“I am not what happens to me, I am what I choose to become.”
If you have the gift of reading someone’s feelings from the expression on his face, you might decipher mine in the photo above. Standing on our driveway, about to depart to Scout Camp for a week, this was my first trip away, at age twelve, away from family.
Notice the virtual emptiness of my backpack, compared with the full duffle bag. I packed my backpack, and my mom packed the duffle bag. I did not want to take the duffle bag, packed with spare shirts, socks, underwear and even pre-addressed and stamped postcards. My parents meant well, but I thought it was embarrassing to take so much stuff along for a week of sleeping on the ground with the guys. Thus, the forlorn look on my face. As much as I protested, my mom made me take the duffle bag along.
As I recall, I wore some of the clothes in my backpack and never even opened the duffle bag. But I accomplished something at Lake Ida that I was proud of for years, the one-mile swim, following behind a rowboat. My son, John, did the same thing at Emerald Bay, in the ocean, years later when he was a Scout.
At Emerald Bay, on Catalina Island, John’s troop camped across the dirt road from the showers, and I don’t think any kid on the trip ever saw the inside of that building.
Boys of a certain age like to get and to stay dirty, especially if there are no girls around to impress, quickly descending to the lowest common denominator, dirt.
I talked John into joining the Scouts, because I wanted him to have the same wonderful experiences in the outdoors that I remembered. He wanted to quit when all it seemed to be was a troop meeting on Monday nights in the rec room of a local church. But then came his first campout with his pals, and he was hooked. Eventually, I became Scoutmaster, but it was John who went all the way to Eagle, as did many of his closest friends.
Our big adventure in scouting was our trip to Philmont Ranch, 250,000 acres of wilderness in New Mexico. We spent fourteen days on the trail, carrying all our food and supplies in fifty-pound backpacks. Our highest camp was at 11,000 feet, and our longest day was nineteen miles, an unforgettable time together.
I read somewhere that over sixty percent of women leaders were Scouts, and nearly all the astronauts have been Eagle Scouts.
My fellow Scoutmaster, Jeff Gunn, who was Scoutmaster of two troops, said, “Ya gotta’ get ’em to Eagle before the fumes get ’em. I had no idea what he meant. He explained, “Yeah, perfumes and car fumes.”
Jeff had another saying I liked, which was, “If it ain’t fun, why do it?” I had a great time in scouting and learned a lot about life outdoors. So did John, pretty good stuff for a couple of city kids. But Jeff was right about the fumes, they got to me long before I got anywhere near Eagle.