Had she sneezed, Lucille McCombs might have missed the Cardozo High School band entirely.

As it was, she never did spot her daughter, Ernestine, a 16-year-old flag bearer, as she marched past the television cameras yesterday.

The signals beamed from sunny Pasadena, Calif., to Lucille McCombs' quiet, snow-covered street here in Washington, changed the 160 high-stepping members of Cardozo's band into little blips of color parading across the screen of the imitation mahogony, 20-inch console in the McCombs home.

The Tournament of Roses parade began at 11:30 a.m. At 12:30, Cardozo strutted into view.

Thirty seconds later it was over.

The Ontario Massed Legion Pipe and Drum Corps got 45 seconds. The International House of Pancakes float, "Nature's Music," held down nearly a minute. But when the Cardozo marchers appeared, you could hardly tell the color of their spanking new uniforms before they were gone.

But that didn't seem to bother the four generations of McCombses who gathered sleepy-eyed in the plastic slip-covered comfort of their Shepherd Street NW living room to watch the spectacle.

"And here comes the Cardooozooo Marching Band," deadpanned the announcer.

The living room erupted in rapid-fire chatter.

"Here they come!"

"Look at that cowboy hat!"

"Where are the flag girls?"

"What row is she in?"

"Yea Cardozo!"

Then it was over. The television cameras panned to more roses, marigolds, carnations, baby's breath and the whiter-than-white teeth of fair-haired float queens.

"Did you see Ernie?"

"No. Did you?"


"Maybe we should change the cahnnel," advised the McCombs household matriarch, Grandma Lule Ruffin, 70. The advice was ignored in the excitement.

Though the band's appearance was brief, Lucille McCombs, her five children, seven grandchildren and her mother were proud, ver proud.

"Ernie put out a lot of effort for this," Lucille McCombs said. "She just joined the flag girls in September and she worked awful hard. She was concerned that her practicing would interfere with her school work, but she did everything just fine. She wants to be a doctor, you know."

The only predominatly black band in the parade and the only band from the East Coast, the Cardozo group -- most of whose members come from single-parent and low-income households -- had practiced for months for the Tournament of Roses Parade, the highlight of a six-day tour of a state about which most had only dreamed. Most also had never before been on an airplane like the one that took them to California earlier this week.

Ernestine McCombs "began packing a week ago, wondering what kinds of things to take with her. She hardly slept the night before they left," Lucille McCombs said yesterday, primping the tiny braids of granddaughter Ebony, age 1.

Since arriving in Pasadena, Ernestine has called home twice, collect, her mother said. "Ernie said, 'Man, I have to tell you all about it, when I get back," Lucille McCombs said. "She sounded real good.

"She was excited that it was 9 p.m. there and midnight here, and when I told her last night it was snowing here she laughed and said it was 90 there.

"It's too bad we didn't get to see her."