Some things just don’t mix well . . . gasoline and a lighted match, 7th-graders
and Super Glue, high winds and a Scottish kilt.
Every time St. Patrick’s Day nears I cringe a bit remembering the days when I
used to spend the great Irish holiday with my fellow bagpipers of the Ansar Shrine
in Springfield. We’d put on our kilts, tune up our pipes, then hit as many bars as we
could in a single night in the state capitol. The routine was always the same: one of
our group when throw open the door and the bagpipes would come screaming their
way into the packed group of tipsy Irishmen. We’d play a couple of numbers and the
bar owner would give us a check for the St. Louis Children’s Hospital.
In all the years I tooted with the Shriners no one ever thought to mention
that the highland pipes are Scottish and not Irish. I guess that after enough green
beer you’d applaud for a German polka band. But God bless the Irish, they were
always generous with their donations.
It was a long, long night and the clock had long said farewell to Midnight by
the time I arrived home. While the Irish were thanking God for the Emerald Isle, I
was thanking the Almighty that St. Patrick’s Day came but once a year. From 10 p.m.
on all I could think about was the long drive back to Arenzville then rising early to
teach at Triopia the next morning.
In case you hadn’t heard, March is one of the windiest months of the year,
which bring me to the composition and weight of a Highland kilt. My fearless band
of bagpipers has one hard and fast rule: everything must come from Scotland. Your
bagpipes, your dirk, your kilt, sporran and plaid must all be imported from the land
of whiskey and haggis. Some guys went so far as to order socks and underwear from
Scotland. I compromised, figuring that if it couldn’t be seen then it doesn’t count.
Which leads me to the high winds again. A man’s Scottish kilt consists of nine yards
of woolen weave. Not eight. Not ten. Nine yards. None of us were nine yards around
but the original kilts were designed to also serve as blankets when you were out
fighting the British or your bonny wife had kicked you out of the house.
This means that the kilt makes at least a couple of laps around your waist,
depending upon whether you have a lap under your waist. Add this bulk to the sheer weight of pure wool and you have a garment that can withstand a moderately
wicked breeze, but sometimes March brings gusts that tip the needle over the scale
and flips your kilt toward Edinburgh.
I don’t know much about aerodynamics, but there’s something about a door .
. . a tavern door at least . . . that funnels the wind into a sort of whoosh chamber. On
more than one occasion the inhabitants of a Springfield bar would hear the stirring
whirl of the bagpipe drones, the front door would blast open, and the sounds of
Scotland the Brave would drown out the jukebox. And if there was a mighty wind,
the Irish were treated to a sight that would surely cause St. Patrick to drop to his
knees in prayer.
Which causes the age-old question to rear it’s head, or in this case, tail. What
does a Scotsman wear under his kilts? The standard answers are, “Shoes and socks!”
and one of our group would always embarrass us by shouting, “Nothing is worn!
Everything’s in perfect working order!” The actual term is “going regimental.” When
you go regimental there’s nothing in the world between your kilt and your . . . well. ..
your pride. The hardier and more “authentic” members of our group did this. I did
not. In fact, I wore two pair of shorts lest I lost one. But for those who felt no qualms
about displaying the Pride of Scotland, it was a cold night indeed and they caused
the ladies in the tavern to cheer with more than customary enthusiasm.
Side note: one of the more extravagant displays of Scottish pride came one
night in Jacksonville where we were schedule to play at the K.C. Hall then travel
across town to do a parade. It takes a bit of time to pack then reassemble a set of
bagpipes so we all hopped into the back of a fellow’s pickup truck. No one who
witnessed the sight of eight men in kilts with their butts hung over the side of a Ford
going down Morton Avenue with their nine yards of wool flapping in the wind will
soon forget that day. There were regimentals among us. It was like Cruise Night in a
So . . . a happy St. Patrick’s Day to all of you, Irish or not. I may see you in one
of the hot spots around town . . . unless it’s windy