Random Thoughts

A Drill Team, circa 1950

... marching is a learned skill

by Ann Robbins Talbot

Girls, innately, do not know how to march. This is not part of our gene pool. We like to stroll. If we happen to be in step with our friends, it is pure accident. The posture for strolling is very different from the posture for marching. No slumping is allowed.
One day the advisor to our Rainbow assembly announced that it would be a great idea to have a drill team. The bonus was – someone had donated enough uniforms for a complete team. I am not sure if we were going to perform for profit or do parades and benefits, but about two dozen teen-aged girls decided to try it.   

So we assembled for our first lesson, on the somewhat dusty cellar floor of the Melrose Masonic Temple. We learned the command “forward march” and we began to walk in a line beginning on the same foot as everyone else. Our instructor clapped a jaunty cadence while we walked, one behind the other, for a frustrating hour.

Our second lesson consisted of reviewing the walk for the benefit of all the girls who had not come to the first lesson. Then we learned how to march in a row. If you only look at the girl next to you, the row doesn’t stay straight. Everyone has to measure from the first girl in line. Sounds easy enough. Our instructor clapped the cadence for a second frustrating hour.

The third lesson added more commands – “left face” and “right face”. That was tricky. You had to be on the correct foot when the command was made or you tripped. Girls who looked pretty good on the dance floor found themselves clumsy and uncoordinated. It began to get funny. And the cellar was hot. But we certainly were not ready for anyone to see us practice outdoors.

Then we progressed to “to the rear march” without having perfected either left or right face. The few girls who had known what they were doing thus far plunged into the group of clumsy-and-uncoordinated very quickly. Some looked all right as individuals but literally crashed into others when lined up. Perhaps music might have helped, but our leader continued to clap away. Summer was approaching. The cellar got warmer and warmer. We churned up every speck of dust that had accumulated for years in an unused room. We were miserable.

But our advisor had a carrot to hold in front of us. Uniforms! They finally arrived. First of all they were second hand and not spanking clean. They were slate blue, knee length, long sleeved with lots of buttons and a little half cape. They were all the same size -- small. We were neither all the same size nor small. The crowning touch was – they were one hundred percent wool. Not a soft doeskin, but itchy, scratchy, cheap wool. We were skeptical. When one of our number was persuaded to model the ensemble complete with a soda-jerk hat, we could no longer contain ourselves. We just howled. We laughed 'til we cried. Some of us just rolled on the floor in hysterics. Even the grown-ups joined in the merriment.

To our great relief, our instructor agreed that our drill team was a lost cause. The long-awaited uniforms were returned. The moral of the story: If you are not meant to march like West Point Cadets, chalk it up to experience and go on to something else.

June 6, 2008  

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