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.