I was born with the natural grace of a three-legged bull moose and the athletic prowess of a potholder, sad truths I learned at the tender age of six when my parents enrolled me in a baton twirling class.
Back in the day, baton twirling was a big deal, at least in Floydada, Texas. One of my earliest role models was Suzanne, the head twirler in the Floydada Whirlwind marching band. She looked like a blonde goddess in her short spangled green and white outfit, and my Uncle Jack was married to her older sister which almost made us relatives.
Each and every Friday night during football season mini-me waited expectantly for the twirlers to make their halftime appearance. I copied Suzanne’s every move with my imaginary baton. Twist, spin, toss, twirl, march, mega toss, catch. I was breathtaking.
So captivated with the art of twirling was I that I convinced my parents that twirling was the most important thing in my life. When the high school twirlers started a workshop for potential twirlers I was the first in line. Fortunately, the initial investment was minimal. Batons were cheap and as I recall lessons were fifteen dollars.
I remember vividly my first class. Suzanne and the other high school twirlers lined all of the participants up on the out of bounds lines in the gym. Even at six I was among the tallest, so I was placed at the very end of the line.
First, they showed us how to stand at attention with our batons. And then we got to march around the perimeter of the gym, heads held high, knees snapping up and down, left, right, left, at 90 degree angles. I couldn’t quite get the hang of marching. This was all much easier with my imaginary baton.
Then we stopped and learned the figure eight move. I twisted my wrist and magically the baton moved as I willed it. Faster, faster, I twirled. I was a regular twirling dervish. Next we tried to march and twirl the figure eight. I could do one, but not the other, at least not simultaneously. Twirl or march, twirl or march, which was it to be? Still at the end of the line I would stand stock still and twirl, then quickly march to catch up, stop and twirl again.
Apparently, this was not the desired outcome. After the lesson I saw Suzanne approach my dad. They looked at me, and Suzanne laughed and shook her head. On the ride home Daddy said Suzanne thought I should try learning another skill. I’d suspected as much, but it still crushed my little six year old heart.
I never looked at the twirlers in quite the same way after that; although, over the years I continued practicing the one skill I learned. I can still twirl the figure eight like nobody’s business. Just don’t expect me to march while I’m doing it.