This story ends with children in a bar on a school night. It begins in a much more benign fashion, though. Also, bagpipes play a central role. Outside of a grizzly crime involving lottery scams, one armed pimps and an illegal chinchilla fighting ring, it really has it all.
St. Patricks Day isn’t one of rich tradition around the Ozarks. If it were possible to have a national holiday centered around stock car racing, fishing and hunting and methamphetamine production, we would be the epicenter of it all. Sadly enough, no such thing exists. With this glaringly bold lack of cultural history, a couple of firefighters I work with got together and decided that Southwest Missouri was in need of a service pipe and drum corps to not only recognize and be a part of firefighter AND Celtic tradition, but to be available for use at local and regional funeral services for veteran and service members of the area. So two talented musicians and two of us who like to play without much talent formed a pipe and drum corps over beers one night. The lack of interest from our department administration led us to inquire with our local union if they’d like us to play under their banner. They enthusiastically gave us the thumbs up and some financial support. A local Irish-themed bar got on board with us as well, and thus Firefighters Local 152 Pipe & Drum Corps was born. And three guys who never played a note of bagpipe music in their life began to try to learn a foreign, beautiful and horrific instrument, while the already-trained drummer just looked on in bemused terror.
For the better part of the next year, our group mostly got together at events where men in kilts seemed to make sense, drank some beer and raised minor hell, while not engaging TOO much in the actual art of practicing, save for one guy who took it seriously. Fast forward to this year. At some point, we were going to have to actually PLAY bagpipes as the pipe and drum corps entries in parades. This brings us to the point we are today. We’re getting better, slowly, adding and losing members here and there. The one guy who practiced is pretty damn good, my other buddy and I are actually learning what we need to learn and the drummer still laughs at us. But as we marched two miles in the St. Patrick’s Day parade this year, I felt a change. A real change. People were cheering. It turns out that they LIKE this tradition. And, like all things new, you have no idea if there will be acceptance, or more often, a rejection of the unknown. Rejection is so much easier, really.
I looked back at the fire engine following us in the parade, my kids riding up top and throwing candy at the crowd and felt something I’ve not felt in a long, long time. A brief surge of pride took me by surprise as I caught them watching us. A half dozen of us wannabe musicians out there, wailing away in kilts and the people were loving every minute of it. As we rounded the corner of the city square, the noise drowned out even our pipes, and I let myself get high on the adrenaline of the rush. To see something grow out of an idea four guys had over some lofty beer-fueled ambitions all the way into strangers roaring for more gave me the spark that’s been missing for so long. We walked that last quarter mile high as kites on the energy, all of us beaming with childish joy, my kids seeing their dad as happy as I hope they remember he was capable of being at one time.
The next day, the boys still at my house, it was decided we would play at the local pub that has sponsored us from the get-go. I was skeptical since it was a school night, and after all, the pub derives it’s business primarily as a bar, if we’re being perfectly honest. But again, it was the actual St. Patrick’s Day, and if you’re going to help create tradition, why not involve your children in the process, let them see that which Dad holds near and dear? I rationalized that I’d bring them for one set, then we’d head home as the rest of the band hit downtown for a night of spontaneous piping and drumming at local establishments.
As I was unpacking the pipes at the downtown venue, still debating on whether or not I would be getting a Dad of the Year award for dragging my kids out to a pub to, again, hear their old man attempting to indulge a musical passion that was bringing life back into my life, my youngest unknowingly tipped the scales with this simple statement:
“Hey, Dad….when I grow up, can I play too?”
Don’t wait that long, son. How about we start a new tradition in this family right now?
We might do it at home, though. I don’t think I can justify bringing you to a bar on a school night more than once.