Texas is another country...

Texas is another country...I have driven into Texas from all four directions and can affirm that after crossing that imaginary state line you just know you are in Texas . The world becomes wide open space, the sky feels higher, you can stretch out and rest a spell.

Sunday, June 16, 2013


Post by Liza Stein

When I was 8 years old, I wanted to take tap and ballet lessons and be a movie star like other little girls.  But my mother was determined that I would be a majorette.  So one Saturday morning, we got in the car and headed to Trinity University where I joined a bunch of little girls on a stage in the music building.  Pat Hooker was in charge of this group, and it was her desire to teach us to march, twirl, and throw our batons into the air and catch them in our hands and not let them land on our heads or anyone else’s.

Pat Hooker  had worked at the University of Southern Mississippi with the Dixie Darlings twirling squad, but her husband Harry had moved to San Antonio, and was now Trinity University’s music director. Harry knew nothing about selecting majorettes except asking selectees to lift their skirts above their knees, so his wife Pat was in charge of this endeavor.

At some point, Pat’s son Gene took my group and Pat started a group of older twirlers that performed at football games.  Gene was only 7 years older than me when he took on the twirling class. His “studio” was on West Avenue, and our group met weekly.

I wasn’t Gene’s best student.  I never practiced until the day of class.  The only place I could practice was the front sidewalk so that everyone going by could see me and I really didn’t want that.  Our backyard was all grass and turning my feet quickly in grass was impossible. 

Every week, Gene warmed us up with exercises, then turned on the music or beat a drum and started yelling at us to tighten up our lines, march with toes pointed down, and keep those batons moving.  We had to memorize routines that we were expected to perform while marching in a parade.   Gene’s focus was on training us how to march and twirl at the same time and groom us to participate in parades.  In those days, parades were plentiful. 

I can remember going to Laredo to march in the George Washington Day parade.  Poteet had their Strawberry Festival parade and Corpus Christi had the Buccaneer Days parade.  I’ll never forget riding with the Maksyn’s to Corpus, and watching Joe Maksyn’s father swallow a raw egg at breakfast.  For some reason that image has always stuck with me.

The highlight of our parade days was marching in the Fiesta Flambeau.  For this event we had to learn something totally new…..how to twirl a fire baton.

One of the moms volunteered her driveway for after-dark practice.  My goal was to not lose any hair or set my shorts on fire on any given evening when we met and not let the baton roll under a car and blow it up either.  The ends of the fire batons were covered in fabric or some other material that absorbed liquid.  Around the end of the baton were little cage-like structures that kept the fabric from flying off the baton by accident – another hazard to look out for.  We had to soak the ends in a bucket of white gasoline before setting it on fire with a cigarette lighter.  Not only was it intimidating to twirl the baton with fire blazing on both ends, it was heavy!  And if the fire brushed against you, it left a black sooty spot.

When Gene had finished teaching us how to throw our batons in the air, I thought I was about done with twirling.  My mother, however, was determined that I would march in the Fiesta Flambeau parade.  This parade is part of Fiesta, which is San Antonio’s week-long party similar to Mardi Gras in New Orleans.  The Flambeau parade is always at night and is one of the most popular events of Fiesta.  I remember we had some type of penlight tied in the laces of our tennis shoes…..we never marched in our boots for some reason…, and then there we were marching down Houston street batons blazing.

At all the parades, Gene ran alongside us, like someone on too much caffeine, yelling at us to keep our lines straight, making sure no one was going to collapse, and getting us to the judging area all in one piece.

Besides parades, Gene was able to get us signed up for events.  When Frankie Avalon came to San Antonio, Gene had us performing on the tarmac on either side of the stairs as the Frankie descended from the plane toward his screaming fans.  We wore our gold lame outfits, fringe on our wrists, hats on our heads, wit our feet lined up, twirling our hearts out in the Texas heat trying to not sweat or look miserable.  Years later, I received an invitation to a fundraiser, and lo and behold, the photo on the invitation showed our twirling group from the back watching Frankie Avalon have his first taste of Texas hospitality.

We also twirled for Roy Rogers and Dale Evans, but our crowning glory came when the movie The Alamo premiered at the Woodlawn Theatre with John Wayne in 1960.  Again, we were there in our cowboy hats, gold lame outfits, fringe, boots, and yes, our fire batons.  I honestly don’t remember much about that night except my mother was so excited to see me on our 10-inch black and white television from the comfort of her living room.  My 15 seconds of fame. 

Gene eventually moved his studio to Wonderland Mall, and I put my foot down with my mother that I didn’t want to twirl any more.  I was heading to junior high, and I was tired of memorizing routines, blisters on blisters on my feet, fire batons, and Gene’s twirling camps held in the middle of summer in Texas heat.

I don’t know what happened to my gold lame outfit, hat, or fringe cuffs.  I do remember that the rubber tips on my baton finally rotted and it probably went in the trash.  We donated the fire baton to a new enthusiast beginning her majorette career. 

Like a lot of things we try in our life, I am glad I did it, but was more glad when it was over.  I heard that Gene died several years back.  I can picture him in heaven, lining up willing souls who want a little bit of Texas.  Maybe when we see a shooting star it is a wayward baton of one of Gene’s newest twirlers.


Alana Cash said...
You may have heard this, Liza, but you looked like Dale Evans when you were a twirler. 

Judy Granberry Johnson said...
Great story. Good childhood memories.

Wanda Bryan said...I laughed all the way through. Such a good narrative. Wonderful times of the past! Wanda Bryan


Judy Granberry Johnson said...

Great story. Good childhood memories.

Wanda Bryan said...

I laughed all the way through. Such a good narrative. Wonderful times of the past! Wanda Bryan