Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Memorial Day Stories - 5/25/09

Spending Memorial Day Weekend piping at cemeteries is an introspective (usually) way to spend this holiday. Interesting things always happen, so I though I would share a few of the more interesting stories.

Melbourne G. Black
I had a total of 6 solo gigs this weekend, plus 3 band gigs. I like solo gigs because I don't have to be in tune with--or in time with--anybody but myself, I'm not on a tight schedule, I can wander around and read tombstones between sets. Nobody yells at me; in fact, I usually get many thanks and compliments. All weekend long, the weather was moderate, the sun shining, the birds singing, the breeze lightly blowing, and as I was wandering toward the Little Girl's Room between sets at the Redwood cemetery on Saturday, I crossed a grassy place where there was only one grave. There was no flag nor any flowers on or by it. Curious, I stopped to read the information.

Melbourne G. Black
A2C US Air Force

You probably know that Memorial Day is for remembering the armed forces personnel who have served our country, and that usually the Veteran's Admin or somebody like that puts American flags on every serviceman or -woman's grave. You may know that the Korean war lasted from June 25, 1950 through July 27, 1953, so this gentleman survived the war. You may or may not know that my oldest daughter is serving a mission in South Korea, with the North Koreans shooting missiles over her head. For these reasons, this grave caught my attention. This Airman Second Class served in Korea and apparently nobody remembered him. This would not do. I instantly adopted him.

What to do about the starkness of the grave? I looked around. "Borrowing" stuff from other peoples' graves is verboten, so I couldn't do that. But hark! and lo! the electric cart shed was just there, with the door open and one cart inside. And dangling from the seat of that cart was an American flag! After a quick look around to make sure the coast was clear (or the "ghost" was clear, to quote certain younger members of my family, which seems a more appropriate phrase in this situation), I appropriated the flag and adorned Airman Black's grave. Well! That looked much better. Not quite good enough, though, for somebody who helped make South Korea safe for my little girl to be there, so the next day I brought some pink roses and white irises, and then it looked much better.

Bird Brain Drummer
If you are a drummer and are already taking offense at this title, please don't. I have every respect for drummers, having been one myself. Read on . . .

For one full-band ceremony, we-all had to march in formation up a hill (avoiding graves) and stand in a half-circle around a flagpole while the Speech, the Pledge, the Prayer, and the 9-gun salute happened. (Nine-gun salute? What happened to the other 12 guns?) I was standing next to our bass drummer, Matt, when suddenly a fledgling starling flapped awkwardly down the line, past my nose, and landed flustered and grateful--plunk!-- on Matt's tenor drum. (No, he was not carrying both drums; he got promoted this weekend from bass drummer to tenor drummer.) A quick look around revealed to our avian visitor that she was in fact not out of the frying pan, but in the fire, so she flapped hastily and erratically away. She did NOT leave a present.

The Pipe Major's Wrath
Tune-up for our performance at Mt View Cemetery on Monday morning was at 0830. It was a beautiful, sunny-but-temperate day. Tyler called me by name and said hello, and Nicholas asked to borrow my tuner. I felt accepted and needed.

But the tune-up itself, and the concert, went badly.
1) My chanter kept coming in early during tune-up (although it did not do so during the concert, I hasten to add) and
2) I couldn't stop my squeaking low A. Jason, stressed out as usual before a performance, was upset.
3) Jason said, "Remember: No E. . . What'd I say?" We chorused, "No E!" "What's that mean?" he asked immediately, smiling, figuring that we'd got it. "No E!", we chorused again. Whereupon he called out the tune, and we struck in. And somebody played the E (not me). I could see steam rolling out from under his glengarry.
4) Going up the hill, dodging graves, I cut off correctly, but missed the start-up for the second half of the set, so I came in when I could.
5)The space we were stationed was squishy, so we formed a V instead of a C, such that when playing Amazing Grace after the ceremony I couldn't (and most of the people in the right-hand line couldn't) see Jason to get the beat. I tried to follow Tyler on the other side, but he was awfully far away. Finally Jason got mad and moved forward a half step (where I could see him) and we got it together. But that didn't improve his mood, and he gave us a stern and glowering (I'm assuming he was glowering; I couldn't see his face for the steam whistling out of his ears) lecture at the bottom of the hill afterwards. It was a horrible performance.

We corrected everything at the next cemetery--except the late strike-in for the second half of the Mill set, but this time I didn't strike back in: I just faked playing while the drummers went beside me and got into their places, and then I got into my place. In the semicircular C. I was so lost, tune-wise. Jason seemed mollified by the second performance and went away happy.

Piper, Tune Thyself
Monday afternoon I got acquainted with Mountain View cemetery out near Sandy. Angus (pipes) had been sitting idle for a few hours, so when I struck in to make lots of noise for a little boy, I sounded terrible (he loved it). I quickly adjusted my reed, and lengthened my tenor drone a little (the bass seemed OK), tried it again, and Voila! In tune (mostly) and I did it myself. I can be taught!

Heather Krantz and the Green Balloons
During my break at Mountain View, I joined an elderly couple under the awning and we talked of this and that. As I was going out to play another set or two, they asked how they would contact me if they should need a piper. I gave them the Celtic Center's info, and told them to 'ask for Rose, nobody else would do', joking. They laughed, but agreed.

I wandered from tree to tree around the smallish cemetery, found James E. Faust's grave, played this and that, and ended up at the lowest part of the property, under a tree. I played through 4 or 5 tunes, all the while watching a family grouping of 10 or 12 seated near a mausoleum wall and handing huge bunches of green balloons of various shades around among themselves. There must have been some logic to what they were doing, but I couldn't get it from 500 yards away. Heading for my car and home, I passed within 20 yards of them, and was surprised to suddenly hear my name called several times! There were my elderly friends from under the awning earlier, seated at the center of the group, apparently the grandparents!

After returning their greeting, I approached them and asked could I know what they were going to do with the balloons, and they tearfully explained that this was Heather's 25th birthday, and they were going to send love and messages, attached to these 25 green balloons (her favorite color), heavenward. They said I could watch, since I knew the family (for all of 30 minutes). Off the balloons went (one slight hitch: a 6-year-old girl had 3 balloons tied to a rolled up letter, but three balloons was not enough to get any altitude. Her dad hastily added his 3 balloons to hers and off it went). Someone suggested a song, but this was hastily and tearfully vetoed. Then the grandmother asked me, did I know "Happy Birthday". Indeed I did, and I played it through twice while everybody cried. Everybody.

I don't know how long ago Heather died or what she died of, but if her family is any gauge, she was a sweet, kind young woman who probably didn't die very long ago, because even the 6-year-old remembered her.


Get an extender for my tenor drone reed.

For next May, I'm going to increase my repertoire again, adding The Navy Hymn, The Marines Hymn (if that's possible), American the Beautiful, that slow aire that Dave really likes that he got from Jason, and the slow aire that EVERYBODY played for their solo in competition last year that I nearly have memorized by now, having heard it so often, which will bring me up to 19. Maybe I could add Taps to bring it up to an even 20. I already know Taps.

1 comment:

Granpiper said...

Great stories!

Glad I missed the Holladay Cemetery gig ... I was at Redwood doing the solo thingy, but Mindy and Teagan filled me in on the chewing out. It seemed to be out of his system by the time we did the Mt. View gig.

I visit Redwood Cemetery on occasion. I'll have to find Airman Black's grave.