Wednesday, July 30, 2014

All Good Things

Me as a fifer
After marching as a Colonial Militia fifer in the September 12, 2009 march in Washington, D.C., I realized what a great living history lesson could be had wearing period costumes and playing period music from our nation's founding.  I went home and shared my excitement with my home school band students, and several of them wanted to join me in forming our own fife and drum corps.
Our 1st gig October 2009 for the Conservative Lunch Bunch
All I knew about a fife and drum corps was what the Delaware corps had taught me in our several hours together in D.C. I read everything I could find plus watched many youtube videos of competitive F&D corps as well as more amateur groups of children to get ideas. From our humble beginnings we gradually added a uniform and better instruments.
December 2009 Christmas parade--it was 32 degrees here!
"Washington Crossing the Delaware" float followed us
The many groups we played with or for didn't seem to mind that we weren't "professional." They were thrilled that a group of homeschooled children were willing to dress up and play Yankee Doodle, British Grenadiers, Rally 'Round the Flag, Chester, the Star Spangled Banner, America the Beautiful, and God Bless America. For our first (Christmas) parade in nearby Boerne, Texas we asked my tall, handsome, noble-looking husband to be our General Washington, and he eventually had a more authentic costume, too, once I learned the hang of the very complicated 18th century coat pattern.
Before the local April 15, 2010 tax day tea party rally
September 11, 2010 memorial at courthouse
Our reputation grew, and we were invited to Houston four hours away for a large Tea Party rally in which we marched with a man who is a SERIOUS George Washington re-enactor.  He has his own white ponytail and a white horse!
General Washington in Houston
"Our" General Washington who's a good sport & wears a wig
We marched in parades and to open various events, once for the Daughters of the American Revolution, and twice for the Sons of the American Revolution.  Our last performance was in March 2012 for the SAR State Convention.  After that the students were all just too busy to devote so much time to this venture, especially when it appeared that we were going to have more and more requests.  I still occasionally get requests more than two years later!
When Governor Perry came to town (behind me)
Our only formal "portrait" (I'm front row, far left)
I still have my fife, and I still practice it.  I'll probably never have another chance to participate in a group this cool again, but it does help me keep my piccolo embouchure in shape, and the piercing sounds of "Yankee Doodle" bring back a whole lot of fond memories.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Mrs. Jones Goes to Washington

In the summer of 2009 I heard about a march and rally protesting out-of-control government spending and unconstitutional mandates being organized for September 12 in Washington D.C. and decided I wanted to go. I had bought a T-shirt and cap that said "We the People" and was deciding what kind of sign to make when I heard there was to be a group of Colonial-era re-enactors, including a fife and drum corps, who were to lead the march down Pennsylvania Avenue to the rally at the U.S. Capitol. I emailed the man organizing the re-enactors and told him I was a professional piccolo player, and could I join them? He said to dress as a Colonial militiaman and meet them in Freedom Plaza at 9:00 a.m.

After a little research I put together a costume on short notice, and bought a purse big enough to carry my piccolo on the plane with me. I explained to the TSA guys on both flights that the funny-looking case in my purse was a piccolo. One of them said, "Hmm, we don't see many of those."

I stayed with my aunt, who lived in Fairfax, Virginia, and she took me to the metro station to catch the 7:00 train, so we had to leave her house at 6:30 (remember that time….). The train was FULL of people going to the march, many with signs, patriotic shirts and hats, but I was the only person in "period costume" so I got a lot of attention. Everyone I met that day was so friendly and eager to say where they were from. It turns out there were people from ALL 50 states at the march and rally!
Me with the dark brown waistcoat
I arrived at Freedom Plaza (just east of the White House) at 7:45 and already there were hundreds of people waiting for the start of the march. I found our "leader" and a group of re-enactors from Georgia. They had wonderful costumes, much better than mine. There were five musicians in the group: one drummer, one fifer who also played piccolo (and knew what she was doing), her husband who was shaky but reliable on fife, and two beginners. Fortunately a four-person fife and drum outfit from Delaware showed up who REALLY knew what they were doing. We would not have sounded so great without them!
The fife and drum corps from Delaware
The march wasn't supposed to begin until 11:30, but there were SO many thousands of people crowding the two block wide plaza, spilling into the streets and adjoining blocks that the police said we had to begin at 9:30 just to relieve the "congestion"! So our "fearless leader" led the march, followed by his "sargeant-at-arms" who gave the commands (we had to MARCH like a regular militia unit), and then our fife and drum "corps" followed marching in a single line across the street (I was on the end on the south side).
Halting in front of the Capitol
Photo op in front of Capitol
Not only did we play "Yankee Doodle" (and I now know the "authentic" version) but "Rally Around the Flag," "Rakes of Mallow," and several other songs. I learned the "fife up" drill, and then had to guess what key we were playing in and "sight-read" (actually "hear-read") while marching in step, avoiding people getting in our way, AND breathing! It had been a l-o-n-g time since I was in a marching band....

We marched to the front just below the Capitol steps. Eventually we had to move farther back, but we still had a great view of the speakers. Each and every person present was an average American--young, old, black, white, brown, male, female, and many had never done anything like it before. Many carried creative and original signs, others carried flags: American, "Don't Tread on Me," and many, many states' flags. It was inspiring to see flags from nearly every state!

The national news reported that there were only "60,000" people, but that is NOT true. There were easily 1.5 million, maybe more. There was a SEA of people from the Capitol all the way to the Washington Monument, plus there were people spilled out to either side of the Capitol and way down all the other streets! It was an absolutely amazing sight!

The most moving moment for me was when we all sang the National Anthem---a million voices raised together! Wow!

We shouted ourselves hoarse cheering (and sometimes booing) as well as chanting "U.S.A." but the atmosphere was more like a gigantic pep rally, not an "angry mob." It was so encouraging that so many came from so far to participate, and many of the speakers (a black Marine, I felt, was the very best) were outstanding and spoke from the heart. Periodically a lady came to the mike and said, "Nancy Pelosi, can you hear us now?" and we would FILL the air with noise!!!

I did leave at 3:00 p.m. There were more speakers yet to come, but after being on my feet since 7:30 I was exhausted. I hadn't seen a bathroom since 6:30 so hadn't been drinking my water and gatorade like I should have, so I thought I'd head back before it got so crowded that I would collapse. Even so, enough of the others were also leaving that I had to wait 45 minutes at the metro station for the train (after walking more than a mile back from the Capitol) and when a train finally came had to stand crammed like a sardine for the almost one hour ride back to Fairfax. The train was slower than usual. Everyone was very kind and patient, though, even though most of them were just as tired as I was.

By the time I got back to my aunt's house it was 5:30. Eleven hours is a l-o-n-g time without a bathroom. Yikes!

I'm SO thankful I was able to go and dress up and play my piccolo and be a part of such an amazing event with a couple million fellow American patriots. And I was so inspired I went home and formed a fife and drum corps, but that's the subject of another blog entry….

This is a video one of the re-enactors made. Near the beginning you can see (and hear) me--I had a long brown ponytail back then! Once the march begins I'm on the far end, the only one with a dark brown waistcoat.

Monday, July 14, 2014

My Fifteen Minutes of Fame

One reporter's idea of an "arty pose"
In 1994 I published a short article with an American History magazine for kids (Cobblestone) about the Navajo Code Talkers of World War II. I found the subject so fascinating I wanted to write a book for children so they could learn about my new heroes. When I couldn't interest any big publishing houses, I found a small one that marketed primarily to schools and libraries, since I really was more interested in sharing this remarkable story with children than making a "name" for myself.

The publisher was good about marketing to schools and libraries, but I decided to try to sell a few more copies by setting up book signings. The first one was at the local independent bookstore in our small town.
Invite to the local booksigning (my first)
Thankfully I had ordered quite a few copies directly from the publisher (at 50%) because the bookstore manager only bought ten copies, which were sold out in the first few minutes. I asked my husband and son to run home and bring the box of books I'd just received from the publisher. Thanks to my alert nine-year-old son (who counted the copies of my books) I wasn't shorted at the end, because the bookstore manager didn't count them correctly!
First presentation at a San Antonio Barnes & Noble
I quickly developed a presentation and discovered I could sell many more books after people heard the story (and my excitement). I didn't set out to do a lot of presentations, but word spread and I had more and more invitations.
First book signing at SA B&N with proud hubby & son
Then in 2002 the movie "Windtalkers" came out. Prior to the opening, a new World War II museum in San Antonio contacted me about doing two presentations in conjunction with the opening weekend of the movie, in order to generate interest in their museum. The local Hastings bookstore also contacted me, and I set up a presentation with them for the day after the ones at the San Antonio museum. Usually they advertised book signings with the author's name on the marquee, but I asked them to put "Navajo Code Talkers" since my name isn't a household word, and I thought it might tie in with the movie, too.
One of many ads for the museum event
I had NO expectation of what happened that weekend. The museum had its own PR director, who set up a radio interview, an interview with the San Antonio Express-News, and a TV interview at 5:15 in the MORNING (which meant I had to leave my house about 3:45 in the morning to make sure I could find it and not be late--my son came too on this different kind of homeschool "field trip"). As a result of all this publicity, I sold (and autographed--ouch) more than 300 books over the two days, and after a book signing at a San Antonio Barnes & Noble the following Saturday was featured on TV again, on another station. (Boy are those lights BRIGHT.)
Article in San Antonio Express-News
You know what I learned from this experience? (1) Interviewers hear what they want to hear and never report things 100% accurately, (2) don't take yourself too seriously, and (3) don't try to smile just a little bit; smile with your whole face and the picture will turn out much better.
I'm just very thankful that because of my feeble efforts many people, children as well as adults, learned the true story of the Navajo Code Talkers.

P.S. About those reporter inaccuracies: The radio guy wasn't happy that I was "just a children's author" so he later identified me as "one of the original Code Talker historians" which is totally inaccurate and really annoyed me for a very long time....after all, I was only 11 years old when the Navajo Code was declassified.

Monday, July 7, 2014

The Reality of Survivor Guilt

Me at 2007 Relay for Life; 2 yrs remission
What is "survivor guilt"?

The WebMD site defines it this way:  "Survivor guilt derives from situations where persons have been involved in a life-threatening event and lived to tell about it (such as Holocaust survivors, war veterans, rescue workers, transplant recipients, relatives spared from hereditary illnesses, and long-term survivors of acute and chronic illnesses).  In the special case of chronic illness, survivor guilt can occur after the deaths of peers who faced the same diagnosis."

After seeing one of Don Trioani's Civil War paintings, I realized why battle survivors feel guilty that they lived when so many of their comrades died.  In many instances, surviving the bullets, shrapnel, etc. can be a matter of luck so it's easy to see how survivors would think, "Why them and not me?"

In the last nine years since surviving aggressive and atypical non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, I too feel an unreasonable guilt when those I know and love (and even some total strangers) succumb to cancer.  I think, "Why them and not me?"  These feelings can really drag you down into a hole depression and despair if you let them.  You can waste precious time wringing your hands instead of rejoicing that you're still alive, or as my Dad used to say, "on the right side of the dirt."

Last year my beloved, full-of-life sister-in-law died from cancer that had become widespread before it was even diagnosed.  It seemed so unfair that she be cut down when she had so much more life to live, but she died at peace with herself and with God, and that certain knowledge has helped me more than anything.

Now when I begin to think, "Why him/her and not me?" I just imagine Charlotte's Tennessee twang scolding me and saying, "Now, Sis, it's just not your time yet.  You have work to do before you can join me."
Charlotte and me 1995--thanks, Sis!