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Big Chuck

June 4, 2012

Celebrating a Scottish transplant to Oneonta

Happy Birthday to Cameron Oliver.

Cam chased an attractive American girl named Susan from his native Scotland to Oneonta 18 years ago. They were married at St. James' Episcopal Church following a bachelor party at that quintessential American gathering spot, the 6th Ward Athletic Club. They now have two sons and have lived here ever since.

I remember the first time I met him. I had no clue what he was saying. His Scottish brogue was so thick, he might just as well have been speaking Chinese. Still, I persevered through long discussions with him about life, dreams for the future and both of our homelands.

Cam is a son of the Borders, that fluid area that has given map makers fits over the last 10 centuries. Literally, it's the border between Scotland and England. Cameron's town, Hawick, is one of the largest towns in the region. Ten years ago, I went to Hawick with my new friend for a visit to the auld sod.

Hawick was a mill town, known throughout the world for its fine woolen products. Kind of like an Oneonta. With wool instead of a railroad. Now it is a shadow of its former industrious self, and most Hawickies work in the big cities, like Edinburgh, located 60 miles up the old Waverly Line.

My visit to the Borders ended with a three-day weekend in Edinburgh. Cameron was an excellent host to this Yankee so far from home. He clearly has a deep love for the history of his homeland, and we crawled all over this glorious city.

From booming Mons Meg high atop the city's castle mount, to the back alley no-name pubs where poets and anarchists hatched their story lines, it was an unforgettable trip.

I have seen my friend get teary-eyed at the sound of a bagpipe and get apoplectic at the mention of Margaret Thatcher. And we've discussed it all in our monthly "boys night out."

This "MIE" (named after a particularly comfortable pub in Hawick) has to be one of the longest-standing traditions around. Do the math. Cameron and I have met in a pub once a month for 12 years. Without fail. We only missed it once, and that was the day my father died. And in hindsight, I think my dear old Dad would have whispered to me: "Don't let me keep you from your tradition, Chuck. Go out with your buddy and have one for me." But miss it I did. So our streak stands at 143 Fridays out of a possible 144. Not bad.

Cam works at SUNY Oneonta in its computer department. I've watched him become "Americanized" in his ways and habits, but still he has a lot of the Flower of Scotland growing in him.

For example, he bleeds soccer. He has no clue about baseball. None. To him, a Dodger is a kid who picks pockets. A Royal is Prince Philip. A Met is a museum in New York City. The Reds were the Cold War bad guys. The Colorado Rockies could only be a mountain range. And a Mariner is an old salt who sails out of the Water of Leith each morning.

During one long conversation, I asked Cameron to name a striking difference between our two countries. His answer has stuck with me.

"America is still so young. Even though it is a couple hundred years old, it still feels fresh and exciting. Remember, there are park benches in Edinburgh that are as old as your country," he said with a laugh.

"But what really struck me when I arrived here was the display of pride in your country. It is everywhere. People fly flags over here all the time. It's what they do. At work, in front of public buildings, in the middle of fields and in front of almost every home in Oneonta. The American flag is everywhere, and I think it is a wonderful tribute to this great country that has been so good to me."

Just before I attended a birthday barbecue in Cameron's honor a week ago, I found myself climbing up and placing my own American flag in its holder off our porch. It was Memorial Day weekend. I looked around and saw Old Glory flapping in the breeze from almost every house within my sight.

It was then that the words my friend from the Borders said to me so long ago really registered with me.

It is what we do.

Now, if I can only get him to a baseball game.

I'll catch you in two ...

"Big Chuck" D'Imperio can be heard on weekdays beginning at 6 a.m. on WDOS-AM 730 in Oneonta, and also on Thursday nights from 7-9 p.m. on WSRK-FM 103.9 for his "Oldies Jukebox Show." You can find "Big Chuck" on Facebook under Upstate New York Books. He invites you to contact him at wdosbigchuck@aol.com. His columns can be found at www.thedailystar.com/bigchuck.

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