Yankee tootle

''Bring the comb and play upon it . . .''

There was a novelty to our Seventh Annual Bicentennial Observance, as community and friends gathered again for our ceremonial flag raising and patriotic breakfast on the Glorious Fourth of July. (Not on your fifth!) We lacked a musician and had to make do. Well, customarily after The Color, The Cannon, and The Declaration, everybody is piped to the shore for the pancakes and sausages, and it's a matter of a couple hundred yards from flagstaff to fireplace. Early in this series we noticed a hesitancy about moving along, as if the folks who come aren't just sure, so we found somebody to pound a drum, and this eased the hesitancy into a jaunty parade that stepped off the distance. Last year a flautist was added, and a color bearer, and Yankee Doodle trotted everybody right along. This year our drummer was in England and our flautist couldn't come, so along in June I had an idea.

I went to a store and asked for some kazoos.

I had in mind about six - a kazoo band with tambourines, the musicians being the childers of the congregation. Why not?

Then I went to all the other stores, and all I got was a look as if I ought to know better and a ''A ka-what?'' The kazoo, I was ready to report, had gone with the drip pan of the ice chest, the kerosene barn lantern, and such obsolete oddities of Great-grandmother's day. I went to enough stores to establish a trend. But when I went into my favorite hardware store, one that has found me my quirks and curiosities for many years, the man looked up to say ''A ka-what?'' and was accompanied by a snicker behind me. I turned to find a most good-looking young woman with a smile on her lips and a twinkle in her eye. She was waiting while a purchase was wrapped, and now she lifted her hands to her mouth, feigned a deep breath, and went, ''Tatata-tee-tatata-tee, tah, tah, tah,'' and marched around the houseware counter as if J. P. Sousa himself were conducting seventy-six instruments in The Stars and Stripes Forever. I ran off a paradiddle on a dishpan, after which we embraced as is the privilege of kindred souls, although we hadn't met before. ''Why in the world do you want a kazoo?'' she asked.

''I'm organizing a band for the Fourth of July.''

Several customers now moved toward the exit, as if fleeing imminent disaster; the proprietor looked as if he were debating whether to call the police or the funny cart; and she said, ''I want to be in it!''

Then she said she was pretty sure I could get kazoos at Mr. Tandyfour's toy shop, but even there, when I applied, the clerk said, ''A ka-what?'' But another clerk interposed her opinion that kazoos can be had, and she would make a telephone call and find out.

I assume she called a wholesaler, because she came shortly to tell me she could get one by Friday, and it would cost me eighty-nine cents.

''Get me six,'' I said, and the first clerk said, ''What are you talking about?''

On the Saturday before The Fourth, which we observed patriotically on the proper day, we lined up our musicians with kazoos and tambourines, and it didn't take long to whip up a dandy band. None of the musicians had heard of a kazoo, had played a kazoo, being of tender age, but in the aggregation of the following morning quite a few of the older folks responded, remembering the kazoo from away back, and you could spot them by the way they held their hands over their ears. But to most, the sweet strains of the instrument were being heard for the first time.

Our observance has the merit of being concluded by eight o'clock, leaving the rest of The Fourth free time, and after everybody is gone I tidy up. The saluting cannon must be cleaned, and the big frypans washed and buttered. And I collected my six kazoos to be laid away for the next annual bicentennial, should we lack drum and flute again, heaven forbid.

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