HART, MICH. - Just like Marty McFly in the movie Back to the Future, many of us would probably like to put some plutonium in the DeLorean and go back in time, and get a second chance to do something that brought us extreme joy many, many years ago.
A West Michigan woman recently had the chance to do just that. Her opportunity started with an idea, followed by a simple phone call.
What happened after that is now a part of Hart history.
Hart graduate marches with band
The date to remember? May 29, 1936. That’s the day Mary Sue (Skinner) Carnes was born in little Hart, Michigan, which is located in central Oceana County. Little did she know then, the lure of that small town would keep her there most of her life.
Mary Sue graduated from Hart High School in 1954, as the valedictorian of her class. During her four years of high school, she played the drums in the Hart band, and loved every second of it.
Like most, and Mary Sue is no exception, as the decades pass, many of the high school memories start to fade away.
So this begs the question – can it be possible, as one advances deep into life, to go back in time to high school and re-live the exact same memorable moments and experiences?
You bet you can.
And Mary Sue didn’t need a time machine to do it.
It all started to gain momentum in June of 2014. Mary Sue and several members of her family stood along State Street in downtown Hart to watch the annual Asparagus Festival Parade.
“Watching her at that parade, I never realized how much she loved the marching band,” said Kathy Maysick, Mary Sue’s daughter. “It was amazing to watch my mom when the Hart Band marched by us.”
Mary Sue was so excited to see her alma-mater play and march, she started clapping her hands and moving her feet, rekindling many memories of when she marched in parades six decades prior.
“I started videotaping her with my phone because I was amazed at what I was seeing,” said Maysick. “Seeing the band made her so giddy and emotional.”
After the parade concluded, Kathy generated a unique birthday present for her mother’s 80th birthday which, at the time, was still two years off.
“I wanted to see if there was a chance she could march with the Hart Band again,” said Maysick. “I immediately contacted my sister in Texas and said, ‘we need to make this happen for Mom’s 80th.’”
In the fall of 2014, Kathy called John Taranko, who is the current band director at Hart High School.
“The idea was a bit shocking at first,” said Taranko. “But, we were more than happy to comply.
“I thought it was a great idea, and it’ll be fun.”
The trick for Kathy was for her to share the idea with a very select few in her family, and make sure they all kept it a secret for two years.
Somehow, she and her clandestine group of family members were able to do that, because in May, 2016, the secret was finally revealed to Mary Sue.
In early May, Kathy and her brother traveled from Grand Rapids, Michigan up to their parents’ home, on Silver Lake. They invited WZZM 13 with them so the revelation of the secret could be recorded, along with Mary Sue’s reaction.
Kathy and her brother arrived at the house ten minutes before WZZM 13 did to make sure Mary Sue was properly distracted while the TV crew made its way inside the home. Once Mary Sue saw a TV camera enter her living room, she immediately said, “What’s going on?”
“We have a surprise for you, mom,” Kathy said, as the TV camera continued to roll. “I wrote this poem, and I’d like for you to please read it aloud.”
Kathy handed her mother a sheet of paper that had several lines of text written on it, and Mary Sue proceeded to read it:
“‘To our mother, Mary Sue, who lives by the sand. You once played in the Hart High School band. Because of the Asparagus Parade you so adore, you’ll be marching with the Hart High School Band once more. Happy 80th birthday.’”
Mary Sue immediately hugged Kathy, excited for the experience that now lay ahead of her.
“I was in total shock,” said Mary Sue, while grinning from ear to ear.
She even cracked a joke about marching in the band at 80 years of age.
“I just hope when I’m marching, EMS will be in standby,” she said laughing.
Once the secret was finally revealed, the countdown began to parade day, which happened to only be three weeks away. Mary Sue suggested that she needed to start practicing around her house, perhaps using her old drum sticks on a bread board, but Kathy had a much better idea.
“She’s going to actually get to practice with the band,” Kathy said.
One week after Mary Sue found out she was becoming a high school student again for a day, she arrived at Hart High School ready to attend band practice for the first time in 62 years.
“I’m excited,” said band director John Taranko. “I think this will be awesome; there will be another adult in the room.”
Mary Sue arrived at the high school at 8 a.m. Mr. Taranko immediately introduced her to the band, and everybody gave her a warm, Hart welcome.
Taranko then sent Mary Sue to the percussion section, where she met and began chatting with several of the band students.
Practice began, and it didn’t take Mary Sue long to come to the conclusion that she might need to play something other than the drums.
“The other drummers were too good, and I didn’t want to mess up,” Mary Sue said. “Plus, the snare drums today are much heavier than they were when I played, and I’m certain I can’t carry one of those for two miles in a parade.”
Mr. Taranko stopped practice and helped Mary Sue decide on a different instrument. She selected one that was much lighter and carried with it some flare.
“I think my instrument to play will be cow bell,” Mary Sue said.
Practice resumed, and Mary Sue began hitting the cow bell to the proper beat during several of the songs the band would play in the upcoming parade.
“I feel good about it now,” said Mary Sue. “I didn’t want practice to end.”
One week later, the band’s second and final rehearsal before the parade took place, but this time they were outside working through choreography and timing. Mary Sue grabbed her cow bell and fell in line with the percussion section, then marched along as the band played through its song list, while walking around the side streets near the school.
“This is getting fun,” said Mary Sue, after the outdoor practice had concluded.
Six days later was parade day.
June 11, 2016
Mary Sue arrived at Hart High School around noon, and was immediately fitted with her band uniform and hat.
“I don’t feel like this old grandma today,” she said.
While Mary Sue was gearing up and getting ready with the band, her family was gathering on the curb down State Street, insuring they had perfect seats to see her when she marched by. Some of them brought signs that read, “More Cow Bell”, and, “Give ‘Em Bell, Mom.”
Not only was Mary Sue being allowed to return to high school for an afternoon, she also was treated to one of the most memorable experiences from her school days – riding a school bus. She, along with the rest of the band, boarded two yellow school busses outside, and were chauffeured to the Hart Fair Ground, which was the staging area for the parade.
“I was figuring, the whole row of my percussionists, if you add up their ages, they might equal my age,” Mary Sue said, jokingly.
The parade had begun and it was finally time for the Hart Band to fall into line and get moving.
There was Mary Sue Carnes – dressed in a Hart band uniform for the first time in over six decades, cow bell in hand, celebrating her 80th birthday amongst 75 seventeen-year-olds, while turning back time and marching in one of her favorite summer events – Hart’s Asparagus Festival Parade.
As Mary Sue and the band make their way down State Street, her “fan base” (which was made up of close to 25 family members and close friends), waited patiently for a glimpse.
“The band’s not coming yet,” said Kathy Maysick, as she looked down the street toward the direction the parade was coming from. “I can’t wait to see her.”
Mary Sue and the band had marched one mile of the two-mile-long parade route when she got a quick visit, while marching, from the band director.
“Everything good?” asked Mr. Taranko.
“Yea,” said Mary Sue.
“Excellent,” said Taranko. “Where is your family?”
“Up a ways on the right,” answered Mary Sue, while continue to keep in perfect rhythm with her cow bell.
“Okay, great,” said Taranko, before he slipped away from Mary Sue and went back to lead the band down the street.
It was abundantly clear that Mr. Taranko was planning a surprise for when the band marched in front of Mary Sue’s family and friends.
“You can hear them coming,” Kathy Maysick said emphatically from her spot on the curb. “I can see them, but I can’t find her because she looks like the rest of the band members.”
A few minutes later, the band got much closer to Kathy Maysick and her clan, and Mary Sue came into full view.
“I see her,” Maysick screamed. “There she is; she so short.”
As the Hart Band pulls up in front of Mary Sue’s friends and family, Mr. Taranko has them stop and turn toward the curb. Mary Sue, with cow bell in hand, began serenading the family. Kathy Maysick was waving at her mother, along with her other siblings who decided they couldn’t miss seeing this amazing moment. Kathy kept wiping tears from her eyes, realizing that the idea she had two years prior had finally come to fruition.
She watched as her mother stood ten feet in front of her, experiencing the closest thing to “time travel” as she could - as a member of the Hart High School Band.
Once the band finished its song, Mr. Taranko directed it to continue forward down State St. toward the finish, while Kathy and the group of on-lookers kept screaming, “More cow bell; more cow bell!”
Three-quarters of a mile later, it was over. Mary Sue did it. She got to be 17 again for her 80th birthday.
Not too many can say they got to do that.
“One of the band members asked me when we finished if I would be coming back to march for my 90th birthday,” Mary Sue said, jokingly. “I told them it was unlikely.”
It was an afternoon few will forget, especially the young band members who got to march with the young-at-heart former band member.
As Kathy Maysick embraced her mother after the parade, one couldn’t help but come to the realization that a big heart could be found in little Hart.