Twelve years old seems young to me. A lot of my friends have twelve-year-olds. My oldest nephew is twelve (or he was when I started writing this). I remember him as a baby and I’ve watched him grow from a toddler to a young man. But still, he’s super young. Twelve years old is super young.
I was twelve years old in 1989, the year we moved from Texas to Pennsylvania. The dichotomy I experienced over that one year was astounding.
At the beginning of the year, I was a sixth grader, playing Nintendo, having sleepovers, watching wrestling, and pretending to know how to skateboard with my loser friends. By the end of the year, I was hanging out with high school seniors. I even had a girlfriend! The real kind, not the junior high kind where you never speak or make eye contact in public.
We moved to Lock Haven in the summer of 1989 because my dad got a job at Lock Haven University. Before the school year began, my parents took Julie and me to see our new school and meet with Mr. Elling, the junior high guidance counselor. During our meeting, he told us this was only the second year that the marching band was open to junior high kids. There was previously a junior high marching band and a senior high marching band but they merged the year before. He asked if either of us were interested.
Julie was going to be a freshman and was old enough to know that marching band pretty much equaled social suicide. She said no. I also said no, but I was more shy than anything else. I had a pretty debilitating stutter, and I really didn’t want to deal with any social situations that weren’t absolutely necessary.
“You played drums in band last year!” mom said to me.
“So?” I said.
“So, you should do it,” she said, “It’ll be fun.”
“No, it won’t,” I said.
“Oh come on,” she said.
“Please stop talking,” I said.
“You know,” Mr. Elling interjected, “They’re practicing right now if you’d like to walk over to the band room and see it for yourself.”
“Fine,” I said, and off we went.
There aren’t many days that are etched into my memory, but the first day I walked into the band room at Lock Haven High School is one of them. A room full of high school kids is a jarring thing when you’re twelve years old. These guys had like, facial hair. I was shy, probably hiding behind someone. I felt completely out of place, like I didn’t belong.
“This one,” Mr. Elling said, pointing to me, “plays the drums.”
And all of a sudden, a huge “Wooo!” went up from the back of the room. My eyes darted up from the floor. I saw a half-dozen kids wearing drums, smiling and waving. So warm, so welcoming.
Well now. This could be something.
I could, like, hang out with these guys? I could be one of these guys? I was terrified. They were so huge! But I also felt an immediate rush of excitement. I didn’t know what was involved in being in a marching band, but I knew I wanted to be there. I showed up to the next scheduled practice, and that’s when I met Blake.
Blake struck me as someone who commanded attention without asking for it. He was the drum instructor, which meant he wasn’t a teacher. He couldn’t have been more than 25 years old, so he looked like a student and definitely acted and dressed like one. I could tell almost immediately just from looking at the faces of the other kids that Blake was the reason they were there. He was good-looking, relentlessly positive, and a little goofy. You just wanted to be around him. Being in the drumline meant being in Blake’s Drumline, it meant you were in his gang. I realized very quickly that this was the kind of gang I wanted to be in.
Still, it was a strange world to step into. Starting a new school in a new town is daunting enough when you’re twelve, but at least all the kids in your classes are your age and going through the same awkward body shit you are. But let me tell you, there is a vast ocean that lies between the sexual reference points of a twelve year old and a senior in high school. I never knew there were so many different words for “penis.” My poor, virgin ears had never heard so much…filth.
They were gross, and they were gross all the time. There was something called “hair pie” that came up in casual conversation a lot. (These kids today don’t know how lucky they have it with their “Google” and their “Urban Dictionary.”) All I could do was laugh along and pray to God that no one asked me what was so funny. It’s the peer-to-peer version of “Please don’t call on me. I didn’t study.”
We had a nice, catchy cadence that we marched to on our way to and from the practice field. They made up lyrics to it. Do you want to know what they were? You don’t, but I’m going to tell you anyway.
“Bite that tit, chew the nipple off.”
Right? That’s a hell of a lot to process when you’re twelve. (Also, any age.) Kids are GROSS, man. I remember during a break at one practice some nice sophomore girl gave me a hug and I remember thinking “Aww, she’s sweet.”
Then Rick came up to me and said, “Is she trying to get a piece of you?”
And I was like, “…uhhh...”
And he was like, “You know, is she trying to get some?”
And I was like, “…get some….what.”
He got a kick out of that one.
Rick was the captain, if there was such a thing. He was a junior and played tenors, pictured below.
Tom and Tim played snare. (Snare and tenors are usually where you put your best drummers. They play the hardest parts and are featured the most often.) Joel, Graham, and Shannon played bass, Michelle and Cindy were our keyboard players. Because I was so new to the whole thing and didn’t really even know how to read music that well, I was put on cymbals with Allison, Branden, and Amber. Branden and Amber were seventh graders, too, so I took some comfort there.
So that was it, just the twelve of us. That was my first drumline. Everyone treated me really well, especially the older kids. They were disgusting, but they had good hearts and made sure I knew they were happy I was there. I was like their mascot, the little kid from Texas with the big ears.
I wasn’t there for the start of the season earlier in the summer so I missed basics, missed band camp. I had a steep learning curve. Not only did I have to learn a whole show’s worth of music and drill, I also had to basically learn what it meant to be in a marching band. I had to learn how to stand at attention and march in step, what a roll off was and what a cadence was. I had schedules to follow and uniform pieces to buy. And I had to do it all super fast because our first competition was less than a month away.