It's the end of summer here in New England.
Acorns are falling, and drum majorettes are out and about.
While motoring my bicycle along a country road the other morning, I passed a young baton-swingin' woman dressed in majorette costume, marching smartly down the street. A parade of her own, she threw a dazzling baton up in the cool air, and caught it, expertly, behind her back.
An article of enthusiasm that almost got me arrested at a very young age.
HISTORY: My mother, Dottie M., always had it in her head that perhaps, maybe one day, I would be someone else.
That is...1) able to piece cloth together so it acceptably covers one's body fashionably in public, and, 2) to become a ballet dancer.
Please understand that grace is not my middle name. Dottie M. insisted on enrolling me, then age seven, in ballet class.
"You need to dance. We are going out to buy a pink tutu for you right now," she announced one day after school.
At that moment, I just wanted to go ride my bike.
But, I had discovered the night before that this ballet shtick was a "two-for-one" deal. The dance school brochure, lying naked on the kitchen table, shamelessly available for anyone's perusal, showed pictures of ballet students also learning how to twirl batons.
Sign me up.
I liked the enthusiasm of the baton twirlers I saw as a child. The Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade featured high-stepping young women wearing square sparkly hats, twirling metal batons fitted with a weighted bulb at each end, backed by a marching band playing "Stars and Stripes Forever".
They were fit, these participants in parades, and did tough things while smiling the whole time. I wanted to learn to be like them. So I endured the fitting of the pink tutu and tights and little soft shoes for the ballet part of the class, so I could get on the road to majoring in majorette.
The Saturday morning of the first ballet class, it was determined that my brothers also needed revision in the form of refreshed crew cuts, and that my father Frank J. would take them in the red Ford station wagon, with baby Kathy riding shotgun in the toddler seat.
That meant the method of transportation to ballet class would be in an additional family auto known as The Bomb.
It was a pea green 1946 Buick you could drop off a cliff and nothing would happen to it, a car Frank J. purchased for 50 bucks from a guy at work. It was embarrassment on wheels. It farted and choked and gasped its way down the street, its horsehair seats itchy against the back of your legs, its noise an audio warning of impending air pollution.
But it got you where you were going, and my mother was determined to drive me to culture, no matter the mode. I was glad to accompany her so I could join the big league of baton twirlers.
When Dottie M. pulled the car into a parking space near the front door of the dance school, The Bomb was particularly flatulent. As she turned the auto off, it backfired and sent a huge cloud of black smoke billowing out its tailpipe. Mothers moved quickly to usher their perfectly-pink children through the dance school front door to avoid the oncoming soot. Dottie M. and I waited for the proverbial dust to settle before leaving The Bomb.
When class started, I felt like Olive Oyl in a world of tinier childhood counterparts. I stood taller and sturdier than all the other girls. The Maternal Peanut Gallery sat in wooden chairs against the studio walls, each pointing out to the others the lovely student who was her tutu-ed offspring. They all cooed and clucked about how cute we children were, when secretly, each hoped her child showed such dancing skill as to pirouette the others into graceful oblivion.
Our instructor was a Martha Graham wanna-be, She had a flat, nasally voice and, seemed to me, wore more red lipstick than Bozo the Clown. She haughtily moved us through the five "positions" deemed important for the budding ballerina to master. Squat, bend, touch your heels, face those feet forward, form a straight line, keep your balance. The Swan Lake Sergeant moved us through our paces, snottily speaking, "one, and two, and keep your balance, and, girls, girls, you are much better than this, backs straight, head up, look at me, not the floor, gracefully, girls, graceful."
Finally, ballet hour over, Miss Sarge turned us over to a young, enthusiastic teenage girl named Beth who gave us each a baton, and spoke to us so loudly that I am sure she thought we were deaf. She showed us how to hold the baton and do a simple twirl, actions we fumbled with, some dropping the sparkling sticks, others catching a baton bulb under an armpit during a twirl.
Then Beth gave a demo, her baton spinning like a helicopter's blades, passing it from one hand to the other, twirling it behind her back, then throwing it up high in the air. "You can do this too," she said. Taking her comment literally, we threw our batons up towards the ceiling with wild abandon. Only problem was mine fell to earth to land on the head of the child standing next to me, knocking the kid out cold.
The little girl, whose name I forget, did come to, and in her dazed condition, held witness with the rest of us the utter chaos of the Maternal Peanut Gallery whipped into an emotional lather. She had a knot on her head the size of Nebraska, and a mother with a beehive hairdo who was not too pleased. Beth was reprimanded for giving such an enthusiastic instruction, and mother-to-mother, it was eventually agreed that it was an accident, the little girl would survive, and no harm was meant. Dottie M. and Miss Sarge eventually soothed all the ruffled feathers, and, needless to say, it was decided that my dancing days were over.
When Dottie M. and I left the dance school, the parking lot was empty. The Bomb was awakened from its slumber, and coaxed into starting one more time for the trip home. Since this was before the days of cellphones, my mother could not relate the dance hall happenings to my father until she saw him in person.
My parents always talked together in the kitchen, at the table, after we were all put to bed. I always loved to watch them do this, as they were in love then, and would hold hands as they talked. I snuck out into the hall of the split level that night to a place where I could see my parents talking in the kitchen a level below. My mother was telling my father the "baton falling from the sky" story, and relating the bedlam that ensued. My father laughed so hard he was crying, and finally wiped his eyes with a napkin. He and my mother hugged each other then, and kissed, parents of children who are characters.
Majorette Image: http://www.cratelabelsonline.com/orange3.html