Bagpipes and the Wee Lassie

This tale starts a long ways back, where our family originated, in Scotland. My grandmother (Nanny) and grandfather (granda - though I never knew him myself) came to Canada in the early 1920s with their four children, (three girls and one boy) the youngest (my aunt) being being still a baby. After arriving here, they had another girl, my mother.  The whole story is much too long to tell, so we fast-forward to when I was young.

The music Nanny favoured (by then, granda was gone) was Scottish, and at her house, that's often what was playing. I grew up with Danny Boy wailing from the pipes (on the stereo of course). She often said of me that the Scot was in my blood.

I suppose it is. Hearing the sound of bagpipes anywhere snapped me to attention almost immediately. The sound thrummed through my body, and I could feel my heart pulsing to it's strident cries. From a young age we learned; a piper was afforded the same respect one would give the Queen herself. Nanny held them in the highest regard, and I suppose that rubbed off on us.

Or perhaps, it's just in my genes. I tend to think that's what it is.

Moving even faster forward, we come to the "wee lassie" in this tale - my eldest granddaughter. She's 16 now, but she and her brother (fraternal twins) were born in September, a few months before our annual Santa Clause Parade. As grandparents, we were so delighted to share their first parade. Both, still being "babes in arms", were wide-eyed at the multitude of changing colours, and the noise and sounds, and the crowds lining the streets.

That was also my granddaughter's first exposure to the sound of the pipes (by then, Nanny was gone 20 years).

Watching my granddaughter as I held her, I saw her head turn in a direction where there was a gap in the floatilla. I thought it was odd that she was staring off into space, looking at ... absolutely nothing. On the far site of the street (a half a block away) you could see where the parade would come onto the opposite street, move around the hospital building, and come straight down Mississaga Street past our house. But right then, there was nothing. With her in my arms I could feel her tiny body stiffen, and saw her eyes widen until they were enormous black orbs (she had the bluest of blue eyes).

But then, then, suddenly, even I could hear them. The bagpipes. They were coming!

A scant few moments after hearing the faraway sound, the pipers exited onto the opposite street, and the sound grew closer as they rounded the hospital. By then, my granddaughter was a tense little board in my arms, (and I could feel the old familiar call in my blood). Her eyes never left the direction of the sound. As the pipers came by us, her eyes followed them (as did mine), her head swivelling as they passed, and headed on down the road.

She never turned back to the parade ... her head and eyes pointed in the direction they'd gone, almost until the last of the parade was over.

Throughout her life, her reactions were nearly always similar. She'd hear them before any of us could, and it would be signalled by her suddenly standing up, straight and still, from whatever she was doing, and staring off with enormous eyes at something we couldn't see (or hear). She'd stay that way until they were long, long, long down the road and she could no longer hear them.

Once, while my youngest daughter and I were out with her driving the country roads, from the back seat of the car she suddenly sat right up and began staring out the window. I asked her what she was doing, and she replied "grandma, can't you hear them? I hear the bagpipes." I looked at my daughter, she looked at me and shook her head no. I couldn't hear them either. Looking around, there was just wide open fields. I told her there were no bagpipes out here in the middle of nowhere, but ... no more than 3 or 4 minutes later we passed a house and there on the front lawn stood a fellow in shorts and t-shirt with a set of pipes in his arms.

"See grandma, I told you I heard the bagpipes."

This child, I think doesn't hear them with her ears, but with her heart and in her blood. She's Canadian born, and has several nationalities built into her (Scottish, English, Italian) but she's a Scot, "thru and thru" (as Nanny would say). She's also the only one of my grandchildren who exhibits this behaviour.

When she was 12, she joined the Air Cadets because ... she could get bagpipe lessons.

No truer Scot was born into this family than that little lassie, and she is indeed learning to play the pipes, with the hope of one day participating in the Scottish Festival.

December,  2014
J. Gracey Stinson