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The Journey of a Piper

From 9/11 to St. Patrick’s Day

Among the lives changed September 11, 2001 were my Southern Maryland family’s. Our change was for the better.
    “How would you feel if I learned how to play the bagpipes?”
    My firefighter husband Bill had never picked up a musical instrument in his life — and he’s starting with the bagpipes?
    I blame it on New York. The city fire department has one of the largest and most active pipe and drum bands in the nation. After September 11, the band played at 343 fire fighter funerals in an exhausting show of support for the men and women who lost their lives. After 9/11, the D.C. Fire Department had both a passion to start its own and a leader to teach them.
    Mark O’Donnell, a grade-one piper, had the courage — or possibly foolishness — to take a group of firefighters with lots of passion but very little musical talent and form them into a band.
    Even when played by a professional, the bagpipes can be hard on the ears in close quarters. When played by an enthusiastic amateur? Our dog would hide under the bed when the case came out.
    Gradually, however, two amazing changes came. The band was good. Not award winning, but they cut an impressive picture marching down the street in their first St. Patrick’s Day Parade, kilts swinging.
    More importantly, we became a family. The life of a fire fighter’s wife and children is understood only by others like us: the crazy schedule, the hidden fear every time they walk out the door to work. We understood each other. We were a family who found each other. We have traveled together, vacationed together, celebrated marriages and births. If you are at Lake Anna, Virginia, in summer and hear bagpipes echoing across the water, it is merely practice time for the band. Stop by and enjoy the music.
    Wave when you see the D.C. Fire Department Emerald Society Pipes and Drums marching down Constitution Avenue at the annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade. Wave at both the active and retired firefighters in our band and at their families cheering on the sidelines.
    Just don’t expect to see our dog. He is still not a fan.

Washington, D.C. St. Patrick’s Day Parade: Su March 15 noon-3pm.