As the Fourth of July approached this year, I recalled the parades in my little hometown many moons ago. Although my hometown was not exactly like “Mayberry RFD,” it was close. It was small enough for the townsfolk to know most people in town.
On the day of the parade, people lined the street to watch. The parade proceeded down Main Street (where else) for more than a mile, starting from the high school. It was a big event for a town that didn’t have many.
A gym teacher at the high school decided to start a drill team for high school girls. The teacher had been in the armed forces and could teach the girls the fundamentals of marching. Any girl who wanted to be on the team was accepted until the membership reached a certain size. Several of my friends and I joined. It was exciting to think we would be members of a group that would perform at halftime during football games and be in the Fourth of July parade. The team of about 50 girls practiced several times a week after school to learn routines our coach designed.
The team did pretty well during halftime. I say “pretty well” because our performances were never perfect. But our school seemed really proud of us. Students applauded and whistled when we marched onto the field in our “bobtail” (my mom’s disapproving adjective) skirts. Girls of all sizes and colors made up the team. It was our high school’s first all-girl organization that included more than one “colored” girl. This made black people in my hometown proud as punch.
By the time the Fourth of July arrived, I had become a captain of the team. The captains marched in front of the team in hopes of keeping the team on the right foot. Most of the team marched correctly to the beat, but like Gomer Pyle, there were always a few on the wrong foot. Our coach marched on the side of the team and yelled to those on the wrong foot.
The plan for the Fourth of July was to have the team do a complicated routine in front of the judges’ stand in the downtown business area. Our coach called out the code name for the routine. Evidently, some members misinterpreted the code because they marched in directions for other routines. I thought our coach would have a stroke as she called to members doing their own thing, trying to get them to correct themselves. Parade-watchers clapped and whistled. I couldn’t figure out why they did unless it was to show appreciation for unexpected entertainment. The scene looked like some slapstick comedy with team members bumping into each other. Dispersion! Our coach finally got the team to face forward and move in the same direction by blowing the emergency code on her whistle.
Young folks in town teased drill team members and laughed about the team’s dispersion, but adults didn’t mention it. Adults still basked in the sight of this diverse group of high school girls marching together, even if they weren’t always in step.

Peggy Tarr

Peggy Tarr has been a columnist for the Evanston RoundTable since its founding in 1998. Born in Bruce Springsteen's hometown of Freehold, New Jersey, she graduated from Rutgers University with a degree...