The sky was exactly what would be expected for a festival that claims to celebrate the highlands of Scotland. Sunny one moment and dark grey and foreboding the next.
The weather didn’t deter the faithful though as people from all over Western PA and anyplace within reasonable driving distance headed out to the Ligonier Highland Games at Olde Idlewild Park.
The parking lot was full to overflowing (as proved by the brand new dent on the rear bumper of my car).
But the people were exactly as one would expect at a typical highland games: excited to hear the bands, see the lovely dancers, and smell the amazing foods waiting to be eaten.
If you’ve never been to a games but you suspect that you are even vaguely Scottish (twice removed on your Mother’s side for instance) you should seek one out. What I like about this game setting is the timing. Fall in Western PA reminds me a bit of summer in Western Scotland (all two weeks of it).
Moderate temperatures which makes wearing a kilt much nicer and the coolness in the air seems to help the pipes sound even more fantastic than they normally do.
You meander through the booths like a wild stream through the woods of Idlewild. The bumper stickers say it all: “If it isn’t Scottish, it’s CRAP”. The funny thing is, I always end up walking away a little more laden with stuff that isn’t crap in my knapsack. Well, it keeps the economy rolling along I suppose. I am sitting at the keyboard wearing my latest amnesia/Alzheimer’s present to myself. It’s a beautiful black polo shirt with the Clan Crest and my last name sewn on it in bright letters. I call it that because someday when my memory fades my wife can just dress me up in one of the many fine shirts I have bought over the years and if I am ever in doubt, I can merely look at the name for a quick reminder.
There is something for everyone… Shetland Ponies, dogs of every breed, color and size, pipe bands and solo pipers and wee lads and lassies dressed in their highland finest.
As I mentioned before, there is also a fine selection of foods. The Scottish are world renowned for their skillful cuisine that I am sure most countries would die for. Actually, most of what is served helps you along the way to the final resting place. Scotch Eggs, Bridies, Meat Pies, Haggis, Banger’s and Mash and a full assortment of American fried and grilled foods for the non-Scottish members of the family.
If it wasn’t for the never ending skirl of the pipes caused by the solo pipers practicing by a tree, you could probably hear the arteries of many of the patrons hardening as they swallow their treats. I will freely confess that it isn’t a good games for me without at least a tasting. Special note to the gentleman behind me: Texas hot sauce is not normally found at the Meat Pie tent. I’m sure its delightful but its not normally served.
The real delight for me though is the massed bands marching onto the field. The sound of well over a hundred pipers echoing off the nearby hills is amazing and takes you far away to another place and time. The staccato drumming and muffled beat of the big drums adds a crisp line of rhythm that keeps even the most excitable child in line if only for a short time. The well placed feet follow a practiced pattern and they come down the field in a way that reminds you of the bold army they once led. No wonder the enemy called them “The Ladies from Hell”.
Everyone is a family member or part of a larger “Clan” on days like today. The military men who served in Vietnam are all getting on in years now but still wear their caps with their kilts. The Navy boys form the Holy loch keep a keen eye out for a brother with Dolphins or Surface Warfare Pins on their khaki shirts. The Marines sport their own shirts and hats but you can tell them by their walk. They are American’s first, but are proud of the lineage that sets them apart as Scottish blooded warriors.
The Festival and Games are over for another year. Just ahead will be celebrations for Saint Andrews day in November. January brings Rabby Burns Birthday Celebrations and all the Haggis your heart can stand. Cold winter nights up north are just a reminder of the hardships our ancestors faced to help build this new land. But in the far reaches of the hollows and lanes, you can bet that somewhere, some young piper is practicing for the next season. Some athlete is dreaming of how he will get the next few feet from his throw. Some dancer meets in a practice hall and listens to hour after hour of the pipes learning how to control that critical step.
They will meet again in September of 2013 in the woods near Ligonier as their predecessors have for over 54 years. And all of us who love the history, mystery and revelry of Scotland will gladly join them there.
Will ye no come back again?
By the way, if anyone saw the guy who hit my car, send me a note to my private email. A kind soul wrote their license plate number on a napkin and the police think they know who did it, but it would be nice to have a witness. (It happened between 10:30 and 2:00 PM) Thanks