On my honor I will do my best
To do my duty to God and my country
and to obey the Scout Law;
To help other people at all times;
To keep myself physically strong,
mentally awake, and morally straight.
-- the Boy Scout Oath
In the spring after my 11th birthday, one evening I found myself on a bench in what was known in our neighborhood as the Scout House. It was a remodeled service station and home to Troop 420 of the Quivira Council of the Boy Scouts of America.
Joining me on this bench were two other boys: Emil and Jesse. I knew 'em from school. Emil was a dweeby kid who played the violin (and probably to this day suffers the injustices of being tagged with that name. Who names their kid "Emil?") At age 11, Jesse was already well down the path toward becoming what was commonly referred to in that era as a juvenile delinquent.
There we were, the dweeb, the criminal and me. Three brand new Tenderfeet. (Tenderfoots?) Each with our own motivation for joining the Boy Scouts. Emil to escape the violin. Jesse to get back on the straight and narrow. And me. I just wanted to go camping.
Campouts the first weekend of every month. We'd camp in the Flint Hills or along the Walnut in Cowley County, pretty much anywhere one of our adult leaders could wrangle access to "wilderness" in south-central Kansas.
I was in the Eagle Patrol. We also had a Flaming Arrow Patrol, a Bear Patrol, a Raccoon Patrol. I knew some kids from nearby Troop 419 who got to make up their own patrol names. They got in a room and threw some stuff on the wall. Here's what stuck: the Rampaging Pink Elephant Patrol, replete with a neon pink patrol flag and matching badges for their uni's.
The scouts of Troop 419 were ahead of their time. Visionaries.
A scant two months after signing up, our troop packed up for a week at the Quivira Scout Ranch in Chautauqua County, Kansas. That first year, I had no clue what to expect.
There was a clear Native American theme. First year campers were "papooses," and told to bring along what amounted to a loincloth for some yet-to-be-revealed rite of passage. I learned later that 'yet-to-be-revealed' was prevalent.
r campers were "braves," "warriors" the third year, you get the idea.
In the weeks leading up to our week at QSR, the older scouts plied us with horror stories about papooses consuming the "black drink," which turned out to be a steaming cauldron of whatever the older scouts put in there. Use your imagination. Everything up to and including campfire remnants.
We sat in a circle in our loincloths and pounded the black drink down our throats. If we threw up, we got more.
We dug our own latrines. The instructions from the older scouts were, "Shit flows downhill." Another consistent, over-arching sentiment, I was to learn.
To be fair, there was
passing down of knowledge and wisdom. Sitting around the campfire one evening, our Patrol Leader taught us variations of four-letter words. Turns out the bluest of words can be used as nouns, verbs and even adjectives!
There was a small commissary on the camp premises where scouts could get film, batteries, candy bars and other stuff that would help an 11-year old papoose feel more like a human being. I brought 10 cents.
Two lousy nickels.
There'll be no Milky Ways for the kid.
We slept in two-boy pup tents. My roomie was a fat kid who farted a lot. The older scouts had air mattresses and even cots. Rank, it seemed, had its privileges.
By the end of the week, I was miserable. An older scout, who would have been about 16 or 17, clearly sensed it. His name was Mark Mellor. And he basically adopted me for the last couple of days of scout camp.
One of the traditions at QSR was for third-year scouts to find a rock that weighed exactly a certain amount, I don't remember the measurement, so let's say 16.5 pounds. If it was heavier, you'd chisel it down to the prescribed weight, carve your initials in it, and carry it around the camp perimeter. Symbolic of life's challenges.
One of the things Mark did for me, after carrying his rock, was show me exactly where he hid it.
"We have the same initials, so in your third year, come here, find my rock and use it." Not exactly playing by the rules, but his heart was in the right place.
On the last day of camp, the older scouts baked fruit cobblers in these big, heavy cast-iron dutch ovens that were buried in the hot coals of a campfire they'd kept burning for days. It became clear pretty quickly there wasn't enough to go around.
Papooses stiffed again.
Mark sized up the situation and shared his peach cobbler with me, the dweeb, the criminal and a handful of other poor, pitiable papooses.
Sometimes Boy Scouts are not always "Boy Scouts." But when they are, you remember them for the rest of your life.