“What do you miss?” my husband asks me again, pulling the picnic basket out of the trunk.
“I miss the regular fundraiser,” I say out loud.
He comes back and sits next to me on the old wrought iron bench.
“I know, me too,” he says, pouring a dram of Scotch for us both to share.
Normally, the Scottish-themed Bagpipes and Bonfire Open Lands fundraiser is held in a big field with crowds of people participating in games, drinking, and eating picnic dinners on blankets with their families.
Reminiscing, my husband replies, “I miss hearing the bagpipers.”
The evening closes with a special tradition to honor the land and ancestors. A band of bagpipers encircles a large pile of brush that’s lit with a torch, creating a bonfire as the pipers solemnly play a haunting melody, evoking memories of those who are gone.
But this year is different, participants are asked to pick up a prepared dinner and eat in small groups. Or in our case, by ourselves.
“This is so wierd!” I say sipping the scotch.
“This whole year is weird. Eerie weird.” my husband responds.
“I know, not only are we isolated, but there’s another feeling, this sense of… waiting… for it to be over.”
“We’re in a state of limbo,” he adds.
“Yes!” and it pops into my head, “Kind of like a bardo,” I wonder out loud.
“What’s a bardo?” he asks.
It’s like limbo, a place of transition after you’ve died and before you enter your final afterlife,” I begin, “I read a book about President Lincoln’s son, Willie. The story is made up but describes how after Willie dies, he’s laid to rest in a tomb in the cemetery. These quirky ghost characters visit him and together they travel through different dimensions, helping him reach his final destination of afterlife.”
My husband nods, “I can see why you’d think this is like a Bar-”
He’s interrupted by an SUV circling the rotunda too quickly, abruptly stopping a few feet away from us.
A gentleman with gray hair dressed in smart linen, spills out of the driver’s seat with a grin on his face. He looks surprised to see us, sitting on a bench eating a picnic dinner in the middle of a cemetary.
“This is an interesting place to tailgate,” he says.
“We’re here a little early,” I say.
He responds with a look of confusion.
“We’re waiting for the bagpiper,” I continue.
“Bagpipers? They have bagpipers at the cemetery now?” he says jokingly.
He has no idea what I’m talking about.
“I heard about this,” his companion says, coming around to join him. She has short spiky hair and carries herself with an exaggerated step as if she’s on stage. She holds a travel mug in her left hand. “Because of CoVid, bagpipers are playing simultaneously at different locations all over town, at the train station, the beach, here at the cemetery… to kind of break up the crowd. Right?” she says.
“Yes, that’s right,” I respond, realizing how odd we must appear to them, picnicing in a cemetery at 6:00 on a Saturday night.
“I’m at home in cemeteries,” she says to me in a soft voice.
I’m feeling the effects of the scotch and notice the ice swish in her tumbler. I admire the length of her nails. All that’s missing is a Virginia Slim between her fingers. I grin and slightly lean forward, encouraging her to continue.
“Do you know a lot about them? Cemeteries?” I ask.
With a slight hiccup she begins, “I used to give guided tours at Graceland Cemetery on the north side of the city,” she says. Her wispy shirt becomes wing-like as her arms bend at the elbows.
“Anyone who was anyone is buried there.” Her gaze looks across the lawn and my eyes follow, wondering what she sees.
“It’s one of the coolest cemeteries in the world,” her face draws back to mine.
“If you’re into that sort of thing.” she says. “You should visit sometime.”
Is she for real? Her suggestion is intriguing. You wouldn’t have to worry about it being crowded. How very 2020.
The gentleman has wandered off and we hear him call, “Found her!”
She prances over to where he is standing. Looking down he says, “This is my mom, and here are her two cats. Right alongside her.”
My husband and I are motionless, staring straight ahead. No need to say a word, we know what the other is thinking.
This night has picked up speed, and I’m enjoying the entertainment from our new companions.
“Do you folks live here in town?” the man asks, returning to the car.
“No,” I respond casually, finishing my scotch. “My parents are buried here. Although,” I ponder, “we can’t find them, I think they moved without telling us.”
They like my joke and burst out laughing. They’re energy is magnetic.
“Have a good evening, enjoy the bagpiper,” he says, getting back in the car. Their car swings around and his companion looks at us through her window. She places both thumbs next to her ears and sticks her tongue out at us. In a swinging motion, she flaps her hands up and down. A child’s prank, as if she’s playing a game and wants us to follow.
“What a bunch of hoots,” my husband says.
Did that just happen? Did we run into two toasty locals or were they really ghosts? Making a stop as they travel through their bardo?
“What a weird night,” I jokingly reply.
“What a weird year,” he adds.
“2020 has been hard to get used to,” I say.
“It’s a year we’ll never forget.”
“No,” I respond, looking after the fading car, “Let’s pack up and go find the bagpiper,” silently wishing, instead, for the local’s to return.
The bagpiper is so 2019. Our hooty companions, so 2020.
I look up in the tree, almost expecting them to be sitting on a limb. Smiling at us. I would invite them down. So I could pour them both, a dram of Scotch.
Joannie Foley is a passionate home cook who writes about her life on the-nourished-life.blog