Thursday, April 12, 2012


my A to Z - every day of the challenge I will find a word by flinging my finger into my American Heritage Dictionary and then riff on it. The posts may be essays or poems or stories or memories. Who knows what will happen when we give Serendipity her wanton way?

Kist - a wicker receptacle used in ancient Rome for carrying sacred utensils in a procession.
Or, when I searched further - a Scottish word for a large wooden chest, or a person's chest on their body.
A 'kist of whistles' is a derogatory name for a church organ or a wheezy asthmatic like me!

Who knew? When I saw the word I got a funny feeling. I think my great-great-grandma has been quoted using the word. Here is her story as it comes to me with this word.

My g-g-grandma, Mary Morrison (ne Alexander) was from Scotland - not the highlands but the lowlands. She went to the Edinburgh Lady's College or so the story goes. She and my g-g-grandpa, Andrew, emigrated to Canada in 1851. They brought three children with them who all died of cholera on the ship. They landed in New York City and were to take another ship up to Canada but my grandmother protested. She was tired and heart-sick and her husband agreed they could stay in New York City for awhile. There he ran a woolen and grocery store on Fifth Ave., a common enough placement for a Scot. They stayed four years, produced a daughter and then travelled to Ontario. Mary and Andrew had two more children, one of whom - J.P. was my great-grandfather.  When J.P. came to an age he decided he wanted to better himself by heading west. He and his best friend, Bob Howat, set out for Manitoba. They found a homestead and my great-grandfather sent for his parents. Out they came - by rail and by oxen. They arrived at the homestead to find that their son's best friend, Bob, had just died from pneumonia. They buried him in the field and when they were almost finished a hail-storm pelted them so they had to take refuge under the wagon. Through none of the hardships my grandmother had endured had she been known to speak with any bitterness or anger but this was the final straw. She stood there under the grey prairie sky and raised her tiny fist.

"the rain come droukit, Jamie, dowie, I canna stay in this land nae more."
She had brought her 'kist' and kin all that way!  Dowie means melancholy, down and sad, and I believe she is saying 'Jamie' as a short form for her son James (J.P)

Here is something describing the word droukit - another Scottish one:

I believe this is Andrew and Mary holding my grand-dad Charlie, their grandson.

The verb drouk, or drook, means to soak, but droukit carries more than just the sense of being wet through. There is often an associated inner misery. You can’t help feeling sympathy for “The jaded coal horses, scranky an’ lean...a’ droukit through wi’ the cauld raw sleet” described by J. Ballantine in The Miller of Deanhaugh (1844). The simile “as weet as a droukit rat” also speaks of bedraggled sogginess, and so it is a little surprising to encounter another simile used by J. G. Lockhart in Reginald Dalton (1823): “Ellen, when she came ashore, was as druckit as a water-wagtail”; nanny washtails (also known as a kirk sparrows or sittie fitties) are remarkably waterproof and never appear anything less than immaculate.
And all this from the word 'kist'. I love this weird and wondrous word game...


Grammy said...

Oh, my! I love it! How very interesting! Some of my ancestors came over from Scotland, too. My dad was a Campbell and of course, you knowin' anything about Scotland, you are aware that the Campbells were much feared by many of the clans, bein' that they were verra fierce, and lived in the wild Highlands.
Best regards to ye, Ruby

Margot Kinberg said...

Jan - What strong people your grandparents were! And what an incredible story! Thank you for sharing it and that 'photo. I love those connections to our past. Your grandparents and family helped to shape today's Canada and that's so neat!

Clarissa Draper said...

What a story! I couldn't imagine coming from Scotland and losing all your children on the way over. At least they were able to start a business and carry on. Great word.

Bish Denham said...

It's wonderful that you have this history of your family and pictures too. The women who migrated with their men had to have been strong and long-suffering. I'm not sure any of us today would be so stoic.

Tracy said...

Jan, how fascinating the history of your family! a kist, huh? great 'k' word!