My nerd-dom was secured the summer before third grade. Huge round-framed glasses. Frizzy perm. Hot pink velour shorts and matching v-neck short-sleeved shirt.
Three things came together at the end of eighth grade to jeopardize that status: the hair grew out, I got contacts, and I practiced baton twirling for a hundred hours to try out for the majorette line in band.
I was not a coordinated child. Hell, I’m not a coordinated grown-up. I definitely wasn’t graceful or poised. Even my mother would point out how clunky and stilted my marching looked, and she really loved me. Somehow the majorette judges saw past the exterior and allowed me in. (Which is lucky – I couldn’t personally see a thing during tryouts as I’d removed my glasses to look less geeky.)
One of our annual parades was the Strawberry Festival in a nearby town. Previously I marched in the back of the band in the woodwind section. The only view I ever saw was the musician in front of me.
But now… for one lone year of my musical career… I had an open panorama at the front of the corps. No furry wool helmet to obscure my vision or give me hat-hair. No one in front of me to step in a puddle and unexpectedly splash my uniform. But I was expected to smile constantly.
We wore uncomfortably tight matching suntan pantyhose under tall white polished boots with white shorts that needed to be ironed every time. We bobby-pinned white tams to our hairsprayed coiffes at precisely the same angle. And we all wore the same color lipstick. (My previous idea of makeup was a tube of flavored chapstick purchased from a friend’s mom’s Avon business.
Alas, being a majorette did not make me popular. And it did not make me less introverted.
But it gave me a little bit of confidence, and an opportunity to work hard at something which didn’t come easy for me. It also gave me insight into a different breed of humans – those I thought pre-ordained for greatness as selected by the Popularity Gods of junior high.
In tenth grade I happily returned to my spot in the back of the band. This time my view was white tube socks peeking out under black uniform pants above black dress shoes. Fashion faux pas, but someone seemed to forget at each parade and football game. Sometimes it was me.
If the pants weren’t ironed, no one noticed.
We missed notes in the back. And sometimes we even faked playing for short periods when the sun beat down on heavy wool uniforms. To conserve energy to keep marching we took turns saving each other.
This would not have been acceptable up front.
Those in the lead bear the responsibility to be “on” all the time. They set the pace, and take the blame when it’s too slow or too fast. Their minuscule gaffes are broadcast and dissected.
And the world expects them to serve it up with a smile.
I remember plenty of Strawberry Festivals, but only one with a view. From the distance of 30 years the most memorable part was bus rides dominated by bawdy drumline chants. But I remember the abject terror of baton toss-turns with utter clarity.
And now I relish every moment of life when someone else chooses to take the lead.
1987-88 Band Camp
(I’m 4th row, 3rd from left)
The illustrious history of: Elkins High School Fighting Tigers Marching Band.