"Are we men and women or are we mice?" Paul D. Cooper yelled from the front of the school bus. We looked out the windows at the rain that was streaming down upon the blacktop. A flash or two of lightning lit the sky and thunder rumbled and shook the bus windows.
I was a member of the Hinton High School Blackhawk Marching Band and it was parade day in Orange City, Iowa. We were ready to march in the annual Tulip Festival. The streets had just been swept by young girls wearing brightly colored Dutch clothing and they handled the long-handled brooms with aplomb.
It is and has been parade time across the countryside. My present Pine River community will be hosting its annual Summerfest parade on Saturday. There have been numerous parades in the area over the past few weeks and they will continue until Labor Day when the parade snare drums will be retired for another year.
Although my community does not have a marching band any longer, other communities have watched as their marching bands have provided that extra boost to their festivities. I'm always in hopes that our local school will revive the marching band somehow, but I know it is an effort and as always, money.
I was a part of such a band during my high school years. We would wake up the Hinton residents with our 6 a.m. practices on the side streets of the community. There must be nothing quite like being jarred out of bed by the sound of a drum corps warming up in front of your house. Perhaps our conductor, Paul D. Cooper, received some phone calls, but I don't remember him ever remarking that he had complaints. If he did receive them, he kept them to himself.
Our band won a number of awards throughout northwest Iowa. We marched in Sioux City, Orange City, Algona and LeMars parades and more. Nothing can simulate wearing those heavy wool uniforms in the Iowa summer sun and humidity. Only a spray of water in the face could release us from full collapse. Sweat would drip from the end of our noses and onto our sheet music making the 16th notes almost unreadable.
But march we did, doing all kind of difficult maneuvers. We did reverse march, oblique march, side step march and right angle marches along the parade route. One had to duck when passing by the tuba players or get a dent in the forehead. I think tuba players got devious pleasure out of making their fellow marchers duck for cover.
Even clod-booted farm boys learned their right from left foot when marching while casting "eyes right" to keep the lines straight. I must have learned something from that experience because later in my early college days I was promoted as sergeant on the ROTC marching group I was a member of. Our drill sergeant was a "lifer" Army man with more hash stripes on his sleeves than you could count and he hated teaching college boys to march. After chastising my group more than I thought possible, he turned the reins over to me because I knew right from left and I had a loud voice. I think he saw my promotion as kind of a perk.
But, back to my original paragraph. We had been booked to march in the annual Orange City Tulip Festival and a bunch of school buses were parked along the street waiting for the rain to stop. All of them were full of band members sweating their heads off while awaiting a dry spell. Buses were not air conditioned in those days.
That's when Mr. Cooper put us to the test. The lightning and thunder had left the area, but the light rain persisted. After his statement the whole busload yelled out, "Let's march!" And so off the bus we went with drizzle beading up on our wool uniform caps. We tuned up with "Everything's Coming Up Roses" and marched onto the street. After another rendition from John Phillip Sousa we were off down the street with the other bands disembarking and lining up behind us.
My sheet of music drooped over the bass clarinet's music stand, but I had the music memorized anyway, so no problem. We were greeted with a roar from the appreciative crowd standing under the still dripping awnings of the store buildings along the route.
We won a first-place trophy. Paul D. Cooper was proud. It is parade time in the country!
See you next time. Okay?