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Piper, Pipe That Song Again

by Laura Grace Weldon

We were put to bed early. My mother, the registered nurse, believed strongly in things like scrubbing away germs and a good night’s sleep. Sometimes we could still hear children in the neighborhood playing outside while we lay in bed with our baths taken, teeth brushed and prayers said.

Downstairs my mother watched detective shows and my father graded papers in another room with the stereo turned low. I could hear strains of his big band music mixed with her TV sirens through the floorboards.

I was never what is called a good sleeper. I would lie in bed for hours listening to stories in my mind, hearing strains of impossibly faraway music, watching scenes unfold. I wondered where they came from, these distracting snippets that almost seemed like distant memories. Some were so strong I could feel them in my body. In fact, as a young child I was sure I could “remember” having died and for years could only fall asleep curled defensively to protect my ribs and throat.

Music brought the strongest sense of recollection. My mother says the first time I heard the distinctive sound of bagpipes I was a preschooler. “You put your arms up like one of those highland dancers,” she says, “and you danced your little heart out.”

But bagpipes weren’t something one heard often in Ohio the 60’s, at least I couldn’t tune them in on my plastic AM radio. I didn’t encounter that music again until I was about eight years old. Hearing the strains of those grand pipes in a parade brought me faint memories of dancing in a majestic hall, crowded pubs jostling with noise and excitement, and the stirring of pride that no danger could stifle. At the parade that day I felt something deeper than sobs in the center of my chest as the pipers marched by and the music faded away.

Since I had been warned about my overactive imagination I didn’t mention those half-remembered scenes. But I did pester my mother about bagpipes.

“It’s funny you are so interested in that music,” she said. “We don’t have any Scottish blood in our family.”

An apparent coincidence? The fact that our last name happened to be Piper. My mother said she thought the name had been changed from a German surname, Pfeiffer, many generations back.

* * *

As an adult I have no idea where those so-called memories came from. Most likely I was creating stories that seemed real to me. Although there are other explanations. Morphic resonance, archetypal images, echoes of past lives.

Another intriguing possibility is genetic or ancestral memory. Because, as it turns out my maiden name, Piper, is Scottish after all. Recently our history was traced, and we know now that my father’s family tree is rooted securely in the soil of Scotland. Not a German branch to be found. In fact, we are related to legendary bagpipers as well as to some oddly-named royalty including Malcolm the Big-Headed.

These days I am surrounded by bagpipe music. My two teenaged sons are in a pipe band, the Red Hackle Pipes and Drum, under the direction of Sandy Hain, a former Pipe Major of Scotland’s Black Watch. I drive the boys and their buddies in the band to parades and highland competitions, my car overflowing with an odd mix of testosterone, exuberant conversation and hairy knees jutting out from kilts.

Recently my sons were waiting for me in the driveway when I came home. Sam standing tall with his snare drum and Kirby waiting with his pipes in position, smiles on both their faces. As I opened the car door they played a stirring rendition of Happy Birthday. And then they hugged me, laughing at my teary-eyed sentiment.

That evening I realized I no longer lie awake. I sleep easily and wake remembering my dreams, an unbroken line continuous and compelling as bagpipe music. And the grace note? Sometimes I dream I am dancing.

Copyright © 2008 by Laura Grace Weldon

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