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Joiner’s Corner: The alma mater

I’ve been playing the piano since childhood, but it was only a few years ago that I learned the alma mater of Unadilla High School.  I didn’t have the sheet music and I’m limited as to what I’m able to play by ear.  It took a while, but I ended up with a simple rendition that suits my audience of one.

I’m not sure what prompted me to learn it at this late point.  I graduated in 1970 and Unadilla High School is long gone except for a brick building and the gym.  I began playing the alma mater after one of several UHS reunions that Dale Rackley organized.   I guess walking down memory lane with friends and classmates reminded me of that familiar song.

Our alma mater was a common tune, the same tender melody used by a thousand other schools.  When we sang it at basketball games it evoked a sense of unity and gratitude.  From young girls in pigtails to old men smoking Camels, it was the tie that helped bind our shared loyalty.

Someone told me that one of our teachers, Mrs. Irene Daniels, wrote the lyrics.  Whether that’s true I don’t know, but it elevated her to a revered status in my young eyes.  It never occurred to me to ask her about it.  Maybe it was a competition or perhaps she was simply asked to do the honors.  Its history is not important, I suppose, but I wish I knew more of the story.  Sometimes we wait too long to ask questions.

It may seem an odd song to enjoy playing, but it takes me down roads I still like to travel.  The surfaces weren’t perfect, but they were smooth enough to enjoy the ride.  I realize now that I learned a few things by dodging some potholes.  The best lessons sometimes come from the bumpy sections on the highway of life.

It seems that a few big events would be what stand out in long-term recollections, but that’s often not the case with me.  There are instead assorted remembrances that are rather insignificant yet cling to a memory bank whose vault door is slightly ajar.

Sometimes I think about Paul McIntyre.  We were in the F.F.A. string band together for a couple of years.  Paul played the drums and bass guitar.  He was talented enough to later make a living in the music business. But the time I recall most clearly was our close encounter with fame.

At some point during high school Paul and I were in a wrestling class.  I think it was taught by Coach Stanley Copeland but that’s more of a guess than a fact.  It was part of the required physical education program.  We learned the proper techniques and rules of wrestling.  We didn’t have ropes to jump from or throw people over, just a big padded mat on the gym floor.

Paul and I were tall and skinny, appropriately matched as opponents.  Coach Copeland offered us a chance to compete at halftime of a boys’ basketball game.  The gymnasium was always packed with excited fans.  We were intrigued with the idea of being featured as the entertainment, but we faced an insurmountable problem.  Neither of us wanted to be the kid who got pinned in front of hundreds of witnesses.

We declined the offer, choosing instead the safety of the bleachers.  I don’t remember who Coach picked for the match, but when the crowd cheered and clapped we knew we’d made a mistake.  We had focused on the embarrassment of losing rather than the joy of competing.

I can’t say that experience cured me of the fear of failure, but it helped a bit.  Paul and I sat together and watched from the sidelines.  We regretted saying no to opportunity.

As long as memories like that are stored within the alma mater, I’ll keep playing it a while longer.  That simple song is like a vessel that’s overflowing with treasured faces, places, and times.  If you want to join in, you’re more than welcome.  The memories are even sweeter when others sing along.

“In the midst of Georgia’s southland looms a school so fair.  Unadilla through the ages we your treasures share.  UHS our alma mater true we’ll ever be.  Blue and white our loving colors ever hail to thee.”