Last Thursday around 6 p.m. I was on the phone with someone, glanced at the clock, and said, "Oh sorry, I need to hang up. I have to go to color guard practice."
Now I'm fairly certain I haven't said those exact words in a very long time ... like, since I was 16. In fact, having said them Thursday I sort of felt like I was 16 again. Double-knotting the laces on my sneakers, grabbing my banner pole, and scooting out the door to get to Paddleford Park so I could line up with the other "girls" who are marching in Sherburne's Pageant of Bands on June 7.
When I got there Paddleford was teeming with people: squealing kids on the playground, folks milling around on the baseball field (small town life in full bloom on a beautiful spring evening), and a whole flock of females twirling rifles and flags who haven't been "girls" for more years than any of us care to count. I dropped into line with the other banners and we practiced our routine to the taped and tinny boom box sounds of Love Me Forever and Temptation. At first I was thinking, "I can't remember how to do this," even had a moment or two when I found myself out of step. Then, after about 15 minutes, it all came together. When we turned half-right and slammed our banners to the ground, it was in perfect unison. When we saluted the imaginary judges' stand, I could hear the crowds cheering in my head. I felt that chill, the zing up the arms of military discipline, the camaraderie of people who most of the year only bump into each other at the grocery store, but who every half decade come together to recreate, one more time, the thrill of that wonderful and beloved marching beast known as the Sherburne-Earlville Alumni Band and Color Guard.
The guard -- rifles and banners both -- have practices planned for every Thursday at 6 p.m. from now until Pageant of Bands. Why? Because just like when we were teenagers, we want to look sharp. We want to be on point. We want (still) to be the best.
I've written about the alumni band many times. Ten years ago I wrote the following, which for me still captures the feeling of getting out and performing to the still incredible and well-known S-E street beat. I thought I'd share it again here, because I think it says it all.
Among Life's Blessings - Sherburne-Earlville Alumni Band
Originally published May 2004
Recently, I found myself counting my blessings. I was on a plane on the way back to
from a business trip in New
York , where just a few weeks earlier
terrorist attacks had turned that city upside down. Needless to say, it
wasn't really on my top ten list of places to go, and I was glad to be coming
So I was counting my blessings because no terrorist had walked into my hotel with a bomb strapped to his chest and taken out the first six floors, and because another terrorist hadn't hijacked my airplane and drilled it into a high rise. The counting went on as the landing gear hit the runway, when I found myself saying "thanks for good health, good friends," and then, surprisingly, " . . . and thanks for getting me home safely so I can march one more time in the Pageant of Bands . . ." It's the truth. I actually thanked God for keeping me alive through this trip so I could get home to Sherburne and march.
Now this is pretty powerful stuff. We're talking about returning to a pastime from 30 years ago. Don't misunderstand, though . . . it isn't reliving band and color guard that I'm looking forward to, it's revisiting it, a subtle yet important difference. Some people turn away from the alumni band with the explanation "I have no interest in reliving high school." Believe me, neither do I. High school was fine, I'm glad I did it, and when I graduated I was extremely glad it was over. This isn't "Oh, wasn't the football game of '71 the best time of your life" kind of thinking. It's more about once having had something wonderful, like your first kiss, and wanting to experience it again; or maybe a better example is the feeling you get from certain scents . . . your grandfather's pipe tobacco, Lilies of the Valley in your back yard, your baby's first blanket . . . something that brings you back to a time when life was simple and your biggest worry was can I hit that note on the trumpet and not is somebody going to walk onto this airplane and blow it out of the sky.
I've written, with difficulty, about this feeling before, this alumni band "thing." It's a sensation that usually gels for me when I think about things people have said or done, both while we were marching as kids and since we've "revisited" it as adults. I remember the look on Sharon Monahan's face at the state fair in the early 1970s when the band and color guard took first place. From her vantage point she could see how straight the ranks were, and she was just beaming because she knew we were going to win. There were late night trips back from competitions when parents all over town stood on their front steps as the busses went by, cheering. There was Katie Hoefler, who said, after hearing us practice for the first alumni reunion, "We have our band back again!" and there is always the chill up the spine when hearing Jeff Funnell's street beat. There was Roy Balma and the Frank Millers and the Plonus girls and hours of time spent making us the best we could be. And there was and is Temptation, our signature song that every person who plays solo trumpet is wearied by and still the one that brings a lump to everybody's throat when they hear it.
But it was something I overheard Laura Keefe Fagan say that really struck me: at one of the early band reunions, she told someone she couldn't stay out late the Friday night before the pageant because she "had a performance the next day." Laura, you hit it right on the head. No matter what, we in the Sherburne-Earlville band and color guard always gave one hundred and ten percent. We always performed, whether as students, in an alumni setting, or otherwise, like we were competing. Mark Perrin remembers seeing an article in a high school marching band magazine in the mid-1970s that ranked the S-E band among the top ten in the country. In the country. Pretty impressive for such a small school, but then we were a willful bunch and weren't about to let anybody down -- the instructors, the parents, the audience, and least of all ourselves. The pride we felt, the sense of accomplishment, and (my apologies for saying this) the well-deserved arrogance at being that good, all of this combined to create an atmosphere, an aura, that's almost impossible to articulate. Those of us who keep coming back know what I'm talking about. It's like the first whiff of spring: you don't have to say anything, you just have to close your eyes and breathe it in.
No one really knows how many more times -- if any -- the alumni band and color guard will march. We all have busy lives, and many of us are gone -- of those I named here, Sharon Monahan, Roy Balma, Jeff Funnell, and the "old" Frank Miller. Our ranks ever shrink and, let's face it, the alumni band's days are numbered. I don't know how many people have signed up to march this year, I hope many. But either way I'll be there, with my little banner, breathing it all in. I'll stand on
Main Street when we
face the judges' stand, listening to the band play Love Me Forever and
Temptation one more time -- maybe for the last time -- and I'll think about Roy
and Sharon and Jeff and Old Frank. I'll be there for them, and I'll think
of them as I count my blessings . . . thanks for a good life, thanks for good
health, thanks for keeping me from getting blown up by a terrorist, and thanks
for giving me one more chance to come back to experience this band, and that
indescribable sensation of home.