Letter to Arbella All-Girl from Mrs Dragon – July 2011

Mrs Dragon is now Mrs Besaw, but will forever remain Mrs D to us!  Here is the letter she wrote to us for our 30th reunion in July 2011…


Gail M Besaw

July 9, 2011

Dear Arbellas,


How great is it that so many of you are able to be together one more time!  I wish that I could be there with all of you, but it just isn’t possible.  Maybe next time.


As I went through my albums, and other souvenirs, a  thousand memories went marching through my mind.  remember the decision, in 1975, to go inactive while we built a bigger, better corps?  That was a huge gamble because there was no guarantee that the girls who competed for years in Comets would sit in the stands for a season.  It workes; the instructors and girls practiced and improved their musical skills, their equipment work and their marching abilities.


Then the decision was made to adopt a completely new image which evolved into the corps which came to be known as Arbella.  Now a uniform; we did not want to look like every other corps on the field.  Gradually it all fell together.  First, the decision to take the look of the early seaman and adapty it for young girls who would be competing in modern drum corps activities.  The search for the striped tops, sewing all those “toilet paper roll” skirts, finding the right hats, and of course, the oh-so-grown-up “real” boots.  No more short white majorette boots for us!


How many mothers worked to measure and sew all those skirts, scarves and cummerbunds?  Does anyone remember trying to spray paint straw hats black?  A disaster, for sure.  Finally you were ready for dress rehearsal.  Wow!! It worked!


Competition that year was challenging but rewarding.  Our debut as Arbellas, In Hudson, NH, earned us a trophy for second place.  We were all overjoyed.  On July 11, in Norwood, we won the coveted First Place Trophy and never looked back.


1976 was our country’s bicentennial.  We sent letters to every city and town in Massachusetts with a population of 10,000 or more.  All that we had to say was that you were dressed in historically-inspired naval uniforms.  We had over 30 requests for parades on July 4 and we chose three for the Fourth and one for the Third of July.  We were all exhausted, but our treasury got a great infusion of much-needed cash.


1977 was just more improvement in all aspects of your competition.  As a Class B corps, our major competition was against the Heightsmen.  Just remember the songs that got the spirit flowing!  They were really poor losers, weren’t they?


In 1978, we did so well in every competition that the other “B” corps went complaining to the two circuits, CYO and Eastern Mass.  You will never know how proud I was, when Harry Sampson, Chief Judge of Eastern Mass Circuit answered the other corps’ complaints.  At a meeting of the management of all the competing corps, Mr. Sampson said they should not be trying to get Arbella moved up to Class A because they couldn’t beat them.  Arbella had done it’s job; now, those corps should use us as a standard, and work to get as good as we were.  Sometimes, life is really good – that moment was great.


1979 was a completely different story.  We were moved up to Class A and competition was tough.  There were rewards though.  We won at the World Open, while Channel 4 was filming a feature story about Arbella.  What a high that was!  Then, on to the busses for the long drive to Birmingham, Alabama.  In the home stadium of the Big Red, after placing second in the All-Girl replims, Arbella won the finals!  Oh, the tears from those girls from Laval and Hicksville!  What an upset!  We were the true Cinderella corps.  Nobody ever thought thath the Salem girls would beat two former champions.  You must remember, that while performing at that level of competition, the average age f the corps was 12 years and 10 months.  Those statistics were fantastic.  You did it, and nobody can ever take that achievement away from you!


For me, it was overwhelming.  I sat in the stands and sobbed.  Mrs. Castonguay came over to see whether I was okay.  I told her that all I could think of was 1972 when my girls first marched in the Class C Comets with 42 other little girls.  It was a long journey, but certainly worth the trip.


Girls, you, your instructors and your parents are a part of drum corps history and you have a large part of my heart.  Thanks for the memories.


Lots of love,
Gail M. Besaw (Mrs. Dragon)