Wednesday, February 08, 2017

Scouting at 107

On this day in 1910, at the exact time of this posting, the Boy Scouts of America was incorporated in Washington DC. It stands today as one of the largest youth programs in the United States, and the second largest national scout association in the world (as Indonesia's remains the largest). Much has happened with the BSA since the 1910 centennial year, including some controversial decisions in the area of membership policy. Those are not the subject of today's entry, but rather, a view of two entries from our archives that talk about what scouting has done for yours truly.

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It might be rather pathetic to make much out of it, but I'm not going to lie about it either. My childhood was, for the most part, not a very happy one. My years in Scouting didn't change that. But of all the experiences I had growing up, it was Scouting that gave me the venue to rise above the fray.

Obviously, it didn't happen overnight.

I actually joined the Scouting movement in the fall of 1963, with Pack 128, sponsored by the Milford United Methodist Church in Milford, Ohio. I was in Cubbing for two years. It wasn't much of an experience, really. Even my dad, who was active in the pack as a volunteer, wasn't impressed with Cubbing as a program. I don't remember why. Two years later, as I approached my eleventh birthday, we decided I wouldn't re-register.

But the following year, in February of 1966, I joined Troop 120, sponsored by Victor Stier American Legion Post 450, also in Milford, Ohio. There were some older boys whom I wanted to emulate, but they mysteriously left en masse after about a year, leaving us with a re-organization that eliminated the Eagle Patrol, of which I was about to be made Patrol Leader. I wouldn't get close to the "green bars" again for several years.

My dad became Scoutmaster after the mass exodus, in the spring of 1967. He had little in the way of outdoor experience, but was a consummate administrator. Our "patrol leaders training" classes were run like adult business seminars, and it was only later that I discovered that they were even supposed to be held outdoor. One night, a young man in his mid-twenties walked in, wearing cowboy boots. Hey, this guy is really cool, I thought. And with that, Phil Rumsey became our Assistant Scoutmaster, and Dad's other half.

One of the problems I've always had with how troop organization is handled in Scouting, is with the "staff" positions, those which are not in charge of people but of things. Jobs like Troop Quartermaster, Troop Scribe, and Troop Librarian. I had those three jobs in that order. Advancing from the rank of Tenderfoot to Life Scout (the one before Eagle) took me only three years. I would spend another three years as a Life Scout, and in the meaningless position of Troop Librarian.

It was a dead end. I knew it, and the idiot grown-ups on the Troop Committee knew it. No one had any ideas, but if Ritalin had been around back then, they probably would have begged my parents to have me put on it.

Finally, someone -- I don't remember who -- suggested I become a Den Chief. That's a Boy Scout who helps a Den Mother or Den Leader in managing a Cub Den, sort of like a support mentor. My pack never had such things, because our affiliate troop was rather insular. But this was with the other Cub Pack in town, the one that went with the program. And, it was a "Webelos" Den, which consisted of ten-year-old boys who would be eligible for Boy Scouting in a year. They were fun kids, if several years younger, and I got along with them well enough. But it was the Den Leader, one Mr Bailey, who first taught me the lessons of leadership.

When the ten-year-olds became eleven-year-olds, most of them actually joined Boy Scouting, my Troop in particular. As remarkable as this was -- there is a high attrition rate from Cub Scouts to Boy Scouts -- no one wanted them, so they stuck them in a patrol that was about to be phased out. And, of course, being desperate as they were, they made me the patrol leader. I can tell you their expectations for these guys wasn't very high.

By this time, I had read everything I could get my hands on regarding patrol leadership; program ideas, team-building exercises, the works. We went on activities as a group by ourselves, without the rest of the troop, something you only read about in the Boy Scout magazines, but never saw in real life. We had a patrol flag, and actually had our own patrol meetings. We all got together and built our own sled, and kicked ass in the competition at the district's winter "Klondike Derby" campout. The weather was near zero that night, and I spent most of it awake, keeping the fire going, and my young charges from freezing to death by sleeping close by.

When I sat before the Eagle Board of Review, in December of that year, one of the panelists said that "Dave started out as being a problem, but he ended up being the solution." I tried to start an Explorer Post (which now would be called a Venturing Crew -- long story) specializing in canoeing and camping. I actually had a few of my friends interested, but couldn't get enough adult support, so the idea tanked. But I passed the Board of Review. I stayed with the troop for another year, passing on a unanimous vote to be made Senior Patrol Leader, opting instead to be a Junior Assistant Scoutmaster, a position common to Eagle Scouts who remain. Sadly, the unit was already going downhill due to poor adult leadership (my Dad was already out of the picture, another long story), and lack of support from the American Legion post (essentially a group of aging drunks).

With graduation from high school, I left Scouting behind -- reluctantly, as with so many institutions of my childhood, they didn't seem to know what to do with someone no longer a boy, but not quite a man. I was getting a part-time job after school, and making plans for college. Barely a year after joining the ranks of eagles, it was all so far away.

My son never got to be in Scouting, mostly due to the lack of cooperation from his mother. I think a few years of it would have done him a world of good, but it's all academic now. With nearly six years back in uniform, I have yet to truly find my niche.

But for a brief episode, it was mine for the taking. The image you see there is of the Buffalo Patrol of Milford Troop 120, in January or February of 1971, as I will always remember them: from left to right, Seth Wallace (whose dad was an architect, and gave me the idea to be one too), Mark Bittner (my faithful, if quiet, assistant), Eric Strathman (who later went on to become "Senior Patrol Leader," the top youth position in a troop), myself, ???? Bollman (whose dad thought he was crazy for being in Scouting when he could be playing football), and Tim Ring (one of my guitar students).

I'm breaking with convention here, by listing names of non-relatives, in the hope that the result is a fitting tribute, to one of the few high points in my childhood, and the colleagues who made it possible. What I wouldn't give to know where they are today, and how they are doing.

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I BLAME THE BOY SCOUTS (November 2010)

Scouting has been the whipping-boy for a number of "enlightened" people these days, as the people who were too cool for it got older, and more obnoxious. Then there's Boyd Matson, a contributing editor and host of National Geographic Weekend on radio.

On this, my third climb up Kilimanjaro, I already know what to expect: six nights sleeping on the ground, no bath for a week, cold wind, thin air, and maybe mild altitude sickness. I keep asking myself, “Why am I doing this, again?” Finally I come up with an answer. I blame the Boy Scouts of America. That organization stole my soul when I was a kid and planted it in the wilderness. I was too young to resist their clever sales pitch built around hiking and camping trips. And their system of rewarding accomplishments with higher ranks and colorful merit badges meant, in effect, there was always one more goal to reach, one more mountain to climb ...

It was the summer of 2003. After a bout with rehab, and from there deciding he wanted me back in his life, I took Paul with me to Seattle. I've described his escapades there in other accounts, but there was what seemed to be a climactic one. We visited a friend of mine who had a little place by the lake there in town -- of course, Seattle is surrounded by lakes and inlets, so that isn't hard -- and she had two kayaks. I hadn't been on one in twenty years, but I tried it, and it was just like riding a bike. Then, of course, Paul just had to try it. He had NEVER been in a kayak before, and when he tried it, it was like riding a bike for him too. When he got to the middle of the lake (right in the middle of potential motor traffic), he just sat there, for about ten minutes, and looked around. We were yelling at him to come back before the Harbor Police showed up, but I don't believe he knew we were there.

He never said later what it was that possessed him, but from a distance, I could swear he was having an epiphany. It was as if the events leading up to that day were coalescing into a sign, a message of where to go next.

Had he ever been in Scouting, he would have had a lot of those. I did.

(H/T to Tom Turba.)

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