Gerry’s Sword Dance

I'm 5th from the right, back row. Short hair. Best friend Pattie is the last one on the left, little blond on the back row.

I’m 5th from the right, back row. Short hair. Best friend Pattie is the last one on the left, little blond on the back row.

I just posted a picture of me in the Scottish Brigade back in high school. That was Austin High School in Houston, Texas. We dressed in kilts, had a bagpipe corps, along with drums and bugles. It was awesome. As part of the drill team, I learned Scottish dances, just like the sword dance Blade did in Real Vampires Know Hips Happen. Yes, I used my own experience when I wrote that scene in the latest Glory book. We only did the sword dance once and it was for a special occasion.

Now I don’t tell my age. I heard once that a lady never tells. But this was back when John F. Kennedy was President. He was coming to Houston to give a speech at Rice University. The Brigade was invited to perform for him. The speech was given at Rice’s football stadium which held thousands of people and it was expected to be packed. Of course our sponsor was eager to have us do this. It was summer, we were out of school, but we headed to campus near downtown and began practice. We’d never done a sword dance before but somehow we got some swords, not sharp of course, and that’s what we began to learn.

Now Houston in the summer is just a little cooler than hell itself. We practiced in shorts but when the big day came we wore our dress uniforms. That meant wool jackets, wool kilts, knee socks, plaids over our shoulders, hats, the whole nine yards. We were so excited. We marched in to the beat of the drums and the sound of the bugles. Company C, my group, was always last. We were the shorties. My best friend and I were always close together. I still see Pattie frequently. Lucky for me. Anyway, we formed groups of four, the crowd got silent and the bagpipes started. Talk about goosebumps!

Then we began to dance. We twirled and leaped over the swords we laid on the ground. I think I still remember a few of those moves. We’d practiced so much it was automatic. No way could we mess up in front of the President of the United States. Our kilts flared out as we danced. We had to keep solemn faces, that was part of the show, but after we marched off the football field, we were excited. We’d done it!

Do I remember the President’s speech? Not a word. I saw Kennedy again that November, the day before he was shot when he drove down Airport boulevard. He waved to us and said hello through a microphone in his limo. He wasn’t in a convertible in Houston. This all happened in 1963. Yep, I was just a kid.

Anyway, when I was writing Real Vampires Know Hips Happen and had just visited Scotland, that day in Texas came to mind. I knew I wanted Jerry to dance for Glory. Because the sword dance was something that warriors did. It was a man’s dance but graceful. I loved doing it for the President, but how great if our strong hunky Scot could show Glory his elegant side in this ancient ritual. Of course his sword would be lethal. I was glad mine was little more than a toy.

Funny how that high school experience became useful so many years later. But that’s how writing goes. You never know what you will draw on when you sit down to tell a story. The people you meet, the things you go through, they are all potential story lines.

I had a great time with my gal pals in the Brigade. We enjoyed slumber parties and exchanging gifts before every football game. Any fond memories of your high school days? Share and you can win a gift card from your favorite book retailer, Amazon or Barnes & Nobles. Twenty-five bucks this time. Comment by April 15, tax day. I can’t wait to hear what you have to share.

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31 Responses to “Gerry’s Sword Dance”

  1. Very cool Gerry 🙂 I was never athletic but I was in choir through high school and we had a lot of fun putting on shows and especially the cast parties after!

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  2. What an amazing story!

    I was Miss Stephanie in the production of To Kill a Mockingbird in my Grade 12 year of high school. I can remember the sets were built by fellow students and my door would open at random times during the performance. My foil, on stage and off, eventually made a comment allowing me to pop my head out for a bit of ad libbing about it being the depression after all. It worked well as the audience laughed.

    I also remember how the whole case gathered at the end of the production to stand and listen to audio of Martin Lurther King Jr’s “I have a dream quote” prior to the cast bow.

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  3. In my second year of High school I was in choir and my teacher sent in a video of us singing to Carnegie Hall for a chance to sing there with other choirs. We got a message back saying we were choosen to go. It was my frist time going to NY and it was amazing. On our flight there at like 6am in the morning the captin came over the speakers congradulating us and had the other passengers give us a clap and cheer. We stayed at the Hyate Hotel with the Hyate terminal under it. We were staying for a week and on the last day was the concert and a cruise around Ellis Island. Unfortunately IU was sick four out of the five days. Horrible cold, but I still went to the choir practices and walked around NY to see the sights and all. Though on our first night our teacher got us lost some where in little Italy after we had dinner. On our second night we got to go to a broad way showing of Hair Spray (we all wanted to watch Phantom of the Opera but in class Hair Spray got the most votes). Then we had dinner at the Hard Rock Cafe. The waiting area had a wall of Guitars signed by famous people. It was real neat. We had also gone on the Empire State building then visited ground zero. It was exciting to be in NY for the frist time and singing at Carnegie Hall was scary and thrilling at the same time. It was beautiful and large. It as such an honor to sing there and with other choirs from other states. And on my last day there before the bus left I spent the rest of my money at a books store. Found a two story Barnes and nobles.

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  4. That’s fabulous! Having lived in TX for a while , I can only imagine how much itching from the sweating went on! Lol. Cheering at homecoming in tenth grade. I was on JV and we got to cheer with the Varsity squad. It was a blast. Totally freezing though! We were in WV in November, in our little skirts. We did have sweaters. Lol

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  5. Kim Seeley Says:

    I was never involved in the school social activities, in fact the last 2 years of high school I only had to attend 3 classes – so I got on a school/work program. What I do rememeber from High Shcool though is my wonderful friends, I was never into the school sanctioned dances and such so my friends and I would go to the lake and have water gun fights or just lay on the lake looking at the stars (in the still heavy, hot air of Texas). On my graduation they took me to a local amusement park and we played bumper boats and raced go carts! So much fun. 🙂

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  6. Martha L Moore Says:

    I was a bagpiper in Brigade from ’42 thru ’46. Bea Lytle was our sponsor. I was Captain in my senior year It was the high point of my high school career.
    Those were the war years. We had a terrible time getting Austin High green. All the green dye went to war. Anyone who remembers that era will surely remember the cigarette slogan, “Lucky Strike green has gone to war”. Their pack became white.
    Our Brigade shirts went from green to white. Hard to find green satin ribbon for our bagpipes. Shoes were rationed so one of our precious shoe coupons went to purchase those lovely Brigade oxfords. Gas was rationed also, so out of town Brigade trips were nonexistent.
    Probably the greatest sacrifice was the reeds for our bagpipes. We had been getting them from Scotland. That went with the war, too. We sanded, painted with airplane dope …literally held them together with chewing gum and bailing wire!
    Yearbooks suffered as well. ’42-43 was 2 folded sheets printed on glossy paper. The next year it was a few more pages stapled together magazine style. Finally , ’45-46 was a hard bound book , about 1’3 the size of a normal yearbook with our long-absent green and white on the cover.
    We took all this in stride for our beloved Scottish Brigade

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  7. Leigh Irwin Says:

    I wish I could say I had fond memories of high school but it was a difficult time for me. I shared a one bedroom apartment with my mother and went to a school with predominantly wealthy kids. I was, as one would guess, a social outcast.
    I tried to do my best and overcome, but the 80’s were tough and if you didn’t dress right (yes, in those horrible clothes) you weren’t accepted.
    So I retreated into another world, the library. I could be anyone I wanted…lost in the magic of a book.
    Even when I grew up and was expecting my first child, he had more books before he was born than most and people thought I was crazy. ( I think I even bought some while trying, but I digress)
    Anyway, I guess I didn’t have such a bad high school experience after all if you count the many places I went, people I became and things I accomplished while living vicariously through the words of another.
    Thank you to Gerry for all the journeys you’ve taken me on and to the authors who saved me from high school.

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  8. I really didn’t like high school too much. I was very shy and always taller than most of the other kids in school. I did have an english teacher called Ms Abby. She helped foster my love for reading.

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  9. I feel like I was always sort of an older sole, I have never gotten on with people my own age, I preferred to chat with the teachers. However I spent most of my High school time in army cadets and while it wasn’t always great I do have fond memories of it, I played the glockenspiel and worked my way up to drum major and learned to play the drums (while marching drums) and started to learn the trumpet (I liked instruments)..

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  10. Amanda Heard Says:

    I was obviously not athletic (haha). But I was in chior like many others who have commented. We actually got the chance-about 15 of us-to go sing in Carnige Hall. This Alabama girl made a mark on New York and New York made a mark on me!
    I got lost several times! LOL I did some shopping…
    But I will never forget the feeling I got being up on that stage where so much history had taken place! Very exciting.

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  11. My high school memories were filled with home schooling and hospital beds. High school is when I first started to get sick. I was only 15. But I do still have a very fond memory of my home school teacher. She was a lovely lady raising a son on her own with no one to help her. She would bring him to my house with her because he had no one to go too. He would run to the videos and pick the Fox and the Hound every time. Which by the way he called the Fu#K and the hound. We laughed every time he said it. I had trouble with a lot of things because I was so sick but she helped to push me on through 4 years of high school. She came to my graduation, grad party, and wedding years later. She got married also. To a man she met on a country radio station dating thing. They had another child a girl whom she named after me. She told me that I had inspired her to push through the hard times. That seeing me at my worst and how tough I was made her a better person and that is how she wanted to daughter to be. She still to this day does not know that she was really the one who inspired me to to get up every morning even though I was in pain and work as hard as could. Without that special lady I would have never graduated. I just wish that all kids could have at least one teacher like that.

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    • Don’t sell yourself short, Danielle. You are tough and an inspiration. I don’t know where you get your energy. Glad that teacher realized she had to do something more with her life too. Because of you. Great story. Now stay well.

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  12. I had always known I wanted to be a writer of sorts. Being in 9th grade I got my first poem published in a book and throughout that year I got 5 more poems published and had a chance to go to Washington DC to read a poem of mine. Anyway from that time my love for writing grew even more then it had ever been. I took two of my dreams and tried to roll them into one. My junior year I signed the papers to become a journalist for the US Navy with scholarship to anywhere I wanted to go (Norwich University). I worked hard my junior and senior year doing pt before school and studying my bum off so I could go in at a higher ranking then an E1. I met my goal of an E-4 and locked my job as a JO, I was to leave for basic training 1 month to the day after I graduated. My dreams were coming true or so I thought. Little did I know the day before I was supposed to board the bus I would have new dreams, new hopes, and new love. I found out I was pregnant and decided to find a new path that would still include writing and raising a family out of the military. There is my High School memory from almost 11 years ago. I would not have changed a thing about how it all went. Even though I do think it would have been an amazing experience to cover the war in Iraq at that time.

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  13. colleen stram Says:

    That is so awesome gerry….My life up till high school was softball and soccer and swim teams. In Jr. High I had started playing first base and was really good at it. We were un-defeated that year. We all were so excited. Got our pic in the paper and I got my letter too. An A . I went on to High School and play” for the JV team. We did good. I remember once while playing first base the ball was hit the ball was thrown to me and I did the splits to be able to catch it. OUTTA their hehe. My senior year I was really into hanging out with my friends and cruizing riverside down magnolia. Everyone was their and THEE place to be. The cops would close streets down so we had to go around. Didn’t stop anyone we all still drove around. Met alot of people and cute guys. Never got a ticket either. So softball came round and I was able to try out for varsity softball. Went to tryouts. Yeah more brutal the JV. Practice slideing into muddy bases ect ect…I was burnt out…and ended my career in softball. Of course I was trying out for firstbase. Lots of action lol So my mom got a call from the coach and the coach tracked me down and wanted me back. I’m like I just can’t do it anymore. I was a little sad being my whole life was sports and softball. I just needed to be me and have fun and hang with my friends. I always worked ever since I turned 16 so I wanted to be free you could say when I wasnt working. When I found facebook about 4 years ago and reconnected with my high school friends and this guy. Who still carried a torch for me all these years later. Course I never new it till a cpl years ago. OH what could of been if my course inlife had been different. I often wonder what would of been if I had done anything differently….But as for High School…it was a BLAST!

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    • Woulda, coulda, shoulda. There’s no point in looking back. We all make choices that make us scratch our heads years later. Everything happens when the time is right. I believe the best may be yet to come. Why not? I don’t look back very often. Kids should have fun while they can. Glad you did.

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  14. Shannon Cahill Says:

    I think one of my fondest High School memories is from Freshman Year. I was in a special class called HCT–Highly gifted and Talented. There were about 15 of us. One of our assignments that year was to do a science project for the state science fair. Mine was a psychological study of cliques. I polled the entire 9th grade (like 150 kids, it was a small town) and put together a statistical analysis with the most high tech computer we had–lol, DOS was so much fun.

    I was always kind of the odd one out in the group. Everyone was so serious, while I was what passed for a rebel , at least in the nerd circle. I wore ripped up Levis, my Dad’s Levi jacket from high school, and dark black eyeliner. My hair was always in my face and the called me Cousin It. I was probably as close to punk as you could get in Colville, Wa in the 80’s, which, I guess was not much, but pretty weird by most standards.

    In any event, my project took 2nd place in the Math and Statistics category. After the fair, there was a big awards ceremony. Most kids dressed up at least a bit, some wore dresses and suits. I wore my jacket, my ripped up jeans, and a long white men’s oxford shirt. My teacher was a good sport, and honestly, we were all treated more like adults because of our “gifted” status. She bet me $5 that I wouldn’t march across that stage to get my award and do what she called “the full hair flip,” where I bent over and flung my long hair out of my face and shook it out, in what I thought of as a super cool move. It never failed to crack her up.

    Needless to say, I got my award, got the $5, and a good story. I don’t know where that teacher ended up because she moved with her husband after that year, but I wonder if she tells that story to her students. Most of High School was pretty lame for me, but I will always remember that 🙂

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  15. Gerry that’s amazing! I went to high school in a tiny little town in Oklahoma, pre-k through 12th grade totaled 200 students tiny. One of my more memorable high school moments was a play we did my senior year. My English teacher wrote a western and it was so funny. I think my characters name was bad Betty or something equally hilarious. One of the lines a guys asked me was, “How big are they?” My response was, “They’re big enough.” I don’t remember what he was really referring to, but to this day when I run into him he still asks me. 🙂

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  16. Sorry, but HS was a living nightmare for me–I dealt with bullies, sexual harassment and extreme over-crowding. But I did have some good friends that I have rekindled friendships with through Facebook. However, one fond memory I have of HS was my 10th grade boyfriend. I had taken the Algebra Regents 2 times already and had failed both times–without passing it I would not be able to graduate. My boyfriend, Bobby, tutored me every where we went! On the bus, waiting for buses, in line at McDonalds, everywhere. If we had a minute he made me pull out that book so we could go over something. I did pass it that third time, and it was all thanks to Bobby.

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  17. I never actually went to High School Gerry. I lived in a small rural town in Mid-Missouri and I was bullied mercilessly. Maybe I can just tell you about a great experience I had in Job Corps when I was 17 which is the same age I would have been a Senior had I went to High School. I refused to go back to school after the 6th grade. My mom put me in a private Christian school, but because of a shady business partner she lost her business and by the middle of what would have been my 8th grade year she couldn’t afford to send me to private school anymore. Knowing how bad I was bullied and teased I elected to refuse to go to any school. Once I turned 16 I enrolled in the local High School in the town we had moved to two years earlier and decided to drop out. I started G.E.D classes and achieved my goal less than a year later when I was 17. I then decided that I wanted to see what life was like away from home and entered Job Corps in Clearfield Utah. I will never forget what it was like when I left that day. 9/11 had just happened when I flew out on October 17th. Funnily enough inside the airport before I boarded my plane I saw a man reading a newspaper who looked really familiar. I had a huge Aha moment, nudged my dad, and whispered to him that the man reading the paper was Lewis Black from Comedy Central. My dad laughed at me, told me no way is that him, and we continued this back & forth for a few moments. Mr. Black put down his paper with a smile and said, “Actually she is correct I am me!” I was so ecstatic! I went out with my cousin to smoke a cigarette and he actually went outside too! He teased me for not having a coat because it was cold in Missouri at that time and it was cold in Utah. I boarded the small charter plane that would take me to St. Louis from Columbia Missouri. I could see my dad and my cousin Amy standing in the “terminal” area at these big bay windows watching the plane. I wept like a baby. Mr. Black sat across the very small isle from me, leaned over, and told me not to cry about leaving home. He told me that strong people are only strong because they get hit with hard moments like these and survive them. He told me to remember what home looked like in my mind so that no matter how far away I was I would remember it and when I came back home I would know how much of a shit hole it had all become because distance from a place allows you to see what “change” and “upgrades” ruined while you were away. This of course made me laugh and in an attempt to look tough in front of him I didn’t cry any more for the rest of that flight. Once I arrived in Utah I did go on to complete my certificate at Job C, but that never meant as much to me as the experiences that I had there. I will admit that some were not so good and some were great. However, I did learn so much more about who I was as a person, about who I wanted to be, and even more about the person I didn’t want to be anymore. I know that isn’t your typical prom story or debate club zinger Gerry, but it is true and it really did have an impact on me during what would have been my “High School” years. I hope to get your book this coming weekend as long as I have recovered a bit from surgery in the morning. Much love to you & yours Gerry!

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