Tuesday, January 15, 2008

My Christmas Bagpipe tale...

On Christmas day, 2006, I had a real Christmas moment, the kind that they usually make after-school specials about. It's all about Piping, so I'll share it with you.

For the last 20 years or so, my family has gathered at my oldest sister's house, who goes through great trouble to make a well-organized, Martha Stewart-esque dinner party where everything is intricately prepared and the food is painstakingly displayed on cute little arrangements. Ever the Emily Post afficionado, she sends out Christmas cards, inviting everyone to attend, but I always found this
unnecesary, since we always went there every year without failure.

Now I've been playing bagpipes for the last few years, and as a special treat (mostly for me), I'd show up at family gatherings with my pipes and play them as guests arrived, or intermittantly during the gathering, for fun. Every year I know more and more songs, and this year I practiced a whole bunch of Christmas tunes. So I was all set to have a lot of fun, and I went to my sister's house early in the afternoon at the time I thought we were supposed to show up.

Now my sister, because she was such a Martha Stewart clone, had to have everything perfect. She was always the anal-retentive one, expecting everyone to follow all the proper etiquette, and expecting everything to follow the set plan. I apparently arrived too early, and she gave me this look, as though I just ran over her dog or something. I asked "What? Am I too early?" Instead of being polite and saying "well, yeah, you're early, but make yourself at home, and everyone will get here at
their own time," she got all upset and started yelling at me "Don't you know what RSVP means? I asked that everyone RSVP in my Christmas card, so I'd knw how many people to make food for. You didn't RSVP, so how was I supposed to know you would show up?!" Now it's true that I blew off the RSVP, and it could have been perceived by the Emily Post crowd as disrespect to her, but her reaction was totally mean and rude. For about 5 full minutes, she scolded me, as though I were a child who got
caught with his hands in the cookie jar or something. I was shocked at her over-the-top reaction to what I consider to be a minor misunderstanding.

As she rattled off one put down after another, I simply got angry, but maintained my composure. I waited for a pause in her berating, and finally got one. Not wanting to make an already bad situation worse, I simply took all the presents I had, put them on the counter in front of her, and left, saying "Here's your stuff, Bye!". I
got into my car and drove off.

My sister had always been sort of a bitch, ever since I was a kid. I guess she was always disappointed that the rest of us -- my other sister, two brothers, and myself -- ended up being less Ozzie-and-Harriet types of families than her "perfect little family". She was the conservative one, listening to Rush Limbaugh, going to church, and beign exactly what June and Ward Cleaver dictated. I never had a good time at her house when we went there for holidays -- so stuffy and proper, it was too much work to be there, because nobody could really relax. That she would treat her own relatives like that was unusual, but expected. She was always the kind of person who would complain about other people's imperfections, and I often got mouthfuls of her disapproving rants from time to time. But we're adults now, and this kind of scolding was for kids. I drove off my anger an headed to the beach, hoping to get some take out chinese food and just enjoy myself in spite of her. I convinced myself that I should show up later when everyone else had arrived, and just ignore her. So I parked my car at the beach, and figured I'd warm up my bagpipes before showing up again.

So there I am, playing on a deserted beach to a flock of seagulls, playing the Christmas songs I knew, and other tunes, until my pipes got in tune and stayed stable. It was an unusually warm day for a new England Winter, and my fingers weren't really getting too cold. Then a few people -- a man, his wife, and 2 children, showed up on the beach and watched me while I played. A few more people showed up, two couples, one old, one young. Soon I had about 8 people swaying and listening to my music. I changed from Christmas music and just started playing my usual renaissance faire songs. An older man and his daughter drove up, parked their car, and got out and walked up to stand with the rest of the crowd. I broke into
the Feuertanz (Fire Dance) Totentanz, and a few other dance tunes, and the couples all started to dance in circles. They really were enjoying this, and I was, too. The old man just stared with a delighted expression on his face, and his daughter stood attentively by his side.

Eventually, the wind picked up a bit, and my fingers got cold, and I had to stop playing. I put my pipes back into their case, while people applauded, and went on their way, saying thanks, and expressing appreciation. The old man walked up to me, and said "Oh, I love bagpipes! I listen to CDs of them all the time! This is the first time I got to hear them live and up close! They're wonderful!"

I was very flattered by all of this, he looked longingly at me, and asked if I could play a few more tunes for him. I thought for a moment, and decided "Why not?" So I pulled the pipes back out of my case, and blew into the bag, and started playing again. Another couple showed up with a camcorder, and tehre was more dancing, including the old man, who took his daughter by the arm, and danced in a circle with her. After a few tunes, the old man had tears in his eyes, and just had the look on his face of a man who was very emotionally moved. I stopped playing, and he applauded, tears streaming down his cheeks, and his daughter holding him by the arm. The other people left, and I started to put the pipes back into their case. The old man's daughter helped him into her car, and she closed the door. She walked up to me, as I zipped up my case, and said "Thank you so much! You made a very sad old
man really happy just now, and I can't thank you enough. His wife died a couple of months ago, and this really made his day!"

I was stunned, flattered, and generally feeling all Roland Dahl-ly or Gene Shepherd-like. Something weird happened. I had a Christmas moment, the type of which fills movie scripts and television melodramas. I had had one of those "I learned the true meaning of Christmas" experiences! I thought to myself, Hmmm. I just had more fun with a bunch of strangers than I ever did at my sister's house. I thought, "Screw my
stuck-up sister! I'm going to go hang out with my friends now!" So I got back into my car, and called my pals up on my cell-phone, and went over their house, and we made our own holiday. We ate KFC, watched Movies, made music, and later on, my girlfriend joined us and we had Egg Nog and Vodka, while watching action/adventure movie DVDs. This was simply the best Christmas I had in ages.

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