I warned you right up front that this memoir was going to have its R or even X-rated moments. This is one of them. If you’re easily offended, cover your eyes…
Back to Bobby Huffman and his trick with the Sears and Roebuck catalogue. This was pretty nifty. He would take a piece of tracing paper, or any sort of thin paper, lay it over a picture of a woman in the underwear section of the catalogue and trace the outlines of the model’s body and face. He would carefully draw nipples on the breasts then heavily pencil in the area between the model’s legs. When he removed the paper from over the catalogue, he had a nice drawing of a naked woman.
Here’s the way the conversation went when he showed me this trick.
(Bobby does the tracing then holds the resulting drawing up for me to see…)
Me: “That’s pretty good.” (Pointing to what Bobby has heavily penciled in.) “What’s that?”
Bobby: “That’s her bush.” (Long silence.)
Me: “What’s a bush?”
Bobby: (Looking at me as if I’m a child. Which I am.) “It’s hair. All women have hair between their legs.”
Me: ! ! ! !
What I have been trying to get around to with this talking about the Sears catalogue is… that when my parents bought anything, including musical instruments, that’s where they went, the catalogue, even though this probably did not ensure the finest quality. But it was a piccolo, and I was in the fourth grade; how good did it have to be anyway?
So I became a piccolo player. I’m sure my father was mystified. As I mentioned earlier, he had been a trumpet player in high school and had regaled us with stories from his experiences in the band. One memorable story was when his high school band marched down the street and came to a bridge, the marchers would deliberately beak step so that everyone was simply walking. The reason? If the band members stayed in step, the resonance of the synchronized marching feet would cause the BRIDGE TO FALL DOWN! Once again, the sheer power of the marching band was revealed to me. I knew that someday I would participate in this godlike magnificence.
I never actually practiced my instrument much because I hated practicing, and I never really had to. All my life I’ve had an affinity for musical instruments; you can hand me pretty much anything and after a bit I’m able to play the first few bars of Beethoven’s Ode to Joy, which really isn’t all that hard. Besides, in those early years, everyone around me in grade school and junior high who was honking into and sawing away at an instrument was pretty terrible. Most of them would give up before they got to high school.
After the first month of high school band practice, I was no longer getting kicked in the ass very often. I had memorized all the marches and didn’t need to look at the music, though there was still plenty to learn about marching, in particular the sort of strict military formations and complicated maneuvers – drills — that we performed. We learned at least the rudiments of ten different drills, any one of which would be performed at half time during the Friday night football season, either at home or away in other towns around West Virginia. Some drills were fairly simple, and some were diabolically difficult. There was one, called Providence, that halfway through the band would split up in four cadres, march out to the far corners of the football field then come back into the center with all four units meeting head on and flowing through the ranks like water through a riverbed of rocks, hopefully to exit out of the X structure unscathed. All while staying in perfect step, with all lines perfectly straight while playing a march and keeping an eye on everything going on around you and planning for the next turn, about-face or wheel that would be coming up. The first twenty or thirty times through this maneuver resulted in absolute mayhem in the center as someone inevitably missed a mark and ran into another oncoming player which avalanched into the entire band slamming into someone else. We were told it was named Providence because if you escaped the center alive you thanked providence.
There were technical aspects to marching that we repeated over and over until they were ingrained in us. To this day, 55 years later, I sometimes catch myself adjusting my step so I will be in synch with the person walking next to me. If you get kicked in the ass enough, some things become part of what Mark Twain used to call your “permancies.”
Our band employed a 22-inch march step, eight steps to every five yards. Years later this would be extended by most bands to a 30-inch step, five steps to five yards. Today military bands are mostly a thing of the past; the fashion has become step length that varies with whatever tune is being played, dance moves embedded in routines that are certainly not drills, but masses of performers going through elaborate show routines that are as far from military style as you could get. If we had seen one of these performances in our day, we would have been unable to even comprehend what these bands were doing. This type of marching has become ubiquitous and is based on the show bands that evolved out of the historical black colleges and universities. A great example of this style is showcased in the movie Drumline, a wonderful little film with a predictable but affecting storyline. The dance moves and music of the bands in the movie is modern, but anyone with old-time experience in a military band will recognize the rigorous, competitive, physical traditions that have been passed down from my day to today. People are still getting their ass kicked, or some version of hazing, in the quest to be the best, even if it’s a best that would cause our old, fingernail-cleaning leader Frank, to spin in his grave.
Somewhere along the line, in the eighth grade, I bought a flute, or rather my parents ordered me a flute out of the Sears catalogue. It was an instrument that several years later Frank would sneer at and insist that I should tell my parents that I needed a real instrument purchased from the music store in town. You’d think that my Sears and Roebuck flute had been made by the John Deere tractor people in their off hours. Now that I think about it, I bet Frank received a kickback on all the business that was sent to the music store, which was called Deitz Music as I remember. Though maybe Frank was right, maybe a Sears and Roebuck flute was like a Sears and Roebuck sport coat, slightly off. Not that I could tell any difference.
The music store in downtown Parkersburg was a great place. Oddly enough, it always reminded me of the old-time grocery and sundry stores near wherever my grandmother lived at the time, in the country. Her houses were small houses that I remember as big houses, on dirt roads, no indoor plumbing, just an outhouse that always stank and sometimes, harbored big blacksnakes. A six-foot blacksnake was always a surprise when you had to go and opened the door to the privy and found one curled up on the wooden seat.
I guess this is as good a time as any to talk about my grandma. This will take awhile.
Grandma was terrified of snakes…