A few years ago … okay, a little more than a few years ago … when I was beginning the sixth grade … the local school system hired a band director and began organizing a high school band. The system was so small that even junior high school students were incorporated into the band. If it couldn’t be good, it could at least be large. I felt I was musically inclined so I joined, being one of a little over 100 students who also decided they had an inclination toward musical talent.
At that time, the early 1960’s, the South was, for all intents and purposes, functioning under a one party system … the Democratic Party. Republicans were some sort of strange creatures which didn’t exist south of the Mason-Dixon Line.
After what seemed like a minimal time for practice, our band was asked to perform at a county Democratic meeting. The new band director chose a select group of about 20 to 30 students, essentially the ones who had figured out which end of their instruments to blow into, and proceeded to prepare us ( I was one of the chosen few ) to play several pieces of music with a minimum of bad notes. It was an ambitious endeavor.
The evening was exciting. This was my first opportunity to perform as a musician in public and my first exposure to the inner workings of a political party.
I remember very little about our actual performance other than some polite applause. The performance probably wasn’t something to be remembered anyway.
But … I was totally fascinated by the proceedings that were going on around me. The meeting was held in the county high school auditorium. This was the old high school auditorium located in a building that had been constructed in the early 1920’s. It was subsequently demolished and replaced by a modern high school building which was completed midway through my freshman year in high school. The old auditorium had class … a raised stage which was deep with an extensive lighting system and lots of massive curtains … suitable for a first class theatrical production. The seating sloped down to the foot of the stage and a substantial balcony was accessed from the second floor. In comparison, the new high school auditorium was flat, tasteless and doubled as the school cafeteria … very tacky and even more tasteless.
The meeting proceedings were fascinating. I began to notice that, as various speakers were giving their presentations, the same few select individuals who were scattered about the group would get up and begin cheering and applauding at fairly regular intervals which encouraged everyone else to get up to cheer and applaud. This gave the meeting the air of a festive gathering. All motions that were proposed were approved by applause or acclamation. No votes were taken.
Finally, a distinguished looking gentleman got up to address the group. With the usual prompting, everyone stood up to cheer and applaud him for a rather lengthy time. I’m sure he was the keynote speaker for the evening, a term which had no meaning for me at the time. Upon his introduction, I knew who he was. I had never met him personally, but was very familiar with his name and position in the community. He was a local physician who also owned and ran one of the two hospitals in the county as well as having extensive farm holdings. Everyone who was anyone owned farmland. He was also the representative for the county in the state legislature … a very prominent man indeed.
I paid little attention to what he said until the end of his speech. In two short sentences, he caught and held my attention like a lightening bolt.
“I’ve always been a Democrat and will always be a Democrat.”
“I’ve always voted a straight Democratic ticket and will always vote a straight Democratic ticket.”
Everyone stood up and applauded and cheered for what seemed like forever.
But, at the age of eleven, his statements seemed to me to be insanely odd. I distinctly recall assessing his position and the fact that he was an intelligent and educated man.
I also vividly recall my immediate impression of what I thought was the total absurdity of his statement. He had just professed in public that, even if the Democratic Party nominated a total idiot for a political position, he would vote for the idiot. That assessment of his statement was glued in my memory.
Isn’t it interesting how the mind of an eleven year old works?