The first house that we owned was in Beaconsfield, a suburb of Montreal. We moved in on Christmas Eve, many years ago,, and on Christmas Day the doorbell rang, and when we opened the door there was a very small bundle of white fur; an 8 week old Samoyed that my wife thought should join our household. We named her “Inja” and that began a longtime love affair with Sammy’s, the subject of another blog.
The couple that lived next to us was a retired couple that had immigrated to Canada from Scotland in the mid 60’s. Jim and Wyn Dobbie were great neighbours. Their brogue was still quite strong, and it did take a while before I could easily understand them. Jim had the only snowblower on the street, and on winter mornings he’d clear his driveway, and then help out with the others on the street; as long as you had made an effort to do it yourself, first. If he saw you out shoveling, he’d come and help you finish it. If he didn’t see you doing it, you were out of luck. Being older, and perhaps wiser, I realize what a good strategy this was.
Over the course of time, we had another Sammy, Kodey, join our family, and slowly built up the relationships with the neighbours on the street. This wasn’t all that easy. Years later we were still considered “the new people”. And it turned out that Jim didn’t really like dawgs. He never came out and said som, but he’d have a very disapproving look on his face whenever he saw them.
Jim was a piper, and he played for the Black Watch. He also gave lessons, which typically sent our dawgs scurrying for someplace to hide; listening to students learn bagpipes is not enjoyable. But often, at night, Jim would be in the basement practicing, and we’d have the two dawgs begging to go outside and listen. They’d sit on a small hill that gave them a good view of the Dobbie house, and just listen. When he’d finish, they’d ask to come in. It never mattered how hot or cold it was, if Jim was playing, they’d stay out. And on many occasions, I’d be out there with them, enjoying the music.
I mentioned this to Jim once, and he responded with “So ye think my playing is for the dogs, do ye?” and he walked off.
In our second year living there we started to host an annual New Year’s Eve party, and over time, it became an event that everyone on the street looked forward to. About our third year there, we asked Jim if he would pipe in the New Year for us. Jim was a bit reluctant, but Wyn told him to just get his pipes and do it. He brought them in, and set himself up to play, and at the first sounds coming out of the pipes, our two dawgs went tearing up towards Jim. You could see he was nervous, Kodey was a very big dawg, weighing about 120 pounds, and Jim wasn’t sure what their intentions were. But they stopped just in front of Jim, plunked themselves down and watched him. Jim started playing, marching back and forth, and the dawgs heads moving back and forth with him, with big Sammy smiles on their faces.
From that day forward, nobody could say anything bad about our two dawgs. One Saturday, a bunch of us were outside and the dawgs were out back, barking at a squirrel, and someone mentioned that they were making noise. Jim turned immediately and said “I’ll nae hear you saying anything bad about those dogs!”
Now, years later, one of the regrets I have is that I don’t have any recordings of Jim playing the pipes. I often think about the “concerts” we had, where the sound of the pipes would be perfectly clear and I’d be sitting outside with the dawgs, just listening.
When I was at the Black Watch Armory a month or so back, I picked up a copy of the 150th Anniversary CD. Cal Kufta, the archivist at the Black Watch Regimental Museum wasn’t about to say that Jim was one of the pipers on the CD, but he didn’t rule it out either. So I’ll choose to believe that he is, and in the evenings I’ll up on the couch with our current generation of Samoyeds and listen to “Jim” play.