Eleven Pipers – (day 11)


Helena Butters

“Knees together, McGreevy, you’re flashing your junk at the widow.”

“Piss off,” Tim McGreevy grumbled as he drew his legs together.  True to whispered rumor, he wore nothing beneath his kilt.  Presented with the appropriate audience, Tim would further clarify that he wore nothing “except lipstick” beneath his bagpiper uniform.  The old ladies gathered in the Fellowship Hall at Our Lady of Infinite Compassion were not such an audience.

Kevin Clancy had studied Tim closely – the way women would sidle up to him after performances and coyly ask if the rumors were true; the way Tim would deliver the lipstick line; the way the women’s mouths would open in mock horror as they playfully slapped his shoulder.  Kevin practiced delivering this line to the bathroom mirror each time he donned his kilt in case a woman inquired about his undergarments.  No one ever had.  It was just as well, anyhow, as Kevin always wore white cotton briefs under his kilt.

Kevin had been playing the bagpipes since the age of nine.  His mother, once married into the Clancy name, took on being Irish with formidable gusto.  The four generations separating her new husband from the Emerald Isle were no deterrent.  Kevin’s three sisters, Erin, Meghan, and Shannon, had all been required to take years of Irish dance.  Of the two pursuits, Kevin had to admit that playing the bagpipes was notably more profitable.  He’d played at weddings and church services for most of his early twenties before joining Erin’s Own Bagpipe Brigade two years ago.  Erin’s Own was a troupe of twelve bagpipers who marched in parades, performed at assorted St Patrick’s Day celebrations, and played Taps at the funerals of anyone who’d elected to honor their Irish heritage before passing on.

Today was one such day.  Nelson Grady had, at the age of 84, gone on to meet his maker and Erin’s Own was there to serenade the send-off.  Due to the unfortunate timing of Mr. Grady’s demise, Mitch Simmons was away in Daytona Beach on his honeymoon with his second wife, so there were only eleven pipers piping at the graveside service. 

Now, the service over, Tim, Kevin, and John Parker, the lead bagpiper of Erin’s Own, were sitting in the church Fellowship Hall drinking tea out of chipped china and avoiding the repeated offers of dried-out scones.  The three were waiting for the proper time to approach Nelson Grady’s widow about the matter of the outstanding balance on her late husband’s bill.  While Mr. Grady had planned the service ahead of time, payment was due when services were rendered.  As leader, John was the only one required to wait out the widow.  Tim was there because John was his ride home.  Kevin was there because he had nothing else to do.

The three men sat together in a corner of the Fellowship Hall, Tim and John sharing an old, green velvet, Queen Anne-style couch. Kevin was perched on a grey metal folding chair he’d dragged over from its previous position beside a card table.  Kevin wondered if they should be sitting at all, given that there weren’t enough chairs to go around and most of Nelson Grady’s surviving friends and family were on the later side of seventy.  Tim and John appeared to share no such guilt, so Kevin remained seated and kept his thoughts to himself.

“How much does she owe us?” Tim asked, breaking the silence.  Staring straight ahead, jaw slack; Tim was never good at hiding boredom or apathy.

“Two hundred,” John replied, without bothering to shift his gaze up from his empty teacup.  John’s desire to stay seated and avoid unnecessary contact with the pensioners outweighed his desire for more coffee.

“Couldn’t we just send her an invoice?” Kevin inquired, turning toward John.

“You never get the money if you don’t insist on payment day-of.  It’s nasty business trying to track down little old ladies and get them to cut you a check.”

“Perhaps we could just waive the fee?  I mean, she’s a widow,”

“Funerals are full of widows, Kevin,”

The three were silent again.  Tim began to slouch, forgetting again about his kilt.  Kevin offered to bring the group more coffee, but upon John and Tim’s rejection, changed his mind and stayed put.  His offer of gum was similarly refused. 

“So, are you going to go ask her for the money?” Tim asked John.

“Not yet,” John said, “It’s not the right time.”

“I’ll go ask her then.  It’s the right time for me,” Tim stated and began to rise from the couch.  John grabbed his arm.

“Sit down, you jerk.”  John snapped.  “You see all her friends up there talking to her?  They’re old, too.  Some are going to die soon.  You upset Mrs. Grady and we could lose out on several funerals.”

“I know someone who wouldn’t upset her…” Tim began, as he turned his head toward Kevin.  John slowly began to smile.

Kevin perked up with this newfound attention.

“Do you two want me to grab some more coffee?  Black, right, John?”  He asked eagerly.

“Screw the coffee, Kevin, we want you to ask the widow for the money.”  John explained.

“Me?” Kevin exclaimed in a near-squeak.  “But, John, I’ve never handled the money.  I’ve never done this before.”

“Kevin, relax.”  John responded, “It’s not that big of a deal.  Just go ask her how she plans to handle it.  You’re the perfect person – old ladies love you.”

Kevin thought about this for a moment.  It was true.  An Eagle Scout with infinite patience, Kevin’s manners and decorum were very much admired by the silver-haired set.

Kevin slowly rose from his metal chair and smoothed his kilt.  Staring blankly at the middle distance, he drew in a deep breath and exhaled methodically. 

He immediately sat back down.

“What’s her name?” Kevin asked anxiously.

“Ethel?” Tim offered, “Miriam?”

“I could call her ‘The Widow Grady’” Kevin posited.

“Yeah, if it was 1909, you nerd.” Tim jeered.

“Why does it matter?” John said.

“Well, I need to know what to call her…” Kevin trailed off.

“Just call her Mrs. Grady, Kevin,” John said slowly.  It was clear to Kevin that John’s patience was starting to wane.  He stood back up and started walking towards Mrs. Grady.

She was easy to spot – Mrs. Grady was the epicenter of the din in the Fellowship Hall, surrounded by a swarm of women eager to console and offer stories about Nelson.  All men are saints on the day of their funeral.

The loudest storyteller of the bunch was a tall, willowy woman in a blue wool day suit and matching hat. While muted by her somber expression, the cobalt blue ensemble was just barely on the correct side of sadness spectrum.  While Mrs. Grady was the woman of the hour, this woman clearly commanded attention.  She was recounting with gusto the time Nelson had come over to help her search for her beloved black cat who’d escaped through a tear in a window screen and was using his advantageous fur color to blend into the night.

“Nelson was still in his work clothes, but he had no hesitations about getting down on the ground to look under bushes and beneath the back porch.  I never would have found dear Misty without his help.” Blue Hat concluded.  Mrs. Grady smiled at the story, Nelson’s helpful demeanor being a comfort to remember.

“What a good man our Nelson was!” another woman exclaimed.

“A very good man,” Kevin added, a bit too brightly.  He felt the crowd’s attention shift from Mrs. Grady to him.

“I’m sorry,” said Blue Hat, “I don’t believe we’ve met.”

“I’m Kevin Clancy,” Kevin stated, “I played the bagpipes earlier”

“Yes, I see,” Blue Hat said slowly, eyeing his uniform up and down.  “Did you know Nelson?”

“Not… personally…” Kevin responded in a small voice.

“I see.” Blue Hat said, smug in her assurance that she was, once again, the leader of the bereaved.

Kevin felt the weight of the collective group silence.  He wished he’d brought his teacup with him so he’d have something to do with his hands as he stood there, shamed into silence by a group of grandmothers.  He set his gaze downward, examining his shoes.

A hand reached across the circle to gently touch his elbow.

“You boys did a wonderful job.  Nelson would have been so pleased.”

Kevin looked up to meet the eyes of Mrs. Grady.  The warmth of her smile transported him back to his grandmother’s kitchen, a haven where he spent many happy Saturday afternoons helping her bake and clean.  Kevin could easily imagine Mrs. Grady in a gingham apron, helping a small child stir cookie dough.

“Thank you, Mrs. Grady,” he said.

“Please,” she responded, “call me Cecilia,”

“Thank you, Cecilia,” Kevin corrected, “I’m so sorry for your loss.”

“Thank you, Kevin,” she responded kindly.

Kevin turned and walked back to the green couch where John and Tim sat awaiting his news about their payment.  As he drew closer, it was clear to both of them that Kevin was empty-handed.  While his failure to procure the funds wasn’t surprising, it was nonetheless annoying.  Kevin sensed their disappointment and spoke first, before they could inquire.

“She told me to go meet her grandson in the parking lot,” he began, “He’s just been to the bank and has cash for us.”

Kevin could see both faces relax into smiles at his success and was quick to turn toward the door to the parking lot before either man could begin to wonder why this phantom grandson was not coming back inside to his grandfather’s funeral.

Kevin’s pace quickened as he headed out toward the spot where he’d parked his white Ford Taurus.  While white wasn’t his first choice of color for a new car, his father had assured him that the light color was more visible when driving at night, thus reducing Kevin’s chance of being in an accident.  Kevin trusted his father implicitly.

Today especially, Kevin was thankful for his father’s advice.  Knowing early on that his son possessed little mechanical inclination, Mr. Clancy had always encouraged his son to keep an emergency kit in the trunk of his car.  This kit included a hat, gloves, and a thick wool blanket to ward off cold, flares to warn other drivers of his distress, and $250 cash to pay someone to tow his car to safety.  Kevin opened the trunk, pushed aside his bagpipe case, and reached for the kit.  He retrieved a manila envelope of cash and began counting out twenty-dollar bills.  Folding ten into his pocket, he turned back towards the church. 

Halfway through the parking lot, he stopped abruptly and rushed back to his car.  Pulling out the pen he always kept in the glove compartment, he wrote himself a quick note to replace the money in his emergency kit.  He slid the note into his other pocket, and rushed back into the Fellowship Hall.

“It’s all here!” Kevin announced triumphantly as he held the cash out to John for inspection.

“Nicely done, Kev!” Tim exclaimed, excited more for his liberation from Our Lady of Infinite Compassion than for Kevin’s success with bill collection.

“Awesome,” John echoed as he began to stand,  “Let’s get out of here.”

As they left the Hall, Kevin turned to John and Tim.

“Want to grab a beer somewhere?” he asked.

“Sure, if you’re paying,” Tim responded.

“Of course,” Kevin answered, eager for the company, “first round’s on me.”


6 Responses to “Eleven Pipers – (day 11)”

  1. Tony Noland

    You drew this guys go perfectly, I felt I knew him well. I also knew enough to really dislike Blue Hat.

  2. TEC4

    Poor Kevin! 🙂 Some people are just too nice for their own good.

  3. David Robinson - Freelance Writer & Novelist

    Mr nice guy :-). Well worth the read and what a great response from Kevin.

  4. Cecilia Dominic

    Hubby was a bagpiper and keeps threatening to take it up again. I wonder if Nelson and Ms. Blue Hat had a little somethin-somethin going on the side. As Tony said, you portrayed the POV character perfectly and sympathetically.


  5. Susan May James

    What a heart warming story! Nice to see Kevin had some morals when his lecherous chums did not, although I think I’d rather see him tell the others to back off rather than spud up the cash himself.
    Either way, I’m sure his money & karma will come back to him in spades.
    A lovely tale which really drew me in, well done Helena! (Like Cecilia I wondered if there wasn’t something between Nelson & Blue Hat!)

  6. Patti Larsen

    LOL as a musician and performer, I feel the pain of this story… ALWAYS get the money up front.

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