Polio had left him a garbled mess, wheelchair-borne, twisted and gnarled. But those ropy hands pushed faders, gain controls, EQ settings, among other things for a band I toured with in the mid-eighties, wait for it…Sonshine. Yup. No metaphor here. Just git ‘r done with classic cheesie Christianeasy. We spent most weekends traveling among the tiny wheat and cattle, grain elevator towns that dot the Alberta prairies. A dozen songs, a thousand laughs, and one almighty potluck at a time, Gerry guided us, gear and all, to wherever was next. He and his wife, Rose, hosted my fiancee and I for dinner, fellowship, Bible study, and prayer once a week. As is my pattern in everything I took copious notes, which I have to this day. I lost touch with Gerry many years ago.
I could use his voice these days.
1979. Halifax, Nova Scotia. I was on tour with Clan MacBain Pipe Band of Calgary. I’d been the youngest member in the band’s history, taking my place among the ranks at age twelve. My stage-parents, ever eager to secure my quickly expanding horizons, thought it a fine idea to let a twelve year old kid who looked nineteen sit among hardened whiskey ‘n beer maniacs in places too dark to see clearly the shenanigans of such ne’er do wells. Although unwise for personal reasons, it was one of the best opportunities afforded this pre-teen bagpiper for, on this particular day (I was then sixteen) I participated with the massed pipes and drums put in place to appropriately welcome Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother as she presented the colors to Canada’s Maritime Command. She later opened the International Gathering of the Clans of which our less than stellar collective proudly represented the MacBain Clan. I was barely sober enough to remember.
But I was there.
Later that same year I was on staff as bagpipe instructor for the Fort San Summer School of the Arts in Fort Qu’Appelle, Saskatchewan. The Fort as it is called is the closest thing Saskatchewan might boast as a “resort” village. It was my seventh consecutive summer at the camp and my second as instructor, the youngest they’d ever had (illegally so, since I was too young to receive a “salary”). What made this year so unique was that I had the honor to sit under the tutelage of one of the greatest bagpipers in history, the late Donald MacLeod, M.B.E. It was like taking voice lessons from Freddy Mercury but someone half his height and twice his age. A two pack a day guy and hard drinker, Donald was also a man of genteel demeanor and humble affectation, despite his cosmic reputation among highland bagpipers. To sit in the audience and listen to this little giant perform for us was akin to sitting on Santa’s lap as a kid.
But with much deeper rewards.
Even before we’d been married a year, my wife Rae and I spent a few months living and working among a hearty and devoted group of Scottish Baptists in Edinburgh, Scotland. The year was 1989. We had barely managed to figure out how to live together under one roof let alone successfully navigate the complexities of hormone-crazed teenagers beside a large body of water. For, on this cool, blustery afternoon we decided it would be fun to be outside rather than stuffed in our flat. A couple of suburban Calgary kids who grew up in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains were no match for the beloved hooligans now under our charge. Things fell apart quickly as a deplorable lack of communication between Rae and I regarding game rules left us shouting “fuck you” at each other. So, while half of them refused to follow the confusing rules of a made up game, the other half were tossing each other into the ocean. What started as a delightful Baptist youth event quickly became a free for all wet t-shirt contest. Bouts of seawater-induced lung infections, allegations of inappropriate boy-girl interactions, and numerous angry phone calls later and…lesson learned.
I’d do it again in a heartbeat.