Marching Band and Giving Thanks

The leaves have mostly fallen to meet a cold ground. The air is crisp, and from the moment that the scent of chimney fires reached my nose a month or so back, I knew it was the time of year to start giving thanks. In Upstate New York, this season can hit you in late summer, or flip flop between the occasional flurry and 60-degree days before finally settling in for a short burst of true autumnal behavior. I wouldn’t give up having four seasons for anything, but somehow autumn is my favorite — along with my husband’s. Why else would we get married in October, when I could’ve easily planned for a summertime event? It just didn’t feel right or true to who we are.

When I was younger, this season meant that our constitutions (honed and developed so keenly during the summer months to endure sweaty, faint-inducing hours practicing the strength behind perfect posture, playing and holding an instrument perfectly, rolling one’s feet, breathing at the perfect moments, and reaching a hundred pre-determined positions on the field) turned to being able to do all of the above in dark, muddy, beyond “chilly” conditions — and often in uncomfortable wool uniforms. Field band marching was more challenging to me even than running the mile each year — a huge pain in my butt, given my asthmatic fits. Yet, I loved it, and everyone in the band loved it, or else they wouldn’t have been there, putting up with the long night practices, screaming adults, and giving up beloved teenage Saturdays to accompany the football team at home and compete with other bands hours away until late in the evening. More than all the pain, yelling, laughter and incredible music (both on the field and on the bus), I remember and cherish the silence behind Fisher Elementary School.

Once we took the field and, later, when the final instrument silenced, there was a lot of waiting. Waiting for the director to give the drum major the signal to start. Waiting to punish us for a poor practice night. Waiting to teach us that sometimes, in life, you need patience more than you do talent. Waiting before finally sending us either to perform yet another run-through or, with a huge sigh of relief, home for the night. While waiting, it was inevitable that our eyes would glance upward to the stars. I’m grateful for the patience we learned, but also for the magnificent view, much like a globe of black construction paper and twinkling dots, that the field presented us. Crisp, perfect nights where all you could hear was the breathing of your band mates, who, of course, were viewing the same perfect scene. It was a gift that we never expected when signing up to be a part of the Mohawk Marching Mohicans or, in my case, being thrust by family duty  and honor to it (I don’t remember ever putting my name on a list). And I’m still grateful for it. I’m not sure that anyone we encounter who wasn’t a part of those very special, select years of marching can ever  really appreciate it. I know that it will be a shared secret that we hold; looking up at a picture-perfect, clear, star-riddled night only to smile slyly. The silent feeling that overcame the band as we watched a rare falling star noiselessly scrape across the darkness; no “ooo”s or “aaah”s, just knowing.

And, so, at this crisp, crunchy time of year, I am grateful for many things. Those old memories that, no matter what new memories arise, will always be a cherished gift in my heart. For the new memories of adulthood which constantly surprise me as “not what I expected” out of adulthood — and loving that they’re so very much better than those I imagined. Sure, I never met Peter Tork, but if I hadn’t been arm-in-arm with Dave at just the right moment, I wouldn’t have bumped into Paul McCartney (not that we’re comparing here!). I haven’t a single instrument in my house now, although I WILL, soon, someday, and I’m grateful that my future children will have an opportunity to widen their horizons with the integration of musical sensibility into their lives.

That I have the husband I never knew or expected would be so good and kind and supportive, I believe I will be forever thankful and wonder to myself, “Did my dad have a hand in this?” I always thought that he never left me anything, and was quite sour about it. But, at those moments where a budget is taunting me down with no sign of ending its choke-hold on our finances, or when, in the future, I’m staring down the barrel of unknown sadness or hardship, I’ll know that I was offered a lifelong gift that, with little doubt, was sent my way to treat me just as he’d have liked, and somehow the bad amends itself and my husband is still there to give me a “Thank God we’re through it” hug. Or, when I’m humbled by being asked to participate in a meaningful project that Dave, with unwavering faith and assurance in my ability, offers. I thank my father for Dave, and I thank his family and countless friends for making him as understanding and wonderful as he is.

We may not have everything we want; hardwood floors? Gutters? A new dining set? Tons of cashola? Happiness for every single friend and family member? No. Yet, I don’t remember a Thanksgiving that I’ve felt luckier, and I foresee a holiday season that rivals the joy that we felt 10/9/10. And, for that, I am utterly grateful.