My brother played the bagpipes with The Prince Charles Pipe Band. He walked Ring Mountain playing his pipes at sunset, as if he belonged in Scotland. Neighbors remind me of his haunting silhouette during those years. Since he didn’t live to be an adult, bagpipes remain for me as a symbol of love and strength and loss.
I received a postcard addressed to my dead brother yesterday after forty-five years, because the Prince Charles Pipe Band is having a reunion concert in October. My dead mother received a postcard, too, and she’s been gone for eleven years. So much for updated mailing lists.
Receiving my brother’s card made me remember forty-five years ago, when he would have loved to be invited to play in the anniversary show. I don’t know if anyone from those days is even around. He instantly died from electrocution because he was sixteen and climbed a high power pole to knock down an insulator. My mother and I grieved by joining the band’s families, as groupies for the Prince Charles Pipe Band’s first Scottish competition in 1972. We followed the band with their families to various competitions for two weeks. It helped heal the loss of my brother, to be with musicians and listen to them play what he loved, as we let him go.
My brother was one of the first street musicians to play for tourists at San Francisco’s Fisherman’s wharf before he died. He dressed up in his kilt and hitchhiked over to play for people. I thought he was very brave to hitchhike into San Francisco and play bagpipes for spare change. I didn’t hear or watch those times, but he told me stories about what it was like to be one of the only musicians on the streets in 1971.
After he died, my mother and I also went back East to Virginia and New York, because my mother needed to see where she grew up. We were downtown NYC on Broadway when “Amazing Grace,” the bagpipe hit, came out. It blasted into the city street. We stopped right in the street and grabbed each other, sobbing from loss and sorrow.
Bagpipes can do that to me. The ancient whine stops my breath, and makes me feel like crying. Sometimes I do cry. I love and miss my brother.
I wish the Prince Charles Pipe Band a fabulous October half-century reunion, and bless them, but I’m not attending.