Sally and the Plumed Legion
● By Sandy Kauten
This is her fourth and final year playing piccolo in the Plumed Legion, which is what her school named its marching band. Sally LIKES the music, but she LOVES the camaraderie, the discipline, the sense of purpose and the competition with other bands.
In the marching band, there is only one correct way to move your feet, hold your head and turn your body. Sally has always been bossy and competent, and this reinforces her notion that there is a right way to do things and she knows what it is.
When Sally was 3, she would try to tell her big sister what to do. She’d command, “Hey kid, come back inside and put on your shoes!”“You’re not the boss of me,” was the inevitable reply.
Sally, using a word of her own invention, would say, “I’m the GOODBOSS of you.”
Yes, the goodboss. We heard it many times. The goodboss knows what’s right, and she shoves the unrighteous into line. The goodboss needs no authorization. To resist the goodboss is to embrace evil or at least chaos.
Fast-forward 13 years and Sally is a counselor at a sleepaway camp. In a phone call home, she tells me about the cabinful of kids she commands. “Lately they’ve been throwing food in the dining hall.”
“Sounds like a good time,” I say.“It’s disgusting,” she says, “I can’t really punish them, so I just yell at them and they stop – until the next meal. It’s frustrating.”
Back when her band uniform was in style, discipline was enforced by flogging. But I don’t mention it to Sally. Why tantalize her with visions of a happier time?
Sally is 5-foot-1 and maybe has a bit of a Napoleon complex, the personality quirk that makes short men want to conquer Europe or fight big men in barrooms. For the past couple of years, Sally had been planning to be drum major in her senior year. That’s the conductor and guiding force of the Plumed Legion. She would analyze the field of contenders person by person and always figured her chances to be pretty good.In May, as the time approached to declare her candidacy, Sally’s confidence failed her. “I’m not going to try out,” she said. “I’m so bad at conducting that I’d make us lose all the competitions and everyone would hate me. Besides, Kristin is going to get picked anyway.”
My jaw dropped. It was as if Napoleon had said, “I give up; Europe deserves a taller emperor.” I didn’t say anything right away. I had to examine my motives. Sure, I wanted her to be drum major. But more importantly, I want her to go after what she wants. But what if I urged her to try out and she wouldn’t? Our relationship would have failed a test. And what if she became drum major and led the Plumed Legion to disgrace? Ouch!
Alone with Sally, driving her home from track practice, I said, “If you’re not trying out for drum major because you’re afraid you won’t be picked, that’s a bad reason. And being afraid you can’t do the job is another bad reason. Let the band director decide that. He’s an expert judge of what people can do. If you think it would be a thrill to have 75 musicians respond to a wave of your hand, go after it. If you don’t try, you’ll always regret it.”
The pain of reopening the case made her cry. She argued a little, and when we got home she avoided me and my heart ached. When I collected my good-night kiss, she said tiredly, “Sometimes I hate you.”
We didn’t talk about it any more. But a few days later, she let me know she’d applied for the drum-major job. In her interview, the director asked what sets her apart from the other candidates and she’d replied, “My dynamic personality.”
Nevertheless, when the last day of school arrived, it was announced that Kristin would be drum major in the fall. Sally was half disappointed and half relieved.
If this were a Disney TV movie, Sally would’ve been selected. But she also would’ve had to overcome some affliction even more grievous than being my kid.
So now Sally is having a fun season in the ranks with her piccolo and her pals. Plus, she still gets to harass a new crop of shuffling, staggering, stumbling and waddling freshmen, so everybody’s happy. After all, goodbosses are born, not appointed.Rick can be reached at [email protected]