Robert Odell has traveled and come in contact with various cultures, gaining invaluable life experiences along the way.
Impact of Cold Water
Out of my travels and experiences growing up as a "military brat," I was impacted the most when I got into "Cold Water." Agua Fria, Spanish for Cold Water, was where I became familiar with self-discipline, hard work, and the importance of schoolwork.
The Great Southwest
It took about three days for my father to drive my mother, me, and my younger brother and sister from Tennessee to Arizona. It was amazing to see the scenery change as we went further and further toward the “Great Southwest.” Arizona brings back memories of a warm, dry climate, palm trees, innumerable cacti, tumbleweeds, dust storms, orange trees in backyards, irrigation, and beautifully landscaped homes with colored gravel and artificial grass for lawns.
A Town Called Goodyear
We lived only a few miles from Phoenix in a little town called Goodyear. Goodyear was a bicycle-riding distance from Avondale, another little town. There was a Goodyear factory of some sort in the area. We would often see the “Goodyear blimp” hovering low in the sky above our home. Evidently, the town must have been named after the company. My father, an Air Force veteran, obtained housing for us in Goodyear while waiting for an opportunity to move into the military base housing. During our stay in Goodyear, I was walking distance from my new school. It was a AA school called Agua Fria Union High School.
Agua Fria Union High School
Agua Fria was a college prep school and one of the better schools in the area. One of the many things that struck me about Agua Fria High School was that there were no inside hallways. I had been used to going to schools where you would enter and stay inside all day, except for recess or fire drills. The classrooms at Auga Fria were approached from individual doors, sort of like motel rooms. The lockers were attractively situated outside along widened sidewalks with covering structures overhead. Those sidewalks were the closest thing that I could see to inside hallways. The campus was also dotted with palm trees, flowers, and other attractive landscaping.
The Best in the State
Agua Fria had “All-State” athletic teams, an “All-State” choir, and “All-State” marching and concert bands. As the name implies, “All-State” meant that you were recognized as the best in the state. I was elated to be a coronet/trumpet player in one of the best high school bands in the state of Arizona. The band was huge and had several coronet/trumpet players. I ended up playing third trumpet, first chair. To me, that showed tremendous progress on my part. Some of the musicians in the band were the best I had ever played with.
Third trumpet, first chair meant that I was the third coronet/trumpet section leader. As section leader, I had an opportunity to develop self-discipline.
I felt that it was essential for me to know my music well enough to lead the rest of my section. To keep my spot and even move up in the band ranks, I had to learn how to control myself. That meant overcoming any temptation to do something else when I should have been practicing my coronet.
Recognizing the Importance of Schoolwork
After my first semester, I received a letter of congratulations from the school superintendent for being on the Honor Roll. The recognition received for my accomplishments gave me a clearer understanding of the importance of schoolwork. My parents were well pleased with my academic achievements. I also received a perfect attendance award for that same year. Those accomplishments may or may not have had anything to do with the fact that I was privileged to take part in a new program at the school. Right before we moved out west, Agua Fria had built the state’s first Turntable Divisibility Auditorium.
The School “Block” Program
After the auditorium was built, Agua Fria began a “school block program when I was in my ninth grade year." The program consisted of mostly college-bound students. The curriculum was structured to prepare high school students for college-level education. Literature and mathematics were some of the courses that were taught. The "block" shared the same instructors and moved as a group from one class or instructor to another. Classes were held, for the most part, in the new “turntable” classrooms. Those rooms were created when a whole section of the auditorium was turned automatically around to form separate sections. The local news did a story on the "school block program."
On the News
To my amazement, I ended up on the local news. The camera picked up a good shot of me while I was taking notes. Actually, the camera crew told me to pretend to write something while they filmed over my shoulder. I wasn’t really writing anything of real importance.
The Airing of the Story
On the day that the story was aired, the band had to play at a football game. I had to be at the game early, so I did not get a chance to see the newscast. People came up to me during the game and stated that they had seen me on television.
A Sobering Experience
Eventually, one of the instructors came up with a copy of the news clip and showed it to the whole freshman block. Seeing myself on film for the first time was a sobering experience for me. I felt as though I was viewing myself from outside of myself. It gave me a good idea of how I may have looked from the viewpoint of others.
When my sophomore year arrived, I maintained an excellent grade point average, although it was no easy task. I was happy to learn that the freshman block would become the sophomore block and later the junior block. We would be privileged to have the same instructors, same students, and be in the same comfortable and luxurious classrooms. Being a “military brat,” I moved frequently and did not have a long time to build and maintain friendships. For once, it seemed that I would have the chance to have somewhat of a stable school life. I would have the opportunity to be a part of a class that wasn’t totally new and unfamiliar.
The Cream of the Crop
Before the second half of my junior year, I auditioned for the school stage band. The stage band consisted of the band's best students, “the cream of the crop.” I was a little nervous when I tried out, but I made it! I was third trumpet/coronet last chair. That meant that I was the last trumpet player to make it, but I did make it! That meant that I was considered to be one of the best musicians in the school. I felt that I really had accomplished something. We ended up having to move before I could participate in the stage band, but I had proven that I could do it!
One of my fellow band members, who was on the cross-country team, asked me to join the team. For some crazy reason, I did. That was the most difficult thing, physically, that I had ever done in my life. I remember running through dry, dusty fields and seeing miles and miles of road ahead on burning, smoldering evenings while we ran. Then there was “The Sheep Trail”! That trail was a gravel laden, rocky, arduous, baby mountain disguised as a hill.
The Meaning of Hard Work
Through cross-country training, I learned the meaning of hard work. Sometimes we would work out on weights before we ran. We also did something that I believe was called a “run down.” I remember a college student, probably an Agua Fria graduate, taking us through some of those “run-downs.” After we finished long-distance running, we took short sprints around the track. We sprinted over and over and over again. The college student was running along with us, yelling things like, “Keep ‘um up! You can do it! Come on, move it!” Needless to say, this was a real motivator for us. Despite being tired and wanting to quit, all of us were able to make every last trip around that track. To my surprise, I was actually keeping up with and even out running some of the other guys.
I Really Liked Cold Water (Agua Fria)
It was pleasing to learn that the sophomore block would become the junior block and that I would be with the same group once again. However, after the middle of my junior year, my father was transferred to the Air Force Base in Blytheville, Arkansas. That meant that we would have to move again. For the first time, I really did not want to leave a particular school. I really liked Agua Fria. I also loved the area. I comforted myself with the thought that I could always go to college at Arizona State or The University of Arizona. Maybe then, I could run into some of my old classmates again. In any case, we were to move to Memphis.
Moving to Memphis
My father had a short while before retiring, so my parents decided to buy a house in Memphis. Because Blytheville was relatively close, my father could come home on weekends until he was discharged from the service. In a way, I was glad that we would no longer be a military family. All of the moving would finally be over. We could settle down in our dream home. We could enjoy our own backyard and have all of the things that we could not have while being a military family
A Pragmatic Notion
After meditating on our move to Memphis, I had a pragmatic notion. I was almost out of school. In a short year and a half, I would probably be off to college somewhere. I probably would not be able to enjoy being in a stable, home environment with my family. I think I expressed those thoughts to my mother, and she said something like, “You will always have a home wherever we are.” Those were comforting words.
Out of Cold Water (Agua Fria)
At sixteen, in the middle of my eleventh-grade year, with a good grade point average, a reputation for being cool (that’s how my being quiet was interpreted), and having proven myself one of the best trumpet players in school, I left good old Agua Fria.
I was out of “Cold Water,” but being in it brought self-discipline, hard work, and recognizing the importance of schoolwork. Those things would pay dividends for the rest of my life
© 2019 Robert Odell Jr