“We learned things like sharing chores, knot-tying, handling a scout knife (with all of its neat blades), building a camp fire, and properly raising, lowering & folding the American flag. There were scavenger hunts, sing-alongs and scary story telling around spooky late night fires.”
Once Scouts were the saving grace of a community, teaching children important life values and dedicated to providing an opportunity for learning and fellowship that superseded social status. Scouts today seem to have fallen off the grid or maybe they felt so special then because of the era and small hometown where I experienced them.
Girl Scouts started by being a Brownie and that was a natural transition. Boy Scouts began as a Cub and excelled into an Eagle, considerably more difficult. For the kids’ sake, age determined eligibility among ranks more than anything else. My parents were Scout leaders so I was blessed to be active in both. Being a tomboy at heart at that age, I enjoyed trips with Dad and the Boy Scouts as much if not more than I did the Girls.
Mom was a naturally creative woman. To this day that’s what stands out most in my memories of her. In statewide troop competitions Mom ensured every child had what they needed to participate. She’d come up with the ideas and help us make costumes, create props and direct us in pulling skits together. She made sure every girl had what they needed in a uniform.
One most impressionable memory is making parade floats. A local farmer would donate a hay wagon and it was housed safely in a garage. An idea was framed out and each section outlined with chicken wire. We spent hours giggling and looping bundles of loose, white restaurant napkins in all of the holes until it took fluffy shape then spray-painted details and cut out letters forming our message. Whalla, we had a magnificent parade float and a lifetime of splendid memories.
The easy-going time we spent as a group and the sharing and learning special talents of kids who had little opportunity to express them elsewhere was irreplaceable in self-esteem building. The friendships and healthy competitions that developed, as a group and between one another, could not have so spontaneously crossed social barriers otherwise. Scouts taught us kindnesses, appreciation, and sportsmanship we would not have grown into without the experiences. Everyone participated and if our stipends of meeting dues didn’t cover something, Mom found ways to meet those needs.
Many of Dad’s Boy Scout activities took place outside and I loved joining them, especially when it involved camping. In my small, young mind it was every bit the equivalent of “Survivor” today.
In advance of one camping trip Dad took us to a friend’s wooded land where he created an obstacle course for his troop to overcome. I loved crawling over and under whatever nature he’d rearranged to make their way through the meandering trail while putting his more manly creative genius on display. During the camping trip they built a long lean-to and a fire after making a clearing for sleeping bags. In the middle of the night one kid caught his bedroll on fire, which must have posed a serious danger because everyone scampered frantically learning on-the-spot how to safely put out a sleeping bag fire.
Dad loved flying and taught a course about airplanes and how they worked, often taking boys who would never have had the opportunity for an aerial view over our Christmas-lit town. To this day I hear from local friends whose most impressionable memories are of that unique perspective on life and their own farmland, some describing how it led to adult careers and interests.
Both Girl & Boy Scouts enjoyed week-long summer camps at our local park, which provided short rows of tiny cabins in a wooded area off a small lake, each just big enough to house four wooden beds. There was a canteen for eating and rustic restrooms that had to be cleaned. We all brought whatever was necessary (usually crepe paper & thumb tacks) to decorate our bed’s window and we were generous in helping others do theirs.
We learned things like sharing chores, knot-tying, handling a scout knife (with all of its neat blades), building a camp fire, and properly raising, lowering & folding the American flag. There were scavenger hunts, sing-alongs and scary story telling around spooky late night fires. Everyone chipped-in to do daily chores and I don’t recall anyone ever balking, even when it was their turn to clean the bathrooms.
At the close of one of Mom’s camping trips, a small flag ceremony was planned for the evening parents came to pick up their kids. Of course we practiced it every day. We were to properly take-down the American flag, fold it then sing “Day Is Done.”
The ceremony went as scheduled with all of the parents gathered around. When it came time for the song at the end not one Scout started singing ~ big awkward pregnant pause.
I am by no means a singer and even I knew then that I was an absolutely painful singer. But since they’d all apparently forgotten the cue, I figured I’d start the song and everyone would join in so no one would notice my bad voice. Surely I could get the first refrain out in reasonably good form. So I began, wobbly and horrifyingly off-key, singing …
“Day is done … gone the sun … … … [u-h-h-h, big ‘WTH’ gulp]”
… oh for crying out loud. In that whole group of girls not one other started singing with me. Not a single one.
Well I was no quitter and being on such public display by then I knew I couldn’t stop in the middle so I finished just as painfully as I’d started, gaining regrettable volume & vibrato out of sheer horror for what I had started. As could be expected the entire crowd erupted in laughter. The moment it was over I ran to the car and hid in ultimate adolescent humiliation. Mom, being the Scout leader, had to stay until everyone left. When she finally came back to the car she was still laughing. So much for trying to salvage her darned ceremony.
Mom died years ago and she & Dad divorced years prior to that. She’d moved out of state but, even now, half a century later, hometown folk speak of remembering her and how much fun they had in Scouts. It’s especially heartwarming after what has been another lifetime since she was out of sight but never far from mind.
If you weren’t a Girl or Boy Scout, you have missed something very special (the lesson in public humiliation excepted). I don’t know much about them today, but I hope they are as free-learning and encompassing of youth in all walks of life as they were back then. It’s sad life has become so complicated that the simplest and most innocent things in it must be more carefully guarded, namely, our children.
It’s likely neither parent today has the spare time, energy or resources to indulge Scouts as wholeheartedly as my parents embraced them. Granted, I didn’t earn any Boy Scout badges, but within Scouts our individual capabilities were nurtured and encouraged to personally achieve the ones we did.