The Band Played On

Unfortunately, I have no actual musical talent. I can’t dance a lick. Some people have two left feet. Not me, I got three. I don’t sing well. I get a lot of requests when I do. The top two are usually “Stop” and “Shut up.” I do play a couple of instruments, but I play them wretchedly. I tried to be in the school band, but wasn’t one of the stars. More of a black hole, actually.

Way back in my last year in elementary school I was in the band. Our band director had a policy of having an end of school picnic for the band. He announced to us that all the elementary schools in town were supposed to show up at the biggest park in town for an all day party. Part of the day was devoted to the baseball game. Each of the schools put together a team and then they played each other until a champion was crowned. The tournament was two innings a game and the team that won went on to the next round and the losers went off to play on the swing sets. A number of parents showed up to ump and semi-manage the teams and there was a little trophy for the winning team to keep in its band room until the next year. I don’t recall who won the trophy my last year in elementary school. I remember we didn’t.

The problem was there were seven elementary schools in town. That meant somebody couldn’t play while the other teams were busy on the available fields (I think there are four or five of them). What happened was that one team got a bye into the second round (it rotated yearly so that every seven years your team got the bye). Then the three winners plus the team with the by went to a second round, with the two winners playing for the trophy. My sixth grade year, my school got the bye.

That meant we played one less game, which was awful. I wanted to play and hated to be the bye. I also knew a secret. There were actually eight elementary schools in town. The eighth was called Carver.

A couple of weeks before the games, my little sister got sick. I was asked to call the school and tell them she was sick and wouldn’t come to school. I have no idea why I couldn’t just bring a note saying that she was ill, but I was asked to call. Way back then to find a phone number for a school, you looked in the Yellow Pages. I knew that and went down the list until I found ours, Woodrow Wilson. Wilson was last alphabetically, so I counted down and there we were at eighth. I could count all the way to eight by sixth grade (I was something of a prodigy.). So I knew there were eight elementary schools in town, not seven.

So why have a by when we had eight schools? I could also divide by two. (See, told you I was a prodigy) So being something of a loudmouth I went to the band director and asked, “How come we have a bye? Where’s Carver?”

To this day I remember his face. He was simply stunned by the question. “That’s the black school,” I was told. Actually “black” isn’t the word he used. “They don’t come to band picnics.”

OK, I guess. I still wasn’t quite sure why not, but if the band director said they didn’t come, well, then they didn’t come. I supposed they had no band. I was, of course, wrong. They had a band. the black community wasn’t all that large, so it was a small one. It seems they just weren’t invited to the game.

We finally integrated the school system in my tenth grade year. It didn’t go all that well, but no body got killed. A handful of black kids from Carver were in the band. Some people weren’t really pleased with the idea, but the band continued to play (Interestingly enough, none joined the high school baseball team.). They closed Carver that year, so finally the elementary school band baseball game included all the schools and this time legitimately had a bye.



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