The following is an excerpt from Knees Lifted High and Toes Pointed by David Dalke. It’s a featured Speakeasy selection, and there are still limited review copies available for qualified reviewers.
“Hey, sissy Dalke!”
One of Jake’s strongest beliefs was that everyone deserved to be treated equally, especially his band members. His philosophy was fourfold: 1) we are all created as unique human beings, 2) no one deserves special privileges or treatment, 3) we learn how to live through hard times and make the best of difficult relationships, and 4) we must not live our lives at the expense of others. He modeled these principles and expected no less from his students.
He recognized the voice from the second story window. It was one of his trumpet players. Without looking up or saying a word, Jake walked determinedly to the second floor classroom. Students were gathered around the windows, shouting distasteful and sarcastic comments to classmates entering the building. As he opened the door, everyone became quiet and nervously attentive. Looking at Charlie, he said, “I heard what you said to me. Sissy is a word we do not use in my band, or in this school. I will not tolerate that kind of name-calling. When you make fun of another person, it only tears you down. It doesn’t make you popular or a hero to your classmates. Am I clear?”
Tears welled up in Charlie’s eyes. The room was eerily quiet as he spoke to Mr. Dalke.
“I’m sorry. I won’t do it again.”
“Charlie,” said Jake, “I don’t want you to make fun of anyone ever again, especially your classmates. This band needs you. You are a fine trumpet player. We can also go to parades and contests without you-if this behavior continues. Am I clear?”
The word spread that day throughout the school. Mr. Dalke meant business in how we were to treat one another. There was no entitlement in his band. And what he asked of each band member he also asked of himself. When he said “yes” to accepting the position of Professor of Music, he knew this little community was a conglomeration of survivors, and his potential band members would represent all walks of life. He knew his success depended on his willingness to live out the strong values of his faith. He would accept each family for who they were. They were different from each other but could pull together. Yes, the Copelands, Radkeys, Kelchs, and the Armstrongs living together in harmony but not at one another’s expense.
Saturdays in small towns often included settling public business over cups of fresh-brewed coffee in a main street cafe. Giving credence to feelings expressed by the old phrase the best of friends are two people who dislike the same person underscores much of the conversation. Often there is a false sense of superiority in demeaning others who don’t meet the expectations of the coffee klatch majority.
Thiv day, Frank, and several of the locals, have gathered for breakfast and conversation at the cafe on the square. Some of them have their WWI caps on, depicting the sections of the military in which they served. They range in age from forty-five to seventy. Cigarette and pipe smoke adds a layer of cloudiness, as they all sit closely around a table.
“Well, boys,” says Frank sarcastically, “we are off to another great season. Think we will win a game? I’ll tell you one thing, if we don’t beat Greensburg on Thanksgiving Day, you can count on this season being one of the worst we’ve seen around these parts in recent times.”
Frank, who believes himself to be the voice of reason, continues to speak.
“Those boys would be better off carrying a rifle than a football.”
Jake walks in, sits at the counter and orders a cup of coffee. He opens the newspaper and alternately carries on a conversation with the waitress while reading the sports page. As he turns a page, he notices a table of men across the room and becomes aware of their loud and boisterous voices. A couple of the men also notice Jake. One of the old-timers speaks loud enough for him to hear.
“I’ve lived here all my life, except the war years. The one thing I’ve always looked forward to is Friday night or Saturday afternoon at Brown Athletic Field. Hard-nose hitting. The cracking of helmets. And no silly band, either. Leave the music stuff to the big schools in Wichita or Topeka. Those horns cost too much, and we ain’t got enough money in this town as it is.”
Jake keeps listening to the conversation but does not acknowledge it. Once again it is Frank’s turn to prophesy. Looking up and down the table at the “prognosticators of truth”, Frank leans forward to emphasize his point.
“I hear some of our local boys are going to enlist. They need to protect our country. I mean, one more year and we’ll be in war again. Won’t be anything like what we faced. It was a nightmare-those ugly, loud German tanks and poison gases. We are lucky to be sitting here right now!”
Frank jumps in again. “Dalke…now that’s a German name, ain’t it? We probably fought some of his people. You know, it’s too bad girls can’t enlist. Except those Armstrong kids would be too chicken to ship out.”
Jake folds his newspaper, lays a coin on the counter and walks slowly out of the cafe with a heavy heart. He believes no one is entitled to make fun of, condemn, or degrade another person. He does not tolerate that kind of behavior in his band. The negativity of the beliefs and judgements expressed at the cafe and spoken with such conviction are not for him to deal with at this time.
His energy shifts towards calling a special band practice to polish their halftime routine, to find their positions on the field and to play from memory. He knows his selection, “When Johnny Comes Marching Home,” will likely elicit a number of sentimental responses, from prayerful folks of all ages to veterans standing with their hands over their hearts. However, what he observed in the cafe causes him unrest and fear. He asks himself, Can music inspire this community to think and feel differently about their lives?
The next morning several young men, duffels slung over their shoulders, tearfully hug their loved ones and friends as they board the train. The band stands in formation near the train platform and plays, “The Caissons Go Rolling Along” and “From the Halls of Montezuma.” The train slowly pulls away. The band softly plays a hymn.
Praise for Knees Lifted High and Toes Pointed
“What a read, what a story! Dave writes in an invitational style. … If you have never been a part of a marching band or lived in a depressed farming community during the dirty thirties, read on! You will join the band, have lived in St. John, Kansas, and have a new adoptive dad, a man named Jake. This is a journey you do not want to miss!”
—Bruce Blake, former President, Southwestern College
“Passion, decency, joy, delight, pleasure—David’s writing took me back to growing up in St. John! My mom and my aunt were students of Jake Dalke. … I feel like Mr. Dalke’s passion for teaching music instilled a love of music education in his students which would last for a lifetime. … Reading about the band warmed my heart and brought a tear to my eye.”
—Marcia Suiter, lifelong volunteer and band member’s daughter
“In Knees Lifted High and Toes Pointed, David has brought to life moments in a small town’s history of a national event. His father, Jacob Dalke, band director at St. John High School, had the vision to promote and orchestrate this musical undertaking. All who read this will marvel at the success his father had and realize that to dream and then see that dream become a reality is only a thought and hard work away.”
—John Paulin, former Professor of Psychology, Southwestern College
About the Author
David Dalke is a highly-regarded speaker, teacher, author, and facilitator who utilizes the art of storytelling in his presentations. Many of his stories on human behavior are drawn from his own life experiences and lessons taught him by his grandchildren.
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