February 12, 1692
“Sláinte,” the group of men shouted in reply to the MacDonald Clan Chief, as they raised their mugs in the air toward him.
Chief MacDonald, his wife, two sons, daughter-in-law and Captain Robert Campbell sat at the front of the large dining hall, their family dinner table positioned horizontally to the numerous vertical rows of tables, benches peppered with redcoats and tartan.
It had been over ten days since Captain Campbell and his troops had arrived in Glencoe and billeted among the MacDonald homes. The men divided up, three to four in each home, with Campbell choosing to stay in the Clan Chief’s home. Tonight, though, Chief MacDonald had invited all of the troops and MacDonald Clan to dine at his home.
The food had been devoured, and the ale had the men in a sloppy state when a skirmish broke out between a solider and Rupert MacDonald that sent ale mugs and Gaelic swear words flying across the room. Just then, a sgian-dubh went flying toward the Chief’s family and stabbed the wooden table, landing four inches from the Clan Chief’s daughter-in-law’s plate. She screamed like a banshee, and then the dining hall fell silent.
Campbell abruptly stood from the table. “My apologies, sir. I believe it is time for my men to retire to their hosts’ homes. Please allow me to pay for repairs to the table.”
“Och, dinna fash yersel. Finley will be able to fix the small dent in his workshop. But I do ken it is best if we all retire for the night,” the Clan Chief replied, as a solider approached the table with a sealed letter, handing it to Campbell.
Campbell broke the seal and read the message. His face, already pale from the knife incident, turned as white as a ghost.
The family moved out of the way, as Finley and a few MacDonald men picked up the wooden table.
“I’ll see to the repair, my laird” Finley remarked, as he and the drunken men struggled to carry the heavy table out into the snowy night.
Chief MacDonald nodded, and then turned to Campbell to ask “everything well, Captain?”
Campbell struggled to speak, but was finally able to reply with a curt nod and “of course. Thank you again for dinner. I’ll see my men out, and then turn in myself. See you on the morrow.”
“Aye,” MacDonald replied, as he filled his mug of ale and watched as his family, Campbell, and all of his guests exited in different directions to retire for the evening.
January 16, 1745
The table was filled with roasted pigeons, oatcakes and stuffed cabbages. Caroline MacDonald noticed the exposed dent in the table and quickly placed the plate of cabbages strategically over the eyesore.
“I dinna ken why you are insisting that the children and I leave. Many of the wives are going with their husbands to offer whatever support they can during the fighting,” Caroline remarked to her husband.
“No! You will go to the Colonies and stay with Charlotte and Ian until this entire war is over,” Hamish MacDonald sternly replied.
Hamish’s oldest daughter, Charlotte, had married an Irish man and moved to the Colonies the prior year, and that was exactly where Hamish planned to send his wife and two sons until the Bonnie Prince was firmly seated on the Throne.
“Besides, the passage has already been secured. You sail within a fortnight, and Charlotte and Ian are expecting you to finally bring their wedding gift” MacDonald said, as he patted the dining table.
“Aye, aye, I ken,” Caroline responded, giving her husband a wry smile.
“I’m staying with father and the other remaining MacDonalds of Glencoe to kill every last redcoat! Tell her father; tell mother that I am remaining with you,” Jeremiah demanded of his father.
“Och, wee lad! You ken I would rather have you fighting by my side, but I am counting on you and wee Angus to protect your mother on the voyage. Besides, who will guard the MacDonald table if not for the two of you?” his father asked, as he ruffled the top of the young boy’s blonde head.
“Oh, father. What is so important about a table, anyway?” Jeremiah pleaded.
MacDonald reached over and scooped the boy up to his lap.
“Look at this dent,” MacDonald demanded of his son, moving the now empty plate of cabbages.
“This table has been in the MacDonalds of Glencoe Clan for several generations. It is one of the few items remaining from the Glencoe Massacre when your great grandfather and grandmother died at the hands of the redcoats and the bloody Campbells. This dent helps us to remember that Scotland will never be safe until a Stuart is back as king! Should something happen to me, I am relying on you and your brother to keep the MacDonald Clan surviving, and that starts with remembering how this dent came to be.”
“Did someone break their goblet on it, father?” Angus looked up at his father and asked.
“Och, no, son. This dent came to be the very night before the MacDonald Clan was attacked. The Clan Chief had opened up his home and the homes of his clansmen for several nights to Captain Robert Campbell and his men. The Captain had lied to him and told him they were passing through collecting taxes in the land, but they were there awaiting orders on how to punish the MacDonald Clan over a complete misunderstanding.
The young boy gave his father a puzzling look.
“King William believed that the MacDonalds of Glencoe were not supportive of his new rule, and was determined to make an example of the Clan. The Chief became suspicious of the Captain’s intentions, and while he was alone in the great dining hall, he stabbed the table out of frustration for not being able to put his thumb on what was off about the Captain’s behavior. The next morning, the Captain and his men killed many of the MacDonald Clan, including the Clan Chief himself. The only reason you are here today is because his sons were able to get away,” MacDonald explained.
“Never trust a Campbell!” Angus shouted, throwing his fist into the air.
“Aye! That’s right wee lad” MacDonald replied, smiling at his beautiful family.
August 21, 1856
Sean could smell the rabbit stew as he made his way to the log cabin, admiring the view of the mountains as he walked slowing on to the porch.
His ancestors had come over from Scotland only months before the Battle of Culloden, and though he had never been to Scotland himself, he had been told that the North Carolina mountains resembled the Scottish Highlands remarkably. He hoped one day that he could make the journey to his ancestral homeland, but his main priority right now was taking care of his pregnant wife and three small children.
“I’m home and famished,” Sean announced.
“Pa!” Caroline exclaimed, as she ran to her father and jumped in his arms.
Bridget walked over, and kissed her husband on the cheek. “Go on now, Caroline, and tell your brothers to wash for supper.”
Sean put his daughter down, and then patted his wife’s swollen belly before walking over to the table.
Three seconds later, all three children ran to the table and took their seats.
Alexander picked up a biscuit and put it to his mouth. He was about to sink his teeth into the buttery bliss when his mother knocked it out of his hand.
“Your father has not said grace yet. You know better, Alexander,” Bridget scolded.
Once the blessing was said, everyone pushed up their sleeves and dug in to the warm stew and biscuits.
Hunting in the backwoods of the North Carolina mountains was an easy feat for Sean. The deer and boars were plentiful, but the rabbits seemed to be a nuance to Bridget’s vegetable garden, so traps were set, yielding at least two plump rabbits each week.
“I am growing tired of having rabbit stew so often” the youngest boy, Finn whined.
“That is surprising, seeing as through you have almost finished your entire plate,” his father replied.
“That is only because I am so hungry, Pa.”
“We should be thankful that we have food, Finn,” his older brother lectured.
“That is true, Alexander. We should be grateful that we have so much. There are other places in the world where famines are present,” Sean explained.
“Like Scotland, where we are from, Pa?” Caroline asked.
“We are from Scotland?” Finn asked, eyes widened in disbelief.
“Aye. Our ancestors came here from Scotland many years ago. Caroline is named after one of them,” Sean continued.
“And she is the one who brought this very table to America, right Pa?” Caroline asked, grinning from ear to ear, proud of herself for remembering the story of her namesake.
Reminded of the stories his father often told of his ancestors, Alexander moved his plate out of his way and traced the dent on the table with his small fingers.
“Tell us the story of the mark again, Pa” Alexander said.
Caroline’s face lit up. “I love hearing the story of auld Caroline, Pa. Please tell us again,” she pleaded.
“Sure, bairns. I’ll tell you the story. This table came all of the way from Scotland by Caroline MacDonald and her two young sons in 1745. Her husband remained in Scotland to fight for Charles Stuart, but insisted that his wife and children come to North Carolina and stay with his eldest child and her husband until the fighting was over. Caroline did not wish to leave her home and begged him to let her and the children stay, but her husband demanded that she and the children leave, promising that he would send for them once the fighting was over. Unfortunately, Caroline’s husband was killed during the Battle of Culloden, and when Caroline heard of this, she became so angry and distraught that she stabbed a knife in to the wooden table, leaving that very mark,” Sean told his children, pointing to the right corner of the table.
“Sounds like Caroline MacDonald had a bit of a temper and was oddly strong for a woman,” Bridget replied, giggling under her breath.
“All Scots have bad tempers, Ma, especially we MacDonalds,” Finn explained to his mother.
“Well, that is true, my love. But we must learn to control our tempers. Besides, this story has been passed down for so long that your father does not even know if it is true or not,” Bridget said.
“Aye, perhaps you are right, dear, but the importance of the table is that we keep it in the MacDonald family for years to come, and continue to share stories handed down from generation to generation,” Sean said, as he watched his beautiful family finish their meal.
April 4, 1968
“Virginia. Please tell your father that supper is on the table, and then wash up and come down before it gets cold” Margaret yelled up the stairs to her daughter.
“I gotta go, Michelle. I’ll call you after we eat so you can help me plan my outfit for the date Friday night with Bobby,” Ginny told her friend.
“Groovy. Bye,” Michelle replied.
“Bye” Ginny replied, and the hung up the receiver before heading down to the basement.
Ginny opened the door leading to the basement and said “Supper is ready, dad.”
“Thanks, Gin. Tell your mother I’ll be right up. I just want to finish putting the last coat of paint on this baby crib I’ve built for your sister.
“It smells horrible, dad. Should the baby be sleeping in a crib that reeks of paint like that?” Ginny asked, covering her mouth and nose.
“It’ll dry, and the odor will be gone long before your new niece or nephew arrives,” her father reassured her.
Ten minutes later, the three McDonalds were all sitting around the table.
“I still cannot get used to having an empty seat at the dinner table,” Margaret remarked, as she passed the casserole dish.
“I know. It is quite different. And it will be even more in a few years when Ginny gets married and leaves us, too” Stanley said, smiling at his youngest daughter.
Ginny managed to give a faint smile toward her father before reaching for the remote to turn on the TV.
“Oh no you don’t, Virginia,” Margaret scolded, taking the remote from Ginny’s hands.
“But mom, all families watch I Love Lucy during dinner nowadays.”
“We are not all families. We are McDonalds and we catch up with each other over dinner, not watch the Ricardos, ” Stanley sternly remarked.
Ginny sighed, knowing that she was defeated.
“I hate our name. I cannot tell you how often I’m asked if I am related to Old MacDonald and his farm,” Ginny added.
Stanley frowned, and then noticed the dent in the wooden table as he reached for his beer.
“Did I ever tell you the story of how this mark was made?” Stanley asked.
“Only a million times,” Ginny sarcastically remarked.
“Then you should know it well; why don’t you tell us the story tonight?” Margaret asked her daughter, noticing the sadness in her husband’s eyes from Ginny’s sour remark.
Ginny rolled her eyes, put her fork down, and proceeded to tell the story that she had heard so many times before.
“When some of our ancestors came over from Scotland, like a thousand years ago, they brought the table with them, which was no easy task back then. They had planned to return to Scotland, but the Clearances were taking place so they remained here in North Carolina. The table was passed down from generation to generation, until the Civil War broke out and one of our ancestors was forced to join the Confederate Army. He got so mad that he had to leave his wife and young children to go and fight in a war that he didn’t believe in, that he took a knife and stabbed the table to let out his frustration, creating the dent that is still visible today.”
“Yes, though I think the story is best told with a little more dramatic flair than that,” Stanley remarked, smiling at his daughter.
“I don’t understand why you don’t just buy a new table. This thing is older than dirt,” Ginny said, with her typical teenage sarcasm.
“My love, without the table, we wouldn’t have backup to show for the story,” Stanley explained to his daughter, just before Margaret changed the subject to Ginny’s upcoming date.
June 2, 2013
Alyssa paid the pizza delivery guy, and handed the pizzas to her sister-in-law, Tonya.
“I absolutely love your and Tom’s new home. The layout is perfect” Tonya remarked, as the two walked back to the dining room.
“Thanks. I love having the dining room connected to the living room so that we can watch TV while we eat,” Alyssa said to Tonya, and then shouted “Hey, guys. The pizzas are here, and Game of Thrones is about to come on.”
The four sat down at the table and began to munch on pizza as the theme music to Game of Thrones sounded on the big screen TV.
“This table is beautiful, guys. Where did you get it?” Tonya asked.
“This came from Alyssa’s great aunt’s house down in North Carolina. It’s old, but I like the rustic look,” Tom told Tonya, glancing up at Alyssa.
“Yeah. Aunt Ginny passed away last month, and we took the table back with us to Boston after the funeral. It is very old, but it’s in decent shape, except for the dent over on the right corner. Supposedly, according to mom, one of my ancestors stabbed it with a knife during a brawl or fit of anger of some sort, but how often do those old family takes actually end up being true?” Alyssa added, shrugging her shoulders.
“Yeah. It’s as heavy as a tree. It was probably just dropped at some point,” Tom added.
By the time the highly anticipated “Red Wedding” episode was over, the four had finished the pizza and moved to the couch and loveseat.
Alyssa looked around the room. Tom’s mouth was open in disbelief, Liam was smiling, and Tonya was in tears.
“Did you know about this, Liam? Tom asked, noticing his different reaction compared to the others.
“Yes! I told you that you should have read the books,” Liam said.
“You could have warned us,” Alyssa said to her brother-in-law.
“Betrayed by my own brother,” Tom joked, as the four made their way to start cleaning up.
“I read an interview article back when I was reading the books where George R. R. Martin mentioned that he was inspired to write the “Red Wedding” based on a real historical event called the Massacre of the MacDonalds, or Edinburgh or Glencoe, or something like that that happened in Scotland back in the 17thcentury. Apparently, the MacDonald family welcomed some guests to their home and the guests turned on them several days later, slaughtering some members of the Clan. The “Red Wedding” is just like that, except the Freys who turned on the Starks were the hosts, not the guests. I’ll have to find the article and email it to you all,” Liam said.
“Hey, wasn’t your grandmother’s last name McDonald?” Tom asked, as he wiped crumbs from the wooden table into his hands.
“Yes. Our family actually emigrated to America right before some war. It must have been the Revolutionary War, or maybe it was the Civil War, I can’t recall,” Alyssa answered.
“Maybe some of your ancestors were a part of the massacre that happened in the 17th century,” Liam joked, placing the table runner back on the table.
“Ha! I hope not! Highly doubtful, anyway,” Alyssa replied, as she moved the table runner over an inch to hide the dent.