In 1963, on the last day of the year, 19-year-old Margaret Douglas left her home in Bridgeton, Glasgow, for a new life in America. A week later, at the Scots American Club in Kearny, New Jersey, she met her husband-to-be John Aitken, who had emigrated four years earlier from Musselburgh. More than 50 years later, they are living in Dallas, Texas, as fully-fledged American citizens – but they have never forgotten their Scottish roots.
So much so that they immerse themselves in everything Scottish, from Highland Games to country dancing societies. The couple even bring Scottish culture to life in schools throughout the Dallas area. The children are delighted to see them in their Highland outfits. It is, they say, a way of giving something back to America after the wonderful life they have enjoyed.
Margaret: I always had a feeling that I was destined to go somewhere, do something more than just stay in Glasgow. I was in Bridgeton, I lived in a tenement, it was not the most pleasant place to be. A girlfriend of mine I had known as a little kid had gone off to America. She got me a job as a nanny and it took me all of six months to convince my father to sign the papers to let me go. I was with a doctor and his wife in Englewood, New Jersey.
I met my husband the week after I came here. On my first Sunday off I took two buses from Englewood to Kearny, New Jersey and that is known as Little Scotland. There is a Scots Club, an Irish Club and an Ulster Club. It was great because we went to the Scots Club and there was all the people that talked like you. You leave your country but you instantly want to find people that are like you.
John was a member there and I walked into the bar and that was it, love at first sight. Over 50 years now we have been married. We stayed in New Jersey for 30 years. In Kearny, there were fish and chip shops, Scottish butchers and bakeries, so you were getting all the food you were used to, it was a terrific, terrific town.
We would go to the club, have Saturday night dancing, do the parties like we did in Scotland – one singer, one song – I always remember that. Then at midnight or one o’clock in the morning we would go for fish and chips. I think that’s why I’m so comfortable and happy here, because I came across and everything good has happened.
The Americans accepted us absolutely, no questions asked. We just fitted right in and we had all these American friends that just embraced us. I always say to people I’m a Scots/American. We knew we were not going back to stay. You get so spoiled in this country.
In Texas, we got set up with a website and once we got the electronics going we started to receive requests from schools. Between January and May, the kids have what they call International Days and they invite people from the different countries. We would go in and take the flags and all kinds of books with Scottish names and the clan associations. We would talk about Robert Burns and other things, mostly the history.
We dress in the kilt and get the whole feel of who we are. I will explain all the parts of John’s kilt and sporran. We explain it’s the national dress of Scotland and I tell them it’s John’s tuxedo. Then we get the books and ask if they would like to know if they are of Scottish descent. I tell you, the ones that find their name in that book are thrilled.
It’s very enjoyable for us to go into the classrooms. America’s been good to us and we’re giving back a little. Scotland was good to us, gave us birth, gave us brains, gave us great DNA. That’s what I tell them if they are of Scottish descent, you have the best DNA in the world.
John: The Scots American Club was founded in Kearny in 1936. It was for all us immigrants; it was like you’d never left your home because you still had all the accents around you. The town still has two fish and chip shops.
In Dallas, we got invites from schools asking us to come. They have an International Day in Plano, Texas, and we have a booth with tartan and flags and from that we have had schoolteachers asking us to come to their school. Most of the people at the International Day were busy selling stuff, we were busy teaching them and being educational.
They want to know where they are from and they tell us their name. We have these books and it gives what clan they are from and what tartan they have. We have a clan map so we can tell them what part of Scotland their name is from. Everybody thinks it’s great because everybody is interested in their heritage.
Margaret and I do it because it’s enjoyable, it’s like a hobby. I came here but I always had family back in Scotland, I’m Scottish and I’m still Scottish. And I’ll never forget it.