging on great-granny McDonald’s wall)

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Have you read Ron Rash’s “Something Rich and Strange?” It was a big hit with my book club, and I have posted briefly about it before. What are some of your favorite ‘stories of comeuppance?’

 

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2 Comments

  1. marianallen said,

    June 1, 2018 at 4:29 pm

    Oh, dear, he DIDN’T claim to be a Campbell, did he? Oh, me, oh, my!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Dale said,

    June 1, 2018 at 6:17 pm

    This collection was probably my favorite of 2017 – and this was a great story from the collection.

    Liked by 1 person


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