Erin Go Bragh and Pass The Green Salsa

There are not too many places on earth where the sound of bagpipes mixes with the roar of low riders and smell of fresh tortillas.

My neighborhood was one of those places.

We lived across the street from Bel Air high school stadium in El Paso, Texas. El Paso is a border town, ninety percent Hispanic (in our neighborhood, it was closer to 98%), making the high school's choice of the Highland er as a mascot so bizarre; I can't quite fathom how it could ever have occurred. Did a rogue Scott take over the school board at an opportune moment? Were the distant mountains an inspiration of "high land"? Were darts involved?

Whatever the reason, the Highlanders had become a formidable football team, and at every game, in addition to the huge marching band, were a dozen bagpipes in full regalia. A dedicated and gifted band director (what else would you call a guy who could teach Sousa AND Irish battle songs?) held practice for the bagpipers at six in the morning. Since there is no volume control on a bagpipe, no one learns this instrument indoors.

On the cool desert mornings every fall, the bagpipe division of girls (because in those days no Hispanic boy would be caught DEAD in a kilt) would fill their plaid bags with air and the cry of the bagpipes would climb above the desert floor. The sound would bounce off the concrete stadium and enter with full intensity into my bedroom.

I'd feel the strain of the notes; at first interrupted so often that it was more like a chorus of demented car horns than music. But slowly the band director would coax the songs free from the breath of the girls who'd listen to rock music on the way home from school, cruising in low and slow Chevys and Fords.

I'd wake up from my confused dreams, trying to figure out why in my sleep I was bounding through rolling green hills when I lived my waking life amid yucca and sand. The bagpipes would pull a yearning from me for a place I'd never seen, yet who's music slipped into my childhood like a lost leprechaun wandering into a circle of mariachis.

In a few days I'll be scrambling for green shirts and hats for my kids. I wonder about the bagpipe band alumni. Are those bagpipers now mommies with little leprechauns of their own? Do they have the same misplaced sense of nostalgia every St. Patrick's Day? Do they tell their children about the days with the warm bag at their side, the pipes in their fingers? Are there bagpipes tucked into the attic, waiting for the next generation of players?

Do they secretly consider themselves descendants of a lost tribe of Celtic warrior princesses?

Okay, that was probably just me.

So this St. Patty's Day we'll wear green bowler hats complete with shiny foil shamrock and reminisce about the days of bagpipes and yucca plants. Erin Go Bragh and pass the green salsa!