We’d come a long way from the first days of practice on the school baseball diamond. There we were all decked out and preparing to march down the crowd-filled hard-surfaced streets of Des Moines.
That’s how I remember that day back in 1953 when our school marching band first made the big times by participating in the Drake Relays parade. We had crammed untold hours of preparation, dedication and perspiration into just getting there.
More than a year before we first started raising money for suitable uniforms for our band. At first the goal seemed too much. Raising between $1,500 and $2,000 was more than many of us could fathom. That was the price of a new car.
We had been told it was unlawful to use school funds to purchase band uniforms so the money had to be raised outside regular school fund channels.
We came up with many different projects: special concerts, ice cream socials and even a Band Tag Day Sale to get enough cash together to buy those fancy duds.
The Band Tag Day (which lasted a week) was when we band members would call on everyone in the community and ask for a donation of $1 or more. Instead of cash farmers were encouraged to contribute corn. We even supplied the truck to carry the corn and the manpower to load it.
It was a job, but it was more fun than work. Funny how a bunch of volunteers will do things as volunteers that they’d never do otherwise.
In spring we had enough money raised for the uniforms, but that was just part of the project. We’d promised all those who had enough faith in us to kick in donations that we’d be marching in the Drake Relays parade that year.
So every morning before school, during band period and after school (weather permitting,) we could be found on the baseball diamond going through our routine. It was quite an undertaking for me. Lord knows, I had enough problem blowing my clarinet while sitting on a chair in the band room. Now here I was trying to play the clarinet while keeping in step, proper alignment and making turns all at the same time.
Over a fourth of our band were 7th and 8th graders and we were clearly in over our heads. Often, when the rest of the group would come to a halt, we’d end up running into the poor marcher in front of us.
All this had a definite affect on Mr. Mowrey our band director, a rookie teacher who was about to be baptized under fire. It was clearly going to be a tossup between we learning to march and play at the same time or he keeping his sanity.
Slowly we progressed into some semblance of a synchronized group. I doubt if it could be described as a true miracle, but it came close.
With our uniforms provided all we band members had to do was supply our own shoes. Naturally it wouldn’t do for some to wear black and others to wear brown, so our director came up with a compromise – white.
Being 13 years old at the time, I have no idea what was said about our director behind his back by many of the mothers, but I’m sure it wouldn’t be printable in a family newspaper.
Not only did we have to buy white shoes, but white bucks. For those of you who have no any idea what white bucks are, just watch an old Pat Boone show.
White buck shoes have a rough white exterior. The only way to clean or polish them is by pounding them with a bag of white powder. They are a mother’s worst nightmare.
Then there were the new uniforms. I guess no one had taken into consideration the fact that most parades take place during warm or hot weather. Wool and hot temperatures just don’t do well together.
Despite all the hardships and challenges, there we were standing at attention, in front of the state capitol, waiting for the whistle to set our feet in motion.
As we looked down Grand Avenue towards the heart of the city it was a special time. For most of us it was the first time we’d ever actually seen a dream come true.
Looking back now I can’t remember If I stayed in stop or not. I do recall one thing – pride.
(Ed Rood is the former publisher of the Tri-County Times. He lives near Cambridge.)