What I’ve Learned From my Grandpa

[Originally written and read this for Mel Kooda’s funeral held in McGregor, Minnesota on April 22nd, 2017.]

What I turn to in times of what I’ll call “writer’s block,” is list-making. I guess I had a little bit of an issue kicking this one off, and I think it’s because I knew once I started writing this piece, that at some point… it would be done. And then that’s it. The reality of both of my grandparents no longer being just a phone call away has sunk in a little bit more.

So what I’ve got for you today is a list of things (in no particular order), that I learned from my Grandpa, with the help of my sister, Kenzie.

1.Take chances in your career

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To: My Younger Sister, a High School Senior

Alright Kenzie, you’ve made it. You’re now a senior in high school — and you’re about to make a few big decisions in the next few months. I probably should have just talked to you about these things when I was home last, but I guess it kind of slipped my mind. Not only that, but now I’m getting a blog post out of it. So thanks for that, I guess. Let’s just call it even.

Anyway, I just wanted to share with you some advice I’ve got for you. Because I’m a senior in college (and I’m your big sister), I like to think that I’m qualified to be telling you these things of what I wish I would have done, or kept in mind, or whatever when I was in your position four years ago. So here we go I guess:

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March Check-In

WHERE DID THE TIME GO?? Seems like just last week I was scrambling to get the February reflection together, and now it’s the 31st of March… and time to look back on this past month. As I’ve reflecting on my resolutions and find myself in committees for the college, I wish I would have put more time and thought into my resolutions. It’s not too late to change them, I guess, but there might be some edits next month. Anyway, here’s what I’ve been missing out on telling you —

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Assignment: Ticket To A New Life

Trying to pinpoint a specific time that something blew your mind is tricky. Picking an event or activity or simply just a thing that blew your mind is easier. Figuring out the specificities – that’s where it gets tricky. Recently, my Writing and Rhetoric II class had a workshop on brainstorming topics to write about. We all learned that we may have more stories to share than we think we do, and for me, it was no different. The first question we had to answer was ‘Think of a time where your mind was blown. A time your whole world changed.’ The first instance that came to my mind was November 30th, 2012. My first real drum corps experience.

I was seventeen years old. A Senior in high school. I was also working both a part-time job and an internship. Based out of small-town-Nothern Minnesota. Not too many life experiences under my belt. But all of that was about to change. I had been dreaming of that weekend for almost two years, in fact, I still dream of it to this day. That weekend was my audition to march with Spirit of Atlanta’s color guard – a World Class Drum and Bugle Corps. I drove myself down to Eagan, Minnesota (a four hour trip.) Duffel bag and rifle in the trunk, backpack by my side, and a fully charged iPod. The alarm went off on Friday, November 30th, 2012 at 3:30am. I landed in Atlanta, Georgia around 10:30 that morning. After getting lost in the outskirts of the city with a friend that goes to school there for the majority of the day, I got back to the airport and boarded the shuttle to camp.

That weekend flew by – full of the spinning of flags, throwing of guns, and my best attempts at dancing gracefully. I got back to my small town on a Tuesday night with my mind anywhere but the math test I had to make up that week. All I could think about was the people I met; how driven and focused they are. How passionate they are about something that they realize they’re probably never going to be able to do once the drum corps experience is over.

Drum corps is like the olympics of marching band, except it happens every year for most people. You go through an audition process throughout the winter, and then, if the corps likes what they see, you get a contract. Then you fundraise to pay tour fees, and move in usually around mid-late May. Spring training lasts for about four weeks, and then you tour around the country for about two months. During Spring Training (commonly known as “all-days”,) you learn the show. This is a time that people learn a lot about themselves and their limits, being outside and physically active for sixteen-plus hours a day does that. Tour is like all days, just the scenery is different, and sometimes the days a little bit shorter.

The whole drum corps experience has been a mind-blowing and life-changing experience for me. Not only have I learned about myself and one of my favorite art forms, but I’ve learned a lot about people. Living with about 175 other people for three months in strange conditions really helps you appreciate the small things – like a sunset on the way to a show, or a gym that doesn’t smell like dirty feet.

Drum corps has taught me more than I can even put into words. One of the things I’ve learned is how important it is to keep in touch with those that you’re not sure if you’ll see again, and seizing the opportunities you do get to catch up. I got to spend the turn from 2013 to 2014 with my “drum corps family.” It was kind of crazy to think about how much had changed in just over a year. Not only had I pursued both of my dreams, but I was spending New Years in a house full of people who support me, no matter if it has to do with this weird activity we all love, or my professional goals. What’s still mind-blowing is that it only took one plane ticket to change my life.