In the late summer of 2018, we were contacted by a gentleman who worked at the Filed Museum, looking for a bagpiper to play for his recently deceased mother. We played phone tag a couple of times and finally got into touch. He did not know exactly what he was looking for for the service, except that there was “to be no ‘Amazing Grace’ or ‘Going Home’ or any other such sad tunes.” He had no follow-up information; clearly this was a request made by his now deceased mother.
Later, in speaking with the son, I learned of the adventurous, and strong woman his mother was. When she was young, I learned, she was a flight attendant in the earliest years of the commercial airliner business. Travelling through that occupation emboldened her to travel outside of it, and enabled the possibility financially. She used the opportunity well, and traveled all throughout Europe in a time when women were rarely seen alone in public. After marrying, as was the way at the time, she took care of her two sons, apparently finding great joy in motherhood as well. When her husband died in his 60’s, she again took to traveling. Her favorite place was Edinburgh, Scotland, where she saw the Edinburgh Military Tattoo numerous times. When her body began to fail, she not only remained lucid, but vibrant. A newspaper article clipped from the Chicago Tribune, which I read at the back of the church while waiting to play, quoted an interview in which she appears to have be the ringleader encouraging her cohorts at the home to participate in a study examining the lives and habits of well-aged minds. Truly, this was a remarkable and charismatic spark.
To play celebratory tunes in lieu of the typical dirge flies in the face of tradition in some ways, but appeared to be no surprise to attendees of the service. I played up-tempo marches as I walked up the right side of the Episcopal Church in Libertyville, IL, then down the center aisle, leading the casket through the narthex, out the vestibule, down onto the sidewalk, and to, and into the hearse. As I stood adjacent the hearse, playing as people hugged, and reminisced, or stood alone, I looked at their faces. Many were crying, as it natural. But almost all smiled. Probably her, too.