|Reflections on April 19th from 2,500 Miles Away By Stu Heinecke|
It's nearly April 19th, as I sit here at my desk, in my studio in Seattle. I'll miss this year's march as I have for the past thirty eight years before, but I'm always there in spirit.
I joined the Sudbury Ancient Fyfe & Drum Companie when I was just ten years old, way back when Dick Moore, the founder of the corps, still played and marched, and Bob Johnson and John Rice were the Drum and Fife Masters. It was a l-o-n-g time ago. So long, in fact, that I was not only a witness to Ferndock's Folly, I nearly went down in the river that day myself.
My years with the fife and drum corps and minutemen have stayed with me in more ways than just great memories. There is a rare spirit there that can make Sudbury a very special place to live, and carry a young person far in life. The Minutemen are one of the most unusual civic groups I've ever known, and certainly from my early-life perspective, it has been a great source of inspiration, mentorship and a whole lot of fun.
It was from that platform that I launched from Sudbury to attend USC in Los Angeles. And I happened to hit the timing just right, as I was in school during the Bicentennial. I quickly assembled a new fife and drum band, called the Culpepper Minutemen, complete with our own homemade, rope-tension drums. I recruited an amazing snare drummer from the USC Marching Band, a friend to play the barrel drum and my brother, Eric, to play second fife, and we were off.
Since we were the only form of authentic entertainment from the Revolutionary War era in L.A., we quickly became a big hit, playing in the Hollywood Bowl, on television, in sports events, Disneyland and more. When we didn't have a gig, we taught ourselves how to earn $200 an hour simply by throwing down the hat. It was a magical time, one I could not have had without my time in the Sudbury corps. The two most memorable performances from that period came as we performed at a private party held at the Hollywood Bowl for the Los Angeles and Israeli Philharmonic Orchestras and our appearance on the stand that Summer at Deep River. I think we shocked everyone when they announced we'd come all the way from Los Angeles to perform. Since I'd played there so many times before with the Sudbury Ancients -- and fresh from our choreography session from Disneyland -- we put on a great show, prompting a thunderous standing ovation.
At some point, I remember making it home in time to march with Sudbury in one of the town's parades. But, having just come from L.A., I must've looked a bit out of place (was it the ever-present sunglasses, perhaps?) prompting my good friend Les Longworth to quip, "Just call us the Sudbury and Malibu Fife and Drum Corps from now on..."
Les really stood out a lot for me during those years. You all knew him as a great fife player, a great guy and obviously, as a very talented cartoonist. But to me, he was also one of my great inspirations, to become a professional cartoonist. Of course, Gahan Wilson, Eldon Dedini, Leo Cullum, Arnie Levin, Bob Mankoff and others from Playboy and The New Yorker were also my heroes of cartooning, but Les was the first on-scene to offer encouragement and advice. I went on to work with and befriend all of those heroes and more, and once again, I can trace the origin of that path straight back to my time with the Minutemen and fife and drum corps.
Les also happened to be there when the famous Ferndock boondoggle occurred. We'd marched like we did so many times before on the 19th, to the place where we would have to cross the Concord River. Usually, we just marched across a bridge, but this happened to be a time when some of the Minutemen wanted to re-invent our mode of crossing. One year there was a bridge made of canoes, but this year, the guys came up with a highly-improvised ferry system, and for some reason, the musicians were chosen to make the first crossing.
So there we were, me, Les, Tim Meixsell and Dick Ruquist, sitting atop this plywood platform lashed to two aluminum jon boats, making our way across using the guide line the crew had strung across the river. And the guys on the other end of the tow rope were not happy with our conduct. They yelled at us to let go of the line and let them pull the raft across, per their design, but we were having none of it. We could see that if we let go, the raft would have drifted too far downstream for it to work properly, so we happily applied our own procedure to the crossing.
Soon enough, we disembarked and watched from the bank as they sent the ferry back across the river for its next load. And these gents dutifully did as they were told. Let go, relax and enjoy the ride. And put more people on this time. And sure enough, the raft did drift too far downstream, exposing the fatal flaw in their design. The two aluminum boats employed in their concept, it turned out, were of different lengths, with the smaller boat on the upstream side. As the overly-zealous tug crew on our side of the river pulled their cargo toward shore, it was just too much for the upstream boat to endure, and so began the most infamous sinking in the history of the Sudbury Minutemen. There they were, those unlucky minutemen, just thirty feet offshore, unable to do anything but clamber to the last floating corner of the raft as it went down, just like Sudbury's very own Titanic. You could see on all of those poor guys' faces a sense of utter disbelief. It was at once funny and tragic, because there was such a loss of valuable memorabilia dating all the way back to the Revolutionary War. But fortunately, no one was hurt, and in the unsinkable spirit of the Minutemen organization, it quickly became one of those hilarious stories we'd be able to tell over a beer (some of us) at the Inn later that day, and it turns out, for many years thereafter.
I wasn't around for the courts martial of a certain fictional Mr. Isaac Ferndock, but I'd heard and later seen in Les Longworth's drawings that it must have been a great time and a lot of laughs, because that's what the Minuteman experience is in Sudbury. Pure magic. And more fun than one town's worth of people should be allowed to muster.
As you march this year and those that follow, I'll be thinking of you. I hope you all appreciate how fortunate you are to have such a joy in your lives, such a positive force that, whether you know it or not, is shaping the lives of those around you in the most delightful ways. And in my own adventures to come, I hope I'll get to join you once again for that delightful march on the 19th of April, to commemorate living the wonderful life our forebears fought to bestow upon us all those years ago.
Stu Heinecke is the author of "Drawing Attention", and is a nationally-published cartoonist and Hall-of-Fame-nominated marketer, who is also a former member of the Sudbury Ancient Fyfe and Drum Companie and the Sudbury Companies of Militia & Minute.