The Yellowstone Highland Games are held at the end of June, so I dragged my family and my nephew Cuin (same age as Small Son) and Cuin's possibly lucky steel pennies to Billings, Montana to compete. Their stipulation was that we see the Idaho Falls cousins, Yellowstone Park, Great Grama Olsen, Aunt Erin, and possibly Little Bighorn on the way.
In Idaho Falls, we caught a Chukkar's baseball game for which Other Nephew Taylor was calling the plays. Cuin, still holding his lucky pennies, caught a foul ball, confirming for him the power of the pennies.
You may or may not know that I spent several years in Billings, carving a new life for myself (my old life having recently fallen apart) at Rocky Mountain College (Go Bears!), and never once knew there was a pipe band there. I even had an indirect connection to said pipe band, and had no clue: my art professor's (I was an art major) son was pipe major of the Billings Caledonian Pipe Band when I lived there. Who knew? Not me.
A lot has changed since then: The campus has a fence around it in places, and lots more buildings. The rival educational institution down the road has changed it's name from Eastern Montana College to Montana State University Billings Campus. A lot has remained the same: the Yellowstone County Sheriff's Office where I worked is still in the same place downtown, across the street from the the county jail. The Rimrocks still dominate the city, running right behind Rocky.
I had never been to the zoo where the games were held, not having had a car during my college years, so it was new to me, and may even have been new since I was there, I don't know. But it was a pleasant place, once you got through the construction on Shiloh Road and found it.
The competitions were held in a tree-enclosed grassy area just inside the gate. Just past (or into) the trees were a playground, the zoo itself to which we had access, the games' sporting events and an amphitheatre for the guest band. Peacocks and peahens roamed freely and added their eerily pipe-like calls to the general noise. We had sunny skies and a breeze to keep away the mosquitos. The vendors had their tents in a semi-circle just inside the trees, and the band tents were located on the opposite side of the circle from the entrance gate. There was only one piping/drumming tent, and it served for sign-in and judging for pipes and drums. One could even pick which tune they wanted to do first, and what time. The judge, Melissa, actually checked me in and arranged the times with me.
I was worried about tuning, since it isn't my strong point. But with some contortion, I got the drones in pretty well. Then the games arranger and current pipe major, Donell Small, showed up and offered to tune me. I immediately asked if he was going to tune me wrong to give preference to his own band. He and the people standing around all laughed, and he said 'no', and asked me what I was tuning at. I said 463.
"463? I'm tuning at 475!" says he, shocked.
"I have a Gale chanter, which is lower than, say, McCallum chanters, so it will tune lower." I said.
"O. K. We'll use your tuner, then."
He said I was very close on everything, so that was good, and also offered their band tent to stash my stuff.
I was scheduled to play my slow aire at 9:15, so I kept the pipes warm by playing this and that at the playground, stopping to talk to Small Son and to find somebody's blackberry and turn it in. I did OK on Loch Rannoch, except for a squeak at the beginning. Melissa, the judge, said I need to work on blowing (everybody says that, so it must be true) and she recommended I get a smaller bag. She said my fingering was crisp and perfect. She was very kind.
My march was scheduled for 9:45, but they were backlogged by then, so I waited until nearly 10. Nephew Cuin approached me and said, "You want to carry my lucky pennies for good luck in your competition?" I was touched. Cuin is one of those bulldozer kids: pushing through life grabbing whatever he can, and speaking and laughing very loudly. I accepted, and slid the pennies into my vest pocket. Then I was up.
I did pretty well on the march, Lady Lever Park. At the end of my performance, people standing around the vendor circle gave me a round of applause. !? I still the blowing issues I had not been able to fix in the last 45 minutes, but Melissa said she wouldn't lecture me on that again. She also mentioned that I was playing the march so quickly I was not able to get the D throws done very clearly. She recommended I slow it down and work on playing the low G on every D throw.
As soon as I was done consulting with the judge, Cuin approached me again and asked me excitedly if I'd won. I had to explain that everybody else had to play their tune first, and then the judge had to decide who won. As of this writing, I still do not know how--or if--I placed.
We stopped by the Little Bighorn and saw the layout of the battle sometimes known as the Battle of Greasy Grass or Custer's Last Stand, although we learned he was probably lying down so as not to be visible to the Sioux and Cheyenne warriors creeping up the hill. While we were listening to the park ranger explain what happened, another member of the group asked how many of the enemy there were. The poor ranger, surrounded by both Cowboys and Indians, diplomatically tried (unsuccessfully) to find out who the questioner meant by "the enemy", but the questioner just wasn't getting it that, depending on your background, "the enemy" could mean either the cavalry or the tribe. Obviously, this guy was a Cowboy, and a narrow-minded one at that. I could hear other people besides me hissing at him. The ranger gave out some numbers, which were something like 3 against 1000, and moved on to something else.
We stopped in Whitehall, Montana to visit my sister (Aunt Erin) and her fiance and long-time family friend, Tim, and their extensive collection of mosquitos, cats and dogs.
Here's Red-Haired Daughter and the cats, Monkey and Pepper. I played for them early Sunday morning, and for all the neighbors whom Tim called to advise of the concert.
Note the beautiful Bitterroot Mountains in the background. The mosquitos don't show up, but they are there.
We visited Grama Olsen in Butte, but I forgot to take pictures and I'm kicking myself for that now. We wanted to take her out to lunch and/or to church, but she didn't feel up to it. At 95, she has a right to be tired! She seemed pretty lonely and was delighted to see the kids. I got about 20 hugs from her, and 5 kisses, which is a lot, even from her! I was sorry to have to leave her.
The trip back to Salt Lake was uneventful. We listened to the whole unabridged recording of Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince, which kept everybody entertained. We are now prepared to watch the movie when it comes out on the 17th, and criticize the producer for parts that he left out.
I'll post again when (if) I get the results from the competition, and whether or not the pennies are really lucky.