Marching Bands Make Me Cry:
Hearing Drumbeats and Choosing Your Tribe
Excerpt A, on telling a lie, from page 9:
"At the dinner table Dad would frequently ask rather playfully, "Tell us what you've been up to today. Give an account of yourself." Sometimes my accounts included spirited exaggerations, and Dad would respond, "Sounds like a thousand cats on the backyard fence," referring to the tall tale of a feline jamboree he reported to his father in the eighteen-nineties—and was mildly censured for.
Unlike Dad, Mom had no tolerance for my fibbing. My first recollection of the full power of her wrath occurred when I began kindergarten.
In my excitement at entering school I took a short-cut across a new home site. Running atop a pile of yellow clay, I slipped on the goo. Muddy from the waist down, I ran back home to clean up and start over. Mom caught up with me in the bathroom and demanded to know how I could have so soiled my pants. When I told her where I'd been, she said I had no business going there. There didn't seem to be any room in Mom's face for me to say I was sorry I'd slipped, so I said I thought I was pushed. Mom instantly wanted to know who pushed me. Trapped and panicky, I said I didn't see who pushed me, and at my tangle of lies Mom began slapping my face all over. She finished by forcing the bar of soap into my mouth.
The day Mom so wounded me had begun in considerable excitement. When I showed up at the breakfast table that morning, I announced with pride that I'd made my bed. Mom responded, "That's wonderful! Now you can make your bed every day." I felt she skipped over something there, too. "
Excerpt B, on Sally Hansen, from page 50:
"A child of Polish immigrants whose family acquired a Scandinavian name, Sally Hansen was impressive in her stiff blue and white nurse’s cap. But her whooping laugh could take the starch out of anyone's habit. When recounting how our springer spaniel hid under the bed, then emerged to bite Dr. Bullwinkle after he gave my brother a painful shot, Sally could reach a crescendo heard out on the street. Sally was around when I was an infant, nursed each of us when we were really sick or in the hospital, and stayed in touch during the war years between trips across the Atlantic and Pacific tending to the wounded. From her giant hand bag weighed down with a Physicians' Desk Reference protruded the New York Daily News and a current racing sheet, both of which she read to me. While lying in a hospital bed, I could usually hear Sally precede herself out of the elevator. Sally was known as much for saving doctors' reputations as for drinking them under the table.
"What a stinker your Mom could be," Sally told me. Mom once drove Sally to walk out. When Dad arrived home, he called Sally and sweet-talked her into returning to work, promising to put the kibosh on further interference from Mom.
"You know," Sally told me from her nursing home bed, "your mom could also go far out of her way to be nice to me and my friends. When I visited your folks in Florida with two girl friends, she put us up for an entire week in her apartment. And we had the best of times together." Other people had a similar experience with my mom. "
Excerpt C, on Simon Blackwell, from page 82:
"During my junior high school years, I tried to get out of the house early on Thursdays, the help's day off. Any delay would mean having to listen to Mom begin her predictable lament over the failures of the help. I could count on Mom getting down on her knees to root around in the kitchen cupboards looking for greasy pans. Often she found one, and the rant would begin, continuing upon the help’s return.
Once I joined in the thrashing of the help. Seeing grime on a mirror, I wrote in the haze with my finger, "clean." Blackwell recognized my uneven script. He caught me when Mom wasn’t around: "Hey, Bob, did you write on that mirror? Don’t you know to talk to me? [long pause] Don't you ever, ever, ever do a thing like that again, to no one. You hear? Do you hear me? Do you hear ME?"
Blackwell scared me. I had been moving along doing my parents’ bidding, learning their moves. Blackwell, who had watched me grow up, saw his moment and took it. As an employee of my mother, he must have considered the consequences before letting me have it. I never doubted he meant what he said; he was in a painful but controlled rage. Perhaps for the first time, I saw Blackwell as a person deserving of extraordinary respect, irrespective of race and station. In that instant he took me beyond any inkling I had of respect for anyone else or myself. Though he frightened me, I must have sensed he had my best interest at heart, so I didn’t tell Mom, who would have summarily fired him.
Blackwell gave me a different image of what I could be. I had to learn to talk to people as I would want to be spoken to. I had to begin to regard every person as worth a lot more than I had been accustomed to thinking. My father's teaching about the racial and social inferiority of people of color was forever undone after Blackwell confronted me. "
Excerpt D, on risk taking, from page 109:
"I must never be afraid of risking myself to empower people as the Others did to me. This has nothing to do with agreeing with them but of standing up for others, as CoCo did for my mom’s cook Hilma. I don’t know what happened to CoCo upon delivering those scraps of paper with her indictment of Mom, but I know how she felt, how she carried herself as a person before and afterward. I know what her words could have meant to Hilma (if she ever heard them).
Any of those risk-takers in my early life could have lost his job if I complained about them to those who had authority over them. So, what was my responsibility? Did I do the responsible thing by bending to Blackwell’s and Cooper’s injunctions? Should I have played the timpani in church? Seemingly insignificant, questionable acts sometimes figure large in the future of things. "
The book is divided into five sections corresponding to five different modes of drumming or rudiments:
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All right reserved, copyright 2005, Robert P. Brodsky.