Sunday, November 14, 2010

Tarzan Boy Scouts

The title of this story incorporates two themes that were mingled together in my childhood. The first is “Tarzan Boy” which is the title of an eighties song by Baltimora. The next is, of course, the Boy Scouts. Our Scout troop combined these two ideas. We seemed to be a group of wild boys that my Dad had caught in the woods and put into boy scout uniforms in order to show people how good the Scouts was at taming young men's wild instincts.

We were a wild looking crew. Shabby at best, but goodhearted and fun loving. We were also very good at all the activities that scouts were supposed to excel at, building fires and things of that nature. I remember one year we were at some regional weekend get together where a large number of scout troops were gathered to get to know each other and compete in a kind of scouting playoffs.

We were bottom of the pile when it came to inspection because of our disarrayed uniforms, but in everything else we took first or second place. The things we took second place in our webelos (Sub-scouts, the rank between cub scout and boy scout.) took first place. I have to mention that this wasn't true of the tent competition. Most of us could put a pup tent up in the dark in roughly thirty seconds. (That's not an exaggeration, Dad drilled us on it after dark and thirty seconds was the goal.) Of course, the rush did occasionally lead to mistakes. One time Jim couldn't find the hole for the tent peg in the dark, so he hammered it into the ground right through the side of the tent rather than slow down.

For the competition we had to take the extra step of buttoning both sides of the tent together before we put it up. This was something we never did with our tents. In the Army each man would carry half a tent. Then they would button the halves together and two men would sleep in the resulting tent. All our test runs had been done with an already buttoned up tent, so we hadn't had any practice buttoning as a team. As we all worked to get the thing buttoned together as fast as we could Jason realized that we were one button off. So, he grabbed both sides and jerked them completely apart so we could start over. That lost us enough time that we came in last.

Of course, Jason and Jim were always bad with tents. Once Jason's Mom bought him a flame resistant tent. So, the two of them kept decided to test it by holding lit matches to it just to see the thing resist the flames. The end result was easy to understand and very predictable, they finally caught the thing on fire and burned a big hole in it. They were quiet a team....

It was late one night during that same gathering that Dad was summoned from his tent by a strange sound. It's hard to describe on paper and even when Dad tries to imitate it now it doesn't sound like anything you would normally find in nature. It was this low growling kind of a sound, but it didn't sound like any animal he had ever heard. Both Jim and Jermaine's Dads had come along on the trip, so my Dad hoped to have a bit of backup when he decided to go looking for the whatever-it-was that had crept into camp.

Jim's Dad had also been awakened by the noise. I don't remember if he and Dad had been sharing a tent or if they both happened to come out of their tents at the same time, but they ended up heading out to search for the thing together. They didn't want to wake everyone up, because the whatever-is-was didn't sound safe or happy. It was also hard to tell exactly where the thing was by the sound it was making.

They decided it would be best to go wake Jermaine's Dad up as well. As they got closer to his tent they noticed that the sound was getting louder. Finally they had the sickening realization that the whatever-it-was had actually slinked silently into Jermaine's Dad tent. After a moment's hesitation Dad decided to rush in swinging and do his best to save the man from the dreadful sounding whatever-it-was.

Just before Dad made his charge Jim's Dad stopped him and told him to listen carefully. He asked Dad if he couldn't imagine anything that sounded kind of like it. After a moment Dad said he thought it almost sounded like someone snoring, but that he had never heard anyone that loud or growly sounding. They stood outside the tent for a little longer, just to make sure. Finally they made the decision that the whatever-it-was was, in fact, Jermaine's Dad snoring.

The next day all us boys got a good laugh out of the story as Dad described the cold sweat on his forehead and how he had wished for a better weapon than the stick he had found. If Dad had taken a moment to think he could have armed himself from Jason's backpack. He might have had several knives a machete or two and possibly an ax tucked away in there.

Jason's Mom often got him more equipment than he would ever need. We called him GI Jason now and again. Out of all of us he was loaded down with the most junk. Not that it wasn't useful, all of it was useful. It was just that most of it would be more handy if you were lost in the woods a hundred miles from civilization more than when you were merely hiking through the woods. He was also as full of questions about anything we planned to do as he was equipped to do it when the time came. This always got on Dad's nerves. I remember one time when Dad had decided to nip all these questions in bud. He began with:

“All right boys I have something to tell you. Please wait to ask any questions until after I finished. Do you understand?”

“Yes, Sir!” Was the universal reply.

“Good! Now we are going to take a trip...” Here Jason's hand shot up. “Yes, Jason.”

“Where are we going?”

“I was just about to tell you that. You see, that's why I want you to hold your questions until the end. I may answer them in the explanation. Do you understand?”

“Yes, Sir!” Jason replied.

“Good! Now, we're going on a camping trip.... Yes, Jason.”

“When are we going to go?”

“Jason son, I was going to tell you. When you ask a question it interrupts me and slows me down. I am going to tell you where we are going and when, but you have to give me a moment. After I've told you everything I'll ask if there are anymore questions...” Jason's hand had shot up again, while Dad was saying this. Dad stared at Jason. I think he was trying to figure out what, if anything, was going on in his head. With quiet resolve Dad said “What is it Jason?”

“How are we going to get there?”

“You see Jason! I was going to tell you that!”

“You said you were going to tell us where we are going and when, but you didn't say you were going to tell us how.” Jason looked up with complete innocence. It may be hard for a normal person to imagine, but he was being completely sincere.

“OK, Jason... I am going to tell you everything I can think of and then let you ask questions when I am finished. Do you understand?”

“Yes, Sir!”

“And that's alright with you?”

“Yes, Sir!”

“So, no more questions until I'm finished?”

“No, Sir!”

“Good! Now, as I was saying, we are going on a camping trip two weeks from now.” Here Jason's hand shot up, but Dad ignored him and continued on. Jason began to wave his arm around as Dad pretended not to see him. He stood up waving his arm back and forth and still Dad carried on. Jason was actually hopping in place before Dad cracked “What is it Jason?!?!?”

“What do we need to bring with us?”

“I give up!” Dad said, and that was exactly what he did.

The rest of the explanation he handled by letting Jason ask every question he could think of and then answering it. It probably took longer than it would have, but no one had any questions after Jason was finished.

Those were wonderful days for us. I loved the companionship and the sense of adventure we often got from the Boy Scouts. I've never gotten involved with them as a grown man, which may be surprising considering the fact that I have two sons at the moment. Still, every Dad does his own thing with his own sons. For Dad and his sons it was the Boy Scouts (and camping and a bunch of other crazy things), for me and mine it's other things. Of course, I have to admit there is something about taking your boys out into the wild. Remembering all these things makes me think that it may be time for me to buy my own tent. Who knows what wild snoring animal my sons and I might stubble upon.

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