Friday, October 10, 2003

The 6th pillar of character.

The 6th pillar of character.

Thursday night I was in the Savannah River Valley, and I got to watch one of my cousins teach a High School marching band routine. This was just what I needed.

Picture a warm moonlit South Carolina night. Four dozen awkward teens, one of whom was another cousin, were spread out over a large mown green, lit by klieg lights. In front of the teens was a two story wooden tower built by the locals. On top of the wooden platform was a rather large guy in his late twenties, the High School band director, and my cousin, the same height and build as me but blonde. My cousin is the Middle School band director, but there aren’t enough kids out there to make a full marching band from just one school, so they have to combine forces a little bit. We’re in deep rural suburban South, and in front of the green is a road, behind it is a low brick High School from the early late 80’s or early 90’s.

As I walk up to this scene I actually watch the girls is the flag core jumping around, one by one, like idiots while the HS band director yells at them:


I start to giggle. I look at my cousin on the platform, who is also grinning. “Is that girl doing jazz hands? Am I actually seeing jazz hands out here?”

He waves he hands around. “Spirit fingers. We call them spirit fingers.”

I turn to yet another cousin – the one who had directed me to this whole scene – and he’s just shaking his head. We climb up on the tower, and watch the show and talk. Watching the rehearsal was just what I needed after a grim week of spectacular fights with my roommates and a workload so heavy I had to question my commitment to grants. What am I doing here in the South, exactly? Why aren’t I planning to go right back up north when I get enough money? Oh, right, this. Warm nights with family, watching a HS band show. It’s nice.

My band director cousin points out his students on the field to me – a girl on the flag core so graceless they call her Maytag, after the washing machine flourishes she manages; the one he calls his “anger management child”, a girl whom he pays extra attention too because she seems to have some problems relating to others; the guy who consistently runs over other people; our own relation, the biggest guy on the field, carrying the bass drum. He loves this, directing marching band shows.

I like the show too. There are dorky synchronized dancing bits and the flag core passes around some of those plastic geometric expanding balls for some reason.

The theme of the show is “The 6 pillars of character”, but my cousins can’t remember what those pillars are supposed to be, exactly; they’re concentrating on the marching routine and the music. The theater department is working on the pillars; I understand clouds and drapery are involved.

One of the pillars is definitely patriotism though. Halfway through the show, the entire band stops and yells “ONE NATION UNDER GOD, WITH LIBERTY AND JUSTICE FOR ALL!” And then they play Amazing Grace for a few bars.

“And then you should tell the band judges that if they don’t vote for your show, they’re atheist pinkos.” I hiss to my band directing cousin.

“Hey! That’s not a bad idea!”

“Aren’t you sort of emotionally blackmailing them with the pledge and Amazing Grace and everything?”

“My God, I hope so.” He says, pushing his glasses a little higher. We both know we’re joking, and he tells me about last year’s show, a tribute to the history of aviation where the kids formed 9 triangles and mimicked an air show. At the end of this year’s show, the kids perfectly manage to form first the school’s initials, and then USA on the field. I jump up and down and clap along with the others on the platform. But my cousin is shaking his head and calling out specific students on the ground.

“Hey! Flutes! It’s supposed to be a circle AND MY GOD YOU”VE GOT A PERFECT 90 DEGREE ANGLE! IT’S PERFECT! IF ONLY WE WEREN”T SUPPOSED TO BE A CIRCLE! You – yes, you! Don’t play to the hot dog vendors, I’m up here.” He turns to another teacher. “We need more vibrato.”

Yeah, they do need more vibrato. But that’s OK. I liked it anyway. The kids at least sounded great. My cousin hugged me, really hugged me, as I left. I want to go back and watch more shows. The kids try so hard, and it really is neat to watch my cousin do his thing.

My other cousin and I climbed back into my rental car. The two of us had a buffet dinner earlier in honor of our two birthdays in previous weeks. We’d eaten fried okra and other things at a gross country buffet that was nothing but a convinent place to get fed while we talked. I dropped him off near the river before driving myself back to Atlanta for the night, and his 19 year old body, pale as mine, was swallowed whole by the dark after he ran just a few hundred feet from me.

I drove home exhausted beyond belief but happy. Okra and hugs and band shows and warm nights in October, that’s what I’m here for. Please don’t let me forget it.

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