Growing up in Louisa – Hut, two..!
Weekly feature . . . by Mike Coburn
When I was reading through the Lazer a few weeks back, I saw that Louisa had held a Christmas parade. I saw the pictures and wished I had been there to enjoy the excitement and festivities. I have seen videos of other parades held in my home town, likely from the summer, or the annual September fest. They were much longer than the ones in which I marched years ago. The recent ones also included a greater variety of trucks, tractors, floats, a beauty queen and her pretty court, and even the LHS band. We made history back in the day with our marching ‘100.’ I have a copy of a movie that shows the band in my mom’s time in high school. As time has gone on the band has certainly grown in size and in sophistication. Today’s band with those new uniforms outshine my memories. Back in either my mom’s day, or mine, we had not heard of a flag twirler. We had four pretty majorettes who had practiced twirling batons and could do that to the sounds of John Phillip Souza’s marches.
Even today, I have trouble holding still when I hear Stars and Stripes Forever. After school I mustered into the Air Force and at first played in an Air Force band. While much was the same, there were some differences, too. I had used a whistle to give direction to the band but in the military no whistle was used. The musicians had to watch the drum major to see any orders given by his large baton.
Anyone who has had the honor of serving our nation in the military will remember the ‘hut, twop, threep, fourp,’ the instructor bellowed out as they marched the squadron across the parade field, and to the various other places such as the mess hall or back to the barracks. To broaden the picture let me say that some of us that were members of the LHS Marching Band had a leg up when it came to marching, so to speak. We knew very well how to march.
While some of us boys may have practiced as little kids at play, many learned to march at summer band camp that was held at Cabwaylingo, WV. We’d march for what seemed like hours. Then, once back in town we had to learn to travel together on the narrow streets, turn sharp corners, etc. We’d learned how to stand at attention, to stand at rest, and how to follow the drum major. All of this training was in addition to the various ‘half-time’ programs we’d have to learn throughout the football season. Did I say “season?” Indeed, marching was a major element in the fall and early winter in our little town. It was a rare thing for the marching band to fall into formation except for at football games, seasonal parades like Thanksgiving, or Christmas, and once for a gubernatorial parade in Frankfort, the state capitol! It was a great honor to be chosen to march before the outgoing and incoming governors. I remember that Mr. Cheek, the school superintendent, chartered big, comfortable, commercial buses to take us halfway across the state to march on wide streets few of us had never seen before.
I remember when the band members and their parents met and loaded on the busses that cold, cold winter morning. We hung out of windows while pictures were taken. One snapshot that I saw showed me wearing the top to some thermal underwear. The white drum major jacket with tails was on a hanger, so it would stay neat until it was needed later. I was the drum major that would be leading the band down a street. I had no reason to fear going the wrong way because the parade route was lined with people on both sides. I needed no map. The band director, Mr. Smith (Pete) Armstrong told us all just prior to falling in behind the other bands, military formations, floats, horsemen, police and firetrucks, that we had been chosen to stop in front of the reviewing stand and give a salute. That clearly could not be allowed for all formations since the parade was so long. We somehow had been honored with special permission. We rehearsed shouting a greeting to the new governor at my direction. I’ve long ago forgotten what message we shouted, but it went off smoothly enough. I was told later that we were on TV. That was a wild achievement for us, coming from a semi-isolated part of Kentucky.
That morning in Frankfort it was so cold that the band members were freezing. Getting off those warm buses was like punishment except for the excitement of the parade itself. Once we were marching only our hands and feet hurt. Everyone wore gloves, but many woodwind players had to cut out the figures to play their instruments, like the clarinet, or flute. I didn’t envy them. I think the majorettes had to go gloveless, too, lest they drop their batons. I recall that I wore white dress gloves, but my fingers were still freezing. Once we passed in review for the assembled dignitaries, we marched directly back to our buses, which was a warm oasis in a land of icy cold. We were quite ready to get out of the cold and go home.
I bring this up here at Christmas time because we have moved into the season of major parades such as Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade (Thanksgiving), and the New Year’s Rose Bowl Parade, the Cotton and Sugar Bowls Parades, and many, many more. Some are clearly larger and better known than others. As a football fan I can’t help but notice that more and more college bowls are added all the time. I’m sure that is undoubtedly true for corresponding parades, as well.
The fanciest parade I ever attended happened when I was an adult, I was at a convention in Milwaukee. This happened to be the time of their annual Great Circus Parade which had some 50 authentic circus wagons, 350 exquisite horses, 30 musical bands and novelties, exotic animals, 150 clowns, and 450 riding and walking performers dressed in lavish circus wardrobe. It was a salute to the magnificent street pageants produced by American circuses for well over 100 years. I had a great seat and took many pictures of the antique wagons, some holding wild animals.
The parades that I remember in Louisa had a few floats on flatbed trucks, or trailers, convertibles with Miss Louisa and her court, the mayor and other local dignitaries, the town’s one operating fire truck, a couple of ambulances from the two funeral homes (Curtright & Young’s), some scout troops, or brownies, and our good, old LHS Marching Band. One recent year when I was in back town I saw a parade with some of my sons. This time around there were many fire trucks from Louisa, but also a bunch from neighboring communities. That was a surprise, because we saw other nearby towns as football enemies. In those early days it was hard to be nice to an enemy. I’m glad that’s changed. I know mutual aid is frequently needed in times of disaster and local governments often support their neighbors. It makes sense to work together, and who knows, we may see a time we need that support ourselves when emergencies happen.
Having been a participant in a number of parades in my youth, I know you can’t perform well without practice, whether you are in the military, on a sports team, or in a band. I recall leading the band when I was a senior. We marched many of the streets around town including Main Cross, Madison, and once even over in Little Italy. The band director on one of those practice marches was Richard Wilson. He lived with his mom, down Pike and off to the right. We stopped and played a favorite hymn for his mother, “A Mighty Fortress is our God.” Those were the days, eh? Couldn’t do that today or risk getting sued and/or fired.
Back in our day we were lucky enough to have four majorettes and one drum major. In my mom’s day I don’t think they had the majorettes, but they had the drum major. The pictures I’ve seen had the same uniforms we wore, the same big, bass drum with the Bulldog painted coming through the drum head, and the drum major wearing the same white uniform I would later wear. In my senior year Vickie Cheek, Claudia Wilson, Glenna Holbrook, and Betty Hager Mead took on the role of majorettes. Each was good at twirling their batons, lifting those knees, and marching smartly. As drum major, I had this long ceremonial baton with a large bulb on one end. I threatened to use it as a weapon once or twice. It already had a small dent when I got it, so it looked as if I had used it before. Ha! Fooled them.
I think the thing about parades is that it shows in a microcosm, that mankind can work together. It takes everyone to fall in line and work toward the goal set out by our leaders. We may not always like our leaders, but for the good of the whole it behooves us to stay in line and do our jobs. Whether in sports, music, in the family, or with business, teamwork will benefit us all, and lend the strength of many toward reaching our goals. I think the elements of a good parade demonstrates this truth.
So on New Year’s Day, take a moment and watch a parade, or join in one if you can. firstname.lastname@example.org