Posted by: Trisha Leigh | September 1, 2010

Expiration Dates are for Suckers

I spent Saturday night in a small, charming place called Wilton, IA. My mother’s family is rooted there, and my father grew up less than ten miles away in the “city” of Muscatine. I may have grown up in Kansas City, but Northeastern IA feels like where I’m from.

My father and two of my uncles were part of a band in the 1960’s called the XL’s.  They were one of the almost made it’s, a label that maybe applies to many more bands than it doesn’t. The XL’s enjoyed huge popularity in Iowa, Missouri, Nebraska, and Illinois during their heyday, setting attendance records and opening for bands such as The Lovin’ Spoonful, the Byrds, and the Mama’s and Papa’s. In 1967 they entered an original song in a Vox Battle of the Bands, and won. They were flown out to Hollywood and appeared in MGM’s A Time to Sing with Hank Williams Jr.


Life happened. A couple of them got drafted and the remaining members drifted into new bands, college, or jobs. They got married, they had kids, real life and responsibilities to others usurped their time. Many of them continued to play music in their own way and their own time. My dad, for instance, plays in a praise band each Sunday at church.

Two years ago, the Wilton, IA Chamber of Commerce approached the XL’s about doing a reunion concert at their Founder’s Day celebration. After much hemming and hawing about how terrible they would be, the guys decided to give it a try. The result shocked everyone, I think. They stood on a makeshift stage (a whole 3 inches off the ground) in August, 2008 in front of the nearly 2000 people who came back to hear them play. The entire population of Wilton is less than 3000 people.

My cousins and I all made appearances, traveling from across the country. The other band members’ children came to watch as well. We were all weaned on the stories of the band, the shenanigans our fathers committed when they were young, wild, and free to do what they loved. We came to glimpse what we could of their past.

They sounded fabulous, but that wasn’t the best part.

How they loved it, how they’d missed it, and how happy it made them to be back on that stage, together – that made the evening.

The crowd, made up mostly of people who grew up listening to the XL’s, transformed that night. They weren’t people in their sixties out to hear a band playing their favorite oldies. They were a crowd of high schoolers again,dancing around a stage while the best garage band in Iowa played their hearts out. It brightened their faces; took them back to that time and place.

The XL’s have played at least once a year since 2008. Surrounding counties and cities hire them for their own celebrations, fairs, etc. In 2009 they were inducted into the Iowa Rock n Roll Hall of Fame. The guys still love getting together, still love performing. They’ve made an unofficial pact that when one of them is gone or can no longer perform, the XL’s will retire for good. There’s something poetic about that.

Part of me is so pleased for them that they get this second chance to play together. The other part is sad that they missed out on 40 years of making music with one another. Who knows what might have happened if Vietnam hadn’t entered onto their radar, if the single that won the contest had taken off, or they’d decided to move to California. Still, I don’t think they have many regrets about the paths their lives have taken instead. They’re married, with great kids and families, and decades of memories.

I think of my own dreams, big and outlandish as they sometimes seem, mainly to be able to support myself by writing. Life gets in the way sometimes; I know it has for me. Keeping eyes on the prize is harder at some times than others. Occasionally it feels impossible.

My dad and his bandmates have music in their souls the way words are in mine. I couldn’t stop writing even if no one paid me. They would go back to Wilton and play without expecting a dime.

This is what I’ve taken from witnessing their thrill at returning to music: don’t give up when life gets hard. Hold onto the things you love the most, have faith that your chances will come back around when you have the time to focus on them. We all have to put our creative juices to simmer on the back burner once in a while. Whatever you do, don’t turn off the stove all together.

What do you think, is it a happy or a bittersweet story? What kinds of things keep you from pursuing your passions with the vigor you’d like to?



  1. This is great. You are never to old to rediscover different parts of yourself and this shows that.

    Awesome to the nth power. Loved.

    • Thanks H. You put it more eloquently in your comment than I did in my post. I owe you one 🙂

  2. What a cool story! Much as we might all wish for a straight, speedy path right to our dream, it doesn’t always work out that way. What happens in the interim tends to make you appreciate the end result a whole lot more.


    • Thanks, Tawna. I know you’re right. If it’s too easy maybe it doesn’t mean as much.

  3. Such a beautiful story and what a legacy the XL’s gave — pursuing your dreams is a lifelong process. Thank you!

    • I think its a lesson even people who find success early in life have to learn. You can’t slack off or it could blow away. If you want to succeed at a dream it has to stay on your radar all the time. Thanks 🙂

  4. Wow, thanks for sharing this. It’s a grand story, but an even better reminder. I’m pointing people here from my interesting links for this week :).


    • Thank you Margaret, that’s great :). I’m glad my family’s great story can reach out and touch others too.

  5. I regret not writing before I had children. I don’t regret that my children get in the way of my writing.

    My dad was a writer once. I am sad to hear him talk about it, because he loved it so, and has given it up, but he’s not sad. He has done the things that mattered most to him, been faithful to all he loves most.

    Maybe being faithful to the things we love most, even when it hurts, is a way of being faithful to the other things as well. You never know.

    I like this post.

    • I love the distinction in your first two sentences. I don’t have children but often wonder how writers handle things who do. You are an inspiration, as is my father and yours. A gentle reminder to love the life you have instead of wasting it wanting something else.

  6. “For all sad words of tongue and pen, The saddest are these, ‘It might have been’.”

    What a great post, Trisha. I don’t know which choked me up more – the fact that they got to play together after so many years or that so many people showed up to watch. Wow. Just wow.

    • Hi Patty! I’m glad you enjoyed the story. Sometimes I wonder if they are just special because they’re my family, but I know in my heart this story is bigger than them and all of us. Thanks for stopping by.

  7. i couldn’t get through this without crying. it’s written so beautifully & is full of emotion. (randy’s having me copy it so he can take it to work & i’ve forwarded it on to family members.) i’m so proud of you, trisha!!! go after those dreams…. you’re certainly on your way!!!

    • Thank you Diane. I’m glad you enjoyed reading!

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