If Not Consequences, and Not Unintended, at Least Unexpected

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(Today I had lunch with a co-worker and friend at a locally owned German restaurant after a successful inspection at our Company’s local office. I’d call it a celebration in the sense that “we” received a “passing grade” on the inspection. We engaged in small talk for most of the lunch, but I found myself telling her some of my life story, a part that I have told other people about, but have never put it into a written record. To be honest, I have been developing this story for more than 14 years, and mentioned I might write this part of the story; she encouraged me to do so. So, here we go…)

In May, 1978, I was near to graduating from the University of North Alabama with a double major in music and education, and had already earned an 8-year teaching certificate from the Alabama Department of Education. Between my student teaching assignment at my high school alma mater, singing with the Huntsville Community Chorus, getting ready for my senior tuba recital, and simply trying to eat right, I was pretty busy. One day my supervising teacher asked me to pick up some supplies from a music store nearby, to which I readily agreed.

The proprietor met me as I entered, satisfied my purchases, and then said, “Can I ask you something?” “Well, sure,” I replied. The question was, “Do you have a job yet?” Answer: “No, I don’t.”

He came back with, “Well, do you want Berry?” I was stunned, of course, as Berry High School in Birmingham was one of the premier band programs in the State, so I said, “Of course!”

Then he said, “No, I don’t mean WA Berry. I mean Berry High School in Fayette County.” (Okay.)

I’d been “on the ground” in Fayette County exactly once, during my work in 1970 on an Alabama gubernatorial campaign. My memories did not precisely reverberate into enthusiasm, for I remembered it as two or three small towns, a lot of forest and empty meadows and fields, and a few fairly impressive hills. Even so, I asked for more information, and was rewarded for my query.

He told me about the Town of Berry, 600 souls overnight and on weekends, and 1200 when school opened at 0800 and all the way until 1500 during the school year. It was a “poor town”, with lots of poverty, lots of people living on disability payments of one kind or another (particularly “black lung” payments due to the large and very productive underground coal mine on the outskirts of town). He told me that the high school’s band room had burned after a lightning strike in 1951 (the year I was born), destroying instruments, uniforms, and sheet music, and that there had been no band program there since that time.

He also told me that for many years residents and friends had been asking the county board of education to reinstate instrumental music in that town and had always been rebuffed–until recently. The county board had changed their “minds” after a Band Boosters meeting had disclosed that the people of that Town had amassed a very substantial sum of money to support a renewed Berry High School Band.

Now, you ought to understand that in Alabama a school board, once it has decided to allow a curriculum, has now and had then only two obligations: (1) Hire and pay a teacher, and (2) Provide a classroom space. Musical instruments cost money, regardless of the time period, as do sheet music and uniforms and required tools, etc. When the board learned that the Band Boosters had amassed that much money they agreed to fund the teacher and the space. So this brought me to my conversation with this music store owner. Understand, he was a product of Fayette County, and he had coached the current high school Principal in baseball a while earlier. I thought for maybe a microsecond, and told him I was up for the game if he was.

A couple of days later I met him and another fellow at his store and we drove to Berry for an interview with the Principal, Guidance Counselor, and the Board of Trustees. (Trustees are a few community leaders, usually successful business persons, and they have the actual control over who gets to interact with their school children; I don’t think that’s a bad idea, you know. If they don’t approve of the applicant it’s not likely the Superintendent will ever grant an interview. The only questions I received from those three men were, “Are you an Alabama [football] fan, or Auburn?” and “How long will it take you to put a marching band on the football field?” [As it was a grade 5-12 situation I told them it would take at least a year to put a band on the field, and they wouldn’t be marching and playing at the same time. For the college football question I took the shot that Berry was about 45 miles from Tuscaloosa, and a long distance from Auburn, and answered accordingly. I’d guess I answered correctly.)

So, from Berry we drove 20 miles West to the county seat of Fayette, and I met with the Superintendent. He asked me no questions about pedagogical ideas or practice, what my dreams and illusions and expectations were, or anything else, for I suspect that he already had a “positive report” from the Trustees. The interview might have lasted 20 minutes, if that long, and at the end the Superintendent told me to make sure they had my phone number, and that they would be in touch. This meant little to me other than that I hadn’t been told to get lost.

I had no phone in my studio apartment, but when I got home from student teaching the next day I had a note on my door telling me there was a message for me at the apartment office. I rushed over and found that I needed to call the Fayette County Superintendent of Education. So I went to the pay phone and called. Mr. Superintendent had a simple message for me: “If you want the job, you’ve got it. When can you be here?” I told him that I very much wanted the job, and that it would take a few days to get there, but that I would work with the Principal to make that happen.

Not long afterward someone knocked at my door, and the message was that I needed to call the senior pastor of the Berry Methodist Parish, from whom I learned that he wanted a “summer youth director”, offered living arrangements and a pretty darn good salary, all of which I thanked him for and said I had a couple of things to tie up before I could move [like college graduation], and asked, “When can you be here?”

I had been offered musical directorship for the Community Chorus’s production of “Carnival” in the upcoming Summer, and I had accepted the position. So I had to call that guy and beg off from my commitment; he graciously understood and released me. It took a couple of days to arrange for a U-Haul truck and some loading help on the Huntsville end, and some on the Berry end.

So, with the help of all of those School Trustees and a few Band Booster parents I got installed into the old parish house a couple of blocks from the school and 250 feet from the Church. Did a reach-out for a meeting in the parish house on Sunday for the following week, and got things going. It was a bit disappointing that when I asked for ideas about activities the most common answer was, “Let’s get drunk and go to the mud races!” The activities turned out to be me accompanying them to see “Grease” at the Alabama Theater in Tuscaloosa, and going bowling once. I also had a few days before “school’s out for the Summer” to arrange a few informal meetings to get the 70 or so children I had kind of introduced to reading music, listening to themselves and their classmates, that kind of thing. I used very cheap “recorders” (sort of a flute, but as I said, very cheap).

Things went downhill after a powerful thunderstorm destroyed the air conditioning in the parish house and in the Church building, for that was an awfully hot Alabama Summer. Well, the Parish Stewards had to fix something, and the parish house was not the more important thing; I get that. It was a huge expense, and as I think I have mentioned, this was a pretty “poor town”. So I was given the opportunity to live in the house, but without duties and without salary, until I could make other arrangements. Creative financing came about in short order, and I moved to the county seat.

I suppose all of the above is nothing more than the back-story. I taught in that school for three years, and apparently had some success. The third year I received the assignment to teach 8th grade Business Law and Civics in addition to other duties (bus watch, club sponsorship, teaching, etc.). With me being a Constitutionalist who had voted Libertarian in 1980, I’m sure those children got a brand of Civics they had never imagined before–possibly some of them learned something.

During that third year’s second semester the Principal called me in to explain that he could not justify my salary for a fourth year due to my “small number” of 70 or students. He offered that, if I would take an unpaid leave of absence, go back to school and get math and science certifications, he could “probably” rehire me afterwards. It didn’t take much thought to realize that was nothing like a deal, and if it was it was a very bad deal, so I offered my resignation on the spot. The Board of Education accepted it a few days later. Okay.

Now we get to the meat of the story.

Late in May, 1981, I drove away from Berry High School for what I thought was the last time. I cried just about all of the 20-mile drive back home. You see, when I took that job, I had the idea that I would build a full career in it, build a fine instrumental music program, and then hand over the reins and go to my dotage. That is not the way it turned out, though. I had given them three years, and my efforts were not enough. Again, okay.

So I moved back to Huntsville, with a lot of help from young guys I had known and worked with at my second job in a chain department store in Fayette. (Yes, there was beer involved!) I took a FORTRAN course that Summer, and headed on into UNIVAC Assembly Language Programming, but there were zero junior programming jobs here at that time. An old college friend, having won “Best in Class” with his middle school band a couple of years in a row, and who was returning to school for an MA in music education, offered me his job on a “gentleman’s agreement” for one year. I was interested, met with the Principal, and took the job.

The school year of 1981-82 was largely uneventful, except for the District and State Band Competitions, in which my band took full Superior ratings, to great joy, and the Six Flags over Georgia Competition (the previous two years the band had won “Best in Class”, mind you) where we took a solid “Class III”. Well, again, “school was out for the Summer”, and I had courses to take–Precalculus I/II, Discrete Structures in Computer Science, Advanced UNIVAC Assembly Language Programming–and then on to graduate school. But that’s not really part of this, except to support the memory that eventually I got a job with Sperry Corporation late in 1982. Things kind of took off. Until…

In June, 2003, I took the extremely stupid step of smarting off to a Defense Security Service agent during a 10-year review of my security clearance. Less than two weeks later I had no security clearance. Two days later I had no job, because you just don’t work in “high tech” in Huntsville without a proper clearance. So, things rolled on.

In September, 2003, I got a phone call from Tommy, a man who had been one of my trombone players at Berry High School. He told me that, as it was at that time 25 years since I had “started” the band program there, some of them wanted to have a reunion at a football game late in October. We talked about that a little while, and I said that I would enjoy that a very great deal. So I made plans, getting a hotel room in Jasper (a really rotten little city about 35 miles from Berry), and driving that 150 miles after a short work day on a Friday.

Now, picture this, if you will. Leaving Jasper the route was West along “some” highway, South on Alabama 18, through Oakman and Corona and up the big hill into Berry. As I topped the crest of that hill, I saw something mostly white hung up over the width of the highway; as I approached I saw that it was a banner said “Dennis Glover Day”. It’s a very short distance to the high school from there, and I parked, noticing a new field house and some stadium improvements. Within seconds, Tommy parked near me and we met, shaking hands and all of that Southern stuff. We went into the school cafeteria, where we found a “chili dinner” (execrable stuff, but I was hungry). I saw and spoke with a few parents and students in the cafeteria, and eventually Tommy asked if I’d like to see the band room.

Well, of course I’d like to see it, Tommy! This is a room I spent the entire Spring Break of 1981 building instrument and music folder racks in, using just about all of my discretionary budget for wood, screws, glue, and such. As we exited the cafeteria into the hallway toward the band room I saw the 20 feet of floor-to-ceiling display cases holding literally hundreds of trophies, awards, ribbons and such that band had won since I had left. (We certainly never earned any of that during the time I was there!) That was more than I could take in, to be honest.

We entered the band room, and all was chaos, as is expected with high school musicians on a football night. I met up with some of the old students and we talked a few minutes. Then the band director came in, and came over to me. After exchanging pleasantries, she made the most extraordinary offer, “Mr. Glover, would you care to conduct the National Anthem before tonight’s game?” Believe me, that was a tearful reply: “It would be nothing but an honor, Ma’am!”

She got the band kind of settled down and warmed up, then introduced me, telling them that they/we had to rehearse the Anthem before we could perform it. And by the way, the Band was joined by maybe 20 of my former students using those instruments they had used years before. I asked her if she had a baton, simply because I like a baton (stick) when there’s a spread formation. She replied that she had no baton, but I could use the claw-hammer underneath her desk if I wished! Pretty delightful lady there, I think.

So we assembled and marched to the stadium (to a cadence I and my drummers had composed more than 20 years before this night). The band director and drum major had charge of things after I rather tearfully conducted “The Star-Spangled Banner”, but as the football team came on the field I heard immediately the strains of the “Aggie War Hymn”, the “fight song” I had chosen, along with “Notre Dame Victory March” as our school fight songs in 1979. (See, back then, most people wanted to use “Yea, Alabama”, but I feared there might be some more powerful Auburn fans in the crowd, so I just chose sort of neutral music.)

All right, the first half was over, and the visiting band finished its halftime show. As the Berry Band took the field, I heard the PA announcer say, “Mr. Dennis Glover, our guest, please join the Drum Major and Berry High School Band at the 50-yard line.” What could I do? I was there, and had already participated in this thing, so I went.

Then the PA announcer said, “Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome the Mayor of the Town of Berry, and the City Council!” (This was getting more than weird.) “Mr. Mayor, Mr. Glover, please meet on the sideline.” We met and greeted each other, and he produced a Proclamation naming October 24, 2003, as “Dennis Glover Day” in the Town of Berry.

You know, sometimes you feel like a total failure, as I did late in May, 1981. But, if you have done some good, as often as not that good “catches up with you”, as it did to me on that night. I didn’t feel like a total failure late on the night of October 24, 2003.

To the Town of Berry, its residents and citizens: I have held hard thoughts against some of you from time to time. It’s been a long time since I’ve held those thoughts, for you have proved that you are decent and honorable people. Thank you for letting me know you all!

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CC BY 4.0 If Not Consequences, and Not Unintended, at Least Unexpected by Dennis Glover is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

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