03119_000_007February 1980 is the seventieth anniversary of the Boy Scouts of America—and 72 years since R. S. S. Baden-Powell started Scouting in Great Britain.
The following three reminiscences honor Scouting and its influence for good.
A Few Secrets of Firebuilding
When I saw him the other day in the hardware store, I didn’t recognize him. “Don’t you remember me?” he asked. “I’m Dan Bigler.”
It took just a few minutes of reminiscing to bring it all back, especially that cold, windy Saturday morning years before when the nine eleven-year-old Scouts—including Dan—climbed into my sedan with me, their assistant Scoutmaster. Heading up to Mt. Graham in Arizona, we soon arrived at the mouth of Merijilda Canyon, with its giant mesquite trees and its boulders the size of twenty-five-gallon barrels. It was March—and raining off and on. When the rain stopped for a while, out bounded the nine boys, ready for action.
I told the group to imagine that they were stranded in the mountains with no car and that their clothes were soaking wet. If they weren’t dried off promptly, I told them, their lives could be in danger. They were to imagine, too, that although they had plenty of wet matches, they had only one dry one. They had to get the fire started right the first time.
I took them to a large, nearby mesquite tree. After searching the tree carefully, I showed them some unobtrusive twigs about the size of a needle. We gathered a bundle of them. Then we continued searching for more fire-building material until we had gathered ten bundles of twigs ranging on up to the size of a man’s index finger. Each boy had the responsibility of keeping one of the bundles dry and secure.
Next we carefully selected a site protected from too much wind, and positioned a 1 1/2-inch mesquite limb to support the fire-building materials and allow for air flow. The boys lined up according to the size of the twigs in their bundles. First came the bundle with the needle-sized twigs at right angles to the mesquite limb, allowing space for air. I lit the match and tucked it under the precious bundle. Everyone cheered when the needle-twigs ignited. Then the second Scout stepped forward with his bundle, and so forth, until each bundle had contributed to making the flame an enthusiastic, warm fire. Then I extinguished the fire and told the boys to go and make their own fires. Each one received a single match.
Dan and I both remembered how disappointed each boy was when not one of them could get a fire going. Oh, every Scout got plenty of smoke out of the wet wood, but not one fire. Why?
“We each failed,” remembered Dan, “because we tried to cut corners. We weren’t willing to pay the price of time and effort it would take to collect the different sizes of twigs.”
Some of the boys had tried using only five sizes; others had tried with seven or eight—but each failed because they had tried to take a shortcut.
“I think,” Dan said, “that’s when I learned there aren’t any shortcuts—that you have to pay the price for anything worth having.”
Dan had a sequel to the story. Years later, a Scoutmaster himself, Dan shared the secrets of building a fire in the rain with his own Scouts. After the demonstration and instructions, that new generation of boys tried cutting their own corners. They got lots of smoke, but not a fire in the entire troop.
“Such Goot, Goot Boys!”
To an observer, it may have seemed strange when Oma, my plump middle-aged grandmother, was asked to be a den mother. She isn’t much taller than the average nine- or ten-year-old, and her accent then was even heavier than it is now. Even I, who knew about some of Oma’s hidden talents, was a bit worried.
The Cubs were my age; as a girl in their school class, I knew what they were like. Billy Lambert, for one, was a constant aggravation to Miss Perkins, our fourth grade teacher. He was always into things, always snapping his fingers and calling out, “Teacher! Teacher! I know! I know!” He didn’t do his work but just doodled pictures of dinosaurs all over everything. And he talked, talked, talked!
“Billeeee!” Miss Perkins would say. “Oh, you exasperate me.”
Billy alone would have been a handful, but there were seven more Cub Scouts who, in my estimation, were also pretty mischievous. Real bear cubs, I felt, would be less trouble than this group of boys. But I had something to learn about Oma—and so did they.
“Dese boys are special, wonderful boys,” she told me. “I have a big job and I am afraid. I know nutting of Scouting. But I will do my best.”
Because the boys deserved only the best, Oma planned wonderful things for them: games, field trips, and all kinds of special activities. One day they got permission to go to a pond Oma had heard about, and each boy caught polliwogs. They took them home, put them in buckets, and watched them develop into frogs. “Frogs will be yumping in our neighborhood for many years,” Oma proclaimed.
Once in a while I would sit on the stairs that led to our unfinished basement (where they met) to listen and watch—and be amazed. Oma looked funny in her uniform, but the boys didn’t seem to notice. There was only an occasional push or argument, and even Billy seemed happy and excited. He still talked a lot, but it didn’t seem to bother Oma. After the meeting was over, Oma would join me on the step and wipe the perspiration from her forehead. Then she would remove her cap and shake her damp white hair. “Oh dey are goot boys,” she’d say with a laugh. “So full of energy.”
Because Oma staunchly expected the best from them, she got results. Soon our basement was a smooth-running Cub Scout den filled with boys eager to earn badges—boys with goals.
My husband and I went to visit Oma just recently and she showed us a letter from Billy Lambert. “He is a professor now, you know, and a bishop. Oh, so smart and so fine. Some of my Cubs still write me and I dem. Dey wrote me from dere missions and dey sent me invitations when dey marry in de temple, and dey still write. I told dem once, ‘When I am old, I will be so proud to see you grown into fine men.’ Dey didn’t let me down. Dey are fine, goot men.” She sighed. “But den, I expected it. Dey were such goot Cubs. Such goot, goot boys.”
“Yes, I guess they were at that,” I agreed, smiling. “But full of energy!”
“Yes,” Oma said with a little laugh.
We sat reminiscing in silence until I noticed a movement just past Oma’s lawn chair near the pyracantha bush. “Well, what do you know?” I said. “It’s a little frog.”