There once was a caller from Marion. . .
Disappointment. Too often, it circles our best-laid plans like turkey vultures preparing to perch on Marion’s water tower.
This week’s editorial was going to be cute little “small world” story about how even people who’ve never stepped foot in Marion perk up their ears when they hear references to our hometown.
Walking to lunch last week at the University of Illinois, I encountered a former student from the Chicago suburbs who excitedly told me how he had heard a Marion resident call in to a quiz show on National Public Radio.
Students in my class become intimately — some would say obsessively — indoctrinated to life in Marion because of an initial assignment that uses actual stories from the Record.
By the end of each semester, students are producing print and online packages that have appeared in the Chicago Tribune and try to compete with CNN, Google, and the New York Times by designing world news websites that take a decidedly different approach to the news.
But for their first project, to get started, they design a mythical page of the Marion County Record. And unlike chain newspaper designers, who have not a clue about the distant communities for which they are designing pages, my students have to learn a bit about Marion first.
The fact that former student Tim Gilmour was excited to have heard a Marion reference on a nationwide radio broadcast felt good, and I set to work documenting the appearance of a woman named Whitney from Marion, Kansas, who competed in a limerick contest on the hour-long “Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me” news quiz show.
There were all sorts of Kansas tie-ins and digs during the program, which features Kansas journalism grad and legendary TV anchor and documentarian Bill Kurtis as scorekeeper and judge.
The whole account of Whitney’s visit required quite a bit of time listening to an online recording of the show. It was all ready to go this morning when, at the last minute, a little more Internet sleuthing discovered her last name — and with that discovery the fact that she’s Merriam, not Marion..
As often is said when a Silver Bullet Band tribute group performs, close but no Seger.
Undeterred, I switched to another topic — the newly arrived results of my spit-in-a-tube for $50 DNA ancestry test.
In addition to providing a perfect chance to decrease my bank balance while increase my volume of incoming junk mail, it was at long last an opportunity to prove, once and for all, a long-standing family belief that one of my ancestors was Native American.
It wasn’t one of those white-privilege things about relatives believing the family tree included a branch from a Native American princess. It was a true fact that a several-times-over great-grandmother had worked as a government translator of Indian languages, looked a bit Native American, and often regaled family members with Indian lore.
Alas, when I dialed up results of my spit test on a web page, they proved that, in this age in which diversity is celebrated, I am one of the whitest of all white people — 69% from England, Wales and northwest Europe; 23% from Ireland and Scotland; and just 8%, despite a last name of Meyer, from Germanic Europe.
That was it. The only thing my DNA would qualify me for might be membership in is some neo-Nazi white supremacist group I really wished didn’t even exist.
About the only place I could go with my DNA would be to claim I’m more British than the British royal family — which undoubtedly is true. But that would make it sound as if I were bashing Meghan Markle, and as one of the few people who actually watched the TV show she co-starred in before she became royal, I didn’t want to do that.
So I was left with just one thing to write about this week: tubas. Or, to be more precise, sousaphones — the topic of last resort for all former sousaphonists. (Ask Greg Bowers if you don’t believe me.)
I’m proud to report that grandson Henry, now a high school freshman in Livermore, California, is following in his grandfather’s extra heavy footsteps, weighed down by a 30-pound sousaphone, as a member of his high school band.
Some people learn the piano. Some, the guitar. Still others, the flute, sax, trumpet, or clarinet. But there’s absolutely nothing more memorable than sitting around a Yule log with family and friends, whipping out the old sousaphone, and playing seasonal folk favorites.
‘And who can forget those wonderful sousaphone masterpieces I performed with the KU marching band in the ’70s. Ah, I even now can hear the fake “mooing” sound we played whenever archrival K-State bandsmen played one of their school songs.
Unfortunatley, that’s a reminder that it was only a few years ago that Friend Mother, an inveterate KU fan, finally accepted the cold, hard truth about what had been Marion’s school song when she was in school.
Before being replaced by a version of “On. Wisconsin,” Marion’s school song had been “Faithful and True-Hearted,” which if you listen to the melody long enough you realize was actually rewritten lyrics for K-State’s “Wildcat Victory.”
Disappointment again rears its ugly head, emerging even from the shiny bell of a sousaphone and thereby preventing me from going on about one of the most unusual things about my first year in the KU Band.
The band, at least for my first year, was all male. Women, it seems, weren’t deemed physically capable of keeping up with its 480-beat-per-second, stadium-steps-run-in speed. Except, of course, they were — which probably is a disappointment to those same hate groups I might qualify for membership for because of my DNA.
So if you’re waiting for some humorous enlightenment as days grow shorter and shorter in anticipation of arts events and Old Settlers Day, you are just going to have to settle for a “bag” headline that’s been waiting for the right story to come along.
Next time you read about a conflagration in a toy airplane factory, channel Jerry Lee Lewis and wait for the headline: “Great balsa fire.”
If you survived reading all of this to end up getting just a bad pun, keep in mind that when I was first learning to read comic books, I always wondered why supervillians criticized the wordplay of superheros by calling them “puny.” What did puns have to do with Spider-Man anyway?
Ah, disappointment. ’Nuff said. Now you know what it feels like.
— ERIC MEYER
Last modified Sept. 12, 2019