The death of a family.

Though I joined Boy Scouts at the age of eleven, I didn’t think much of it. I was in a troop so sprawlingly large, so devoted to keeping its ranks out of trouble, so disinterested in any of the basic activities of scouting that I am convinced that the reason it rained on every single damned outing was because we brought it upon ourselves. Camping trips were to be tolerated. They were a test of endurance. The concept that they could be fun was unknown to me. Weekly meetings were held in a gymnasium, with few activities outside. A great deal of emphasis was placed on order — properly-arranged uniforms, lining up straight, etc. It was, to put it mildly, not my cup of tea.

(Incidentally, I still remember the troop cheer. Six oh one is really great / all the rest are second rate / six oh number one / six oh number one / yeeeaaaah six oh one!.)

I joined Free Union’s Troop 7 at the age of 13, and that all changed. Troop 7 was tiny, just a couple of dozen kids, formed a few years earlier by the parents of area home schoolers who realized it’d be a good group activity for their kids, most of whom had grown up farming and running around half-naked in the woods. There was never a mention of a troop cheer. I never saw anybody wear a full uniform, just the shirt. There was, at all times, at least one girl effectively a troop member because, hey, she wanted in. I declared up front that I had no interest in merit badges or becoming an Eagle Scout, that I just wanted to go on outdoor trips, and no adults complained. We took trips winter, spring, summer and fall. Spelunking, kayaking, canoeing, backpacking — we did it all. We attended a few jamborees and such, and we never failed to win every available prize. (A cheer would have just been rubbing in what everybody in the Stonewall Jackson Area Council knew.) The troop was, in short, the stuff of legend in the council. We were unstoppable, it came easy to us, and we loved it.

When I was about 16, the troopmaster took me aside and explained that, whether I liked it or not, I was a role model to the younger kids, and I should probably start acting accordingly. So I became Senior Patrol Leader and set about reorganizing the patrols, convincing them to drop the small-mammal names with one, to my great pride, naming themselves “Flight of the Cosmic Hippo.” Along the way I became a member of the Order of the Arrow, got a handful of merit badges (camping, hiking, fishing, riflery, etc.), even became den chief for a Webelos pack.

Scouts must leave on their 18th birthday. As I spent my 18th summer backpacking the Appalachian Trail, the closest thing that I had to a last meeting was visiting the troop that summer. Many younger scouts were there, obviously excited to see me, given the adventure that I was in the midst of.

Some of us ended up setting up Explorer Post 7, which is Scouts for both boys and girls, for ages 14-21. We kept that up for a couple of years, going on a handful of trips each year, but ultimately there weren’t enough people to sustain it.

Being at a point in life where I have the time, the energy, and the interest to do so, I decided last week to start volunteering for Troop 7. I roped fellow Troop 7 alumnus (and Eagle Scout) Noah McMurray into joining me. I sent an e-mail to the scoutmaster, saying that Noah and I would like to start leading outdoor trips, something that we knew they didn’t have enough adults to do.

Yesterday, the scoutmaster sent out an e-mail to troop parents. The troop is, apparently, down to a half dozen scouts. They don’t even live in Free Union, but south of Charlottesville, and the drive is awkward. And so the troop — my troop — is merging with Troop 37. (Troop who?)

I’d been planning to volunteer for my troop for the past decade. And now I’m too late. Now I don’t even have a troop anymore. My troop is dead.

The good news, I suppose, is that this is a temporary condition. We’re all local boys; though we’ve scattered to nearly all the continents, we’re all coming home to roost. And, frankly, Troop 7 has consisted of damned fine-looking bunch of men; there will be offspring. In about fifteen years time, I figure we’re all going to realize that we’ll need a scout troop in or around Free Union. Then we can resurrect 7 again, with Noah playing the role of his father, and Mark playing the role of his father. It’ll be just like old times. And our kids? They’re going to kick all kinds of ass at the jamborees. You’ll see.

Troop 7
May 2004 Troop 7 reunion photo.

18 thoughts on “The death of a family.”

  1. Well, not exactly every available prize… we never really were too into the whole “best campsite” award. That’s probably one of the reasons the Klondike Derby was one of my favorite events; you got to be one of a bunch of crazy boys running from station to station dragging a big-ass sled (Fred made some AWESOME sleds) and generally kicking butt in the various skill events. Pure fun.

    Also, somehow I managed to miss-out on that great Troop 7 reunion photo (I do believe the minister had to run at that very moment and so I had to make sure all the marriage license stuff was squared away); it’ll be quite a while ’till all those folks are in the same place at the same time again…

    -Noah

  2. We won every prize we wanted to win. :) We didn’t go for “best campsite” any more than we wanted “tastiest cherry pie,” “best-ironed uniform” or any of that bullshit.

    Yup, you missed out on the photo because you were too busy with wedding stuff. Plus, the photo was taken at your wedding; your inclusion is automatic, in the photo or no. :)

  3. Waldo,

    How can you participate in an organization that actively discriminates by pretending to be private organization while receiving backdoor federal funds?

  4. How can I live in a state that discriminates against gays? How can I live in a country that goes to war based on lies?

    Ain’t nothin’ perfect.

  5. I was in troop 36, they were too big, and your criticisms all applied perfectly to my troop. I switched to troop 7, but I guess I was already too Jaded by 36 and too focused on those traits to see what I could have been a part of.

    Tonight I was at my sister’s graduation, and my family sat next to my troop 7 leader. Small world, eh?

    P.S. Everything wrong with boy scouts disappeared at Philmont. 11 days in the desert changed my life, changed who I was. Or maybe it was just the puncuated start of a larger change, but what’s the difference?

  6. “And, frankly, Troop 7 has consisted of damned fine-looking bunch of men; there will be offspring”

    You ought to be careful with comments like that. BSA’s inquisitors may come get you :).

    I am a huge believer in the Scouting concept. Unfortunately, the people running the organization nationally don’t understand what Lord Baden-Powell intended.

    http://www.generationj.com/archive/11_2001/helpful_friendly_courteous.html

    I encourage you and anyone else who believes both in Scouting and in equality to join Scouting for All (www.scoutingforall.org) a terrific group started by a straight 14-year old Scout in California.

  7. Josh,

    Are you referring to Lord Baden-Powell’s oft-expressed admiration for the naked bodies of boys?

  8. No matter all the good that the BSA has done throughout its existence–and it has–I can’t get past its more recent Morman-inspired behavior that teaches exclusion and intolerance of gays and agnostics/atheists to today’s youth. It is so hateful, and BSA has gone to the US Supreme Court to affirm its right as a private organization to hate, that it is difficult for me to ever read anything about Scouting without commenting on it.

    Analogy: A private country club has produced several fine programs for its local community, and supported things like Habitat for Humanity, Little League, Food Banks, etc. But that same country club has a policy of not allowing women, blacks, Jews, etc. to become members. I would expect any thinking, socially conscious person to never let them off the hook about that no matter how many good deeds they had done. That’s how I feel about the Boy Scouts of America.

    If BSA has a need to enforce this kind of rigid bigotry, as a private organization they have that right. But should they get public dollars and tax breaks? I vote no.

    Thankfully, the Girl Scouts have not followed in BSA’ footsteps, though they are often linked as if they had.

    Scouting For All is an organization with much potential, that is doing the correct thing.

  9. Small troops are definitely the way to go. I’m wondering, though, how’d you deal with having to say “On my honor I will do my best to do my duty to God…”?

  10. I think you’ve overlooked that my troop had girls in it. :) BSA can put whatever sort of rules into place, but troops are free to do whatever they want. At least my troop was.

  11. Nostalgia for the old days I can understand. But I’m another one who will have nothing to do with the Boy Scouts of America under its current administration.

    From the “Boy Scouts Legal Issues” web page:

    Boy Scouts of America believes that no member can grow into the best kind of citizen without recognizing an obligation to God. Accordingly, adult volunteer leaders of Boy Scouts of America obligate themselves to do their duty to God and be reverent as embodied in the Scout Oath, the Scout Law, and the Declaration of Religious Principle. Because of its views concerning the duty to God, Boy Scouts of America believes that an atheist or agnostic is not an appropriate role model of the Scout Oath and Law for adolescent boys. Because of Scouting’s methods and beliefs, Scouting does not accept atheists and agnostics as adult volunteer leaders.

    From the Article 6 of the Constitution of the United States of America:

    The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the Members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.

    I’ll take the Constitution’s understanding of “the best kind of citizen”, thank you, rather than BSA’s.

  12. Waldo,

    Unfortunately, the hands off approach that allowed your troop (and mine) to thrive is a thing of the past. BSA’s national leadership has really now moved toward witch hunts—kicking out people who happen to post their sexual orientation on a personals site and even kicking out straight Scouts who believe in God but happen to publicly disagree with the policy.

    It is a sad situation. Again, check out the work of Scouting for All. It’s a very worthwhile group.

  13. A sad happenstance, Waldo, made even sadder by the incredibly earnest commenters who attack any organization with which they disagree, and won’t respect the privilege of others to associate freely and privately.

    When I first joined a Troop (325), it was the same one to which my namesake uncle had belonged, and in which he earned his Eagle Scout award. Sadly, it had fallen on hard times, too, and while I left for another, better-led Troop (342), and earned my Eagle Scout award in that Troop, it was nice to have started out where there was a family history. As it happened, my nephew grew up in a town just across the river, and also earned the rank of Eagle Scout (giving my grandfather the singular privilege of pinning the badge on the third generation of his progeny), he did so in yet a third Troop.

    Life in a small town!

    I don’t know whether I’ll live long enough to do so, but I certainly hope to pin Eagle badges on both of my sons.

  14. As a practical matter, the only time that a Troop receives any actual oversight on the matter of religion is when one of two things happens: a fundamentalist parent complains that the Scout leader isn’t pure enough, or a Scout up for his Eagle Board of Review is asked by the District representative what the “duty to God” portion of the Scout Oath means to him.

    When I was involved in the organizing of Cub Scout packs and Boy Scout troops, I would tell the parents of kids who were coming to look that we didn’t care about the religious views of the kids, that they would not receive any religious training or instruction or proselytizing from us while they were in the Scouts, and that we would let each kid and his parents figure out what “duty to God” meant to them. If they were looking for a place that was was going to dovetail with their church’s view of things, they might want to look elsewhere. When we would do an Eagle Board of Review, I would try to talk with the kid before hand to make sure that he had some sense of how he might deal with that question about a Scout’s duty to God. I remember one time having to help a kid who was basically an agnostic formulate an answer that was intellectually honest for him and had a sufficient nod toward God to be able to get past the Board of Review. He could talk about how scouting had taught him to respect nature and creation, and how he helped his fellow human beings, and it sounded Christian but was really practically Wiccan or Druid. He did fine.

    I continued to be active in Scouting as long as my sons were active in Scouting, because I wanted to make sure that there were at least a few voices of reason.

  15. Still a Scoutmaster 22 years later after taking over a troop at age 24. Yeah, the BSA is wrong on a few things but, be an agent of change – and I beleive things in the BSA will change.

    Love your recollection of your troop, sounds like a great bunch. We need more Waldos in uniform, c’mon in and keep that troop alive.

Comments are closed.