Thirteen years ago, I arrived in St Andrews as a study abroad student who knew very little about Scotland other than the fact that it had very nice scenery and you weren’t supposed to wear white socks. The thing about white socks was in the study abroad packet that I received before leaving home.
“People only wear white socks when they’re playing sports,” it said. “Otherwise, they wear black or dark-coloured socks.”
I’m sure there were more useful cultural insights in this pack, but this is the only thing that I remember because it seemed so odd. What’s so sport-like about white socks? Did Scottish people really judge each other on sock fashion? How would people know what colour socks I was wearing anyway, given that my feet would be stuffed into waterproof boots for the entire three months?
I left all my white socks at home.
Going to St Andrews ended up being the best thing that I ever did. I fell in love with a man and a country, and everything changed. Now I’m a British resident with a British baby and an a**hole of a British cat, all thanks to that picturesque little town on the sea.
We visited St Andrews last weekend for the first time as a family (minus the cat). Adrian and I felt like it was important for the Popple to experience the place that brought us together, which ultimately led to her being born and all that. She would see the iconic images that impressed us so much as young university students – the castle jutting out of the coastline, the cathedral ruins towering over the town, the lush, green golf courses – and they would impress her too. I mean, she’s a baby. She thinks empty cardboard boxes are pretty great. This seaside splendour was going to BLOW HER MIND.
The Popple was not impressed.
It wasn’t her fault. The Popple was too cold to be impressed. Somehow, despite having lived in this country for over a decade, we failed to consider that St Andrews might be cold, wet and VERY F***ING windy in February. We paraded the Popple along to all our favourite spots.
“Look at the castle!” I exclaimed. “Mommy used to look at the castle from the window of her classroom in the English building across the road.”
The Popple buried her face deeper into Adrian’s coat, rubbing snot into his jumper.
The thing she liked most about her trip to St Andrews was the cottage that we stayed in. She spent hours happily running back and forth (supported by me), picking up everything she could find and sticking it in her mouth. TV remotes. Beer mats. DVDs. Chess pieces. A filthy piece of kindling. We could have skipped the sightseeing and just given her a bunch of Disney films to chew on, and she would have been just as happy.
I suppose expecting an 8-month-old to appreciate the significance of this trip was asking a bit much. She can’t understand how unlikely it is that a New Yorker and a Puerto Rican would meet in a wind-swept Scottish town and fall in love. That they would stay together after returning to America to finish their degrees, even though they were living four hours apart in different states. That they would make their way back to Scotland time and time again, through many years, jobs and visas. That it would take 12 years of love and travel and laughing and arguing and moving and learning for them to be ready for her.
All stories have a beginning. This place is hers.