Kevin Brennan Writes About What It's Like
Scout leaders are role models. Aren’t they? That was the idea, probably, when the Boy Scouts came into being. Good men in the community would help boys become good men too. And teach them knots.
But I was thinking back recently about my own Scouting experience when I was a kid, and I remembered a couple of iffy situations with the leaders that make me wonder if the model wasn’t operative at the time.
Once, for instance, I was at a campout and some other Scout kid spanked the hot griddle with a long barbecue fork to watch the oil fly up like miniature fireworks. I’m going, “Hey, that seems dangerous, somebody could get –” and at that precise moment a streak of the hot oil nailed me right in the eye. Leaders were summoned, examined my eye, which was pouring out tears like crazy, and declared that it didn’t look too bad. Off to church services at the pavilion.
Maybe this is why I became an atheist.
A couple of hours go by, and my eye is flaming in pain like I’ve never experienced before or since. I still go into the fetal position when I think about it. But when you’re a Scout, you have to have a stiff upper lip or the other boys will call you a pussy and give you a “pink belly,” they called it in our troop, where they’d slap your stomach until it flared.
I asked the main leader if someone could drive me home so I could go to the doctor, but he said we would break camp after lunch and then we’d all go.
By the time I made it home that evening, my mother was so alarmed that she did rush me over to the ER, where they declared it a corneal burn and set me up with some ointment and an eye patch. I didn’t stay in the Scouts much longer.
In another troop I belonged to, the leaders OK’d a campout where there were no leaders at all, only the boys. It turned into Lord of the Flies meets Fellini’s Satyricon, and I huddled in my tent most of the time trying to avoid a posse of rogue Scouts giving atomic wedgies at random.
And I remember my Cub Scout den mother, who was the nicest woman ever, but we’d have meetings at her house — her son was my buddy and co-Cub Scout — and I’d notice it was like a hoarder’s nest in there. Smelled of garbage and dog pee, looked like a small percussion bomb had gone off, and there were nine days worth of dishes in the sink. One time she recruited us to have a go at them, which didn’t seem too Scouty to me. Her husband was active in the Scouts too, and when his son and I became Boy Scouts he made us these embarrassing hiking sticks out of the poles you mount in closets to hang clothes on. Humiliation. We ditched them the first time out.
My sense as an adult is that I’m lucky to have survived my Scouting years. Sure, I learned to tie a clove-hitch and a sheet bend, but there were a dozen times I could have been killed because of a leader’s carelessness. That’s probably why they taught us first-aid.
The highest I ever got in Scouting was the rank of Star. Not a bad way to go out, and with all my limbs too.