By Larry Scott
The traditional gift for a 50th anniversary is gold, but when our parents hit that milestone my sister Jean and I gave them something completely different: a purple bagpipe. We sent away for a half-size beginner’s model, which came with a predominantly red Stewart tartan bag cover.
My wife scoured the local fabric shops, found a plaid that featured quite a bit of purple, and after some needlework we had what we were looking for, a working bagpipe that was undeniably purple.
Our family tradition of the purple bagpipe began when my sister and I were in elementary school. At breakfast on a school day morning in which the level of chaos had, so far, stayed within the normal range, my sister or I would say, “Oh Mom, I forgot to tell you I am supposed to bring something to school today.”
At that point my mother would grit her teeth and ask what it was this time. The answer could range anywhere from something easy like a dozen paper plates on up through a batch of cookies or a papier-mache volcano, preferably oozing something that looked like lava.
As she valiantly tried to slap together something that might pass muster at school, Mom would take Jean or me through a familiar line of interrogation, asking how long we had known about this and why in heaven’s name had we waited until the last minute to mention it.
On one such occasion, I think it was the volcano, she threw up her hands and said, “You might as well ask me to find you a purple bagpipe!”
And so “purple bagpipe” entered the family lexicon as shorthand for any request made with woefully insufficient lead time.
We celebrated my parents’ 50th in my mother’s hometown, where they were married during World War II. After dinner at the same restaurant where their reception had been, we gathered with relatives for cake, ice cream and presents. As my mother began opening our present, my sister and I went into our rehearsed dialogue:
“We had something special picked out for you,” I began, “but I thought Jean was going to order it …” My sister cut in with “and I was sure Larry said he was going to take care of it.”
“And so when Jean flew in yesterday and we realized what had happened, we rushed all over town last night but …” I continued.
“There just wasn’t enough time, so we had to settle for this,” Jean concluded.
“What is it, a purple bagpipe?” asked Dad. Then Mom pulled aside the last of the tissue paper and held it up like you might imagine a crusader would raise the holy grail. The assembled relatives smiled politely but probably wondered why our parents were laughing so hard.
This family tradition survived to the next generation.
At breakfast on a school day, one of our kids would reach deep into the layers of detritus in their backpacks and fish out a week-old reminder to ask their parents for something (kibble for the class hamster, a smock for art class, a model of an Iroquois longhouse made from twigs and bark …) to bring to school the next week. And then I would ask if they wouldn’t rather have a purple bagpipe.
I don’t think my wife and I will make it to our 50th anniversary with all our marbles, but we have a good shot at 40. So if our kids are reading this, your Aunt Jean has the bagpipe, but be sure to wait until the day of the party to ask her for it.