Blog 2275 – 01.13.2022
Sixty Years Ago I Was A Boy Scout For A Year
My boyhood friend Ric had his seventy-first birthday a few days ago and I texted him to wish him a happy birthday. He is a little over a month younger than I am, but as a boy was always so much braver and so much more out going than I was that I looked up to him and always followed his lead. I met Ric, we all called him Butch back then, in Miss Lane’s fifth grade class. He and I and all boys in her class were in love with pretty Miss Lane and vied over who got to carry her brief case and walk her from her new Volkswagen Beetle to class in the morning and back after school. Cleaning erasers was never a punishment in Miss Lane’s class, but an honor and a privilege.
The summer between fifth and sixth grade, Ric and I played together every week day while his parents both worked. The day before Halloween my fifth grade year, my mom, dad, younger brother and I moved into a small rental house less than a block from where Ric lived with his mom, dad and older brother. My mom was a stay at home mom, but was happy to have my brother and out from under foot and so she let us freely roam the neighborhood as long as we stayed in shouting distance. Her voice could easily be heard calling us in for a four or five block radius from our front porch.
Since I was a shy mama’s boy, mom encouraged me to make friends. She had even arranged at my second elementary school with one of the other boys’ mothers for her son to watch over me and be my friend. In the first grade and first half of the second grade a neighbor boy and his older brother had been my buddies and when we moved I had to leave them behind.
When mom learned that Rick and his older brother Mike were into Scouting she encouraged me to become a Boy Scout. Rick and Mike were happy to teach me wood craft, the Boy Scout motto, oath, salute, how to tie knots, and how to start a fire with one match. You had to be, like Harry Potter attending Hogwarts, eleven years old to become a Boy Scout. Rick got a wavier to attend our first weekend camping trip to spelunk an old abandoned Salt Peter mine that the Confederates had re-routed a stream into to keep the Yankees from getting the Salt Peter to make gun powder. It was a fascinating series of caves with tunnel after tunnel that the water had carved the walls smooth and that generations of Scouts before of us had written their names and wise words and some not so ones upon the walls and roofs with their carbide lanterns. We did the same. Ric and I both mused about how many boys in our troop who went on our first camp out to Salt Peter’s Cave still walk this earth. It is likely that Ric and I being the youngest in the group have already outlived most of them.
In one of our emails back and forth Ric mentioned how my mom had sent me to our week long scout camp out at Camp Cherokee the summer after our first weekend camp out at Salt Peter’s Cave with a change of clothes for every day. It was probably every piece of clothing that I owned and maybe some of my brother’s. Ric said he reminded himself of Peanut’s Pig Pen as he only brought three pair of underwear and after the third day just wore the least dirty pair thereafter. I responded to his reminiscing about our Cherokee camping trip with the following:
“Mom also gave me stamp addressed post cards to write to her each day. In the first one I wrote her about stepping on a rusty nail as our troop tore down an old foot bridge and built a new one. Then a couple of days later about how it was feeling better after we dropped a tree on it that we were carrying to lashing into place as a handrail along one of the paths. The heavy tree squeezed out all the puss. I also told her about my impressive cash of chiggers that our Scout Master made me take my shirt off and show to all the visiting scouts’ mothers. She was worried sick and my post cards depicting my Perils of Pauline first and only week long Scout Camp did not comfort her that I was going to return home safe and sound. You became the seasoned camper. I won my only two merit badges at Cherokee in Camp Cooking and I do not recall what the other one was for. I did not learn to swim so I never made First Class. You did make sure I had a fun time throughout my one and only year as a Boy Scout, thanks.”
Our Scout Troop returned to Salt Peter’s Cave again in December of 1962 as we had in December of 1961. It rained so hard that Saturday night that our Scout leader woke us all up early and forced marched us out of the cave at day break. The rising water of the stream in front of the cave was threatening to flood it yet again as the Rebels had before losing the mine to the Yanks. We did not even stop for breakfast before hiking the long way around to avoid the rising water in the continuing rain.
Our Scout leader had us quickly go through our packs and we shared what did not have to be cooked. To this day one of the best breakfasts I recall from my youth was that one that consisted mostly of milk and white bread with an apple for desert. That was my last rodeo as a Boy Scout and as I recall the decision to leave scouting was a joint one that my mother and I made together.
Rick and Mike went on to become Eagle Scouts and later after college R.O.T.C. (Reserve Officer’s Training Corp) became officers in the U.S. Army. Rick had a long and storied career as a Scout Master of several troops of boys over the years. As older boys we had all three had high school R.OT.C. at Chattanooga Central High School where we attended and graduated. Mike and Rick became third year cadet officers. I opted to forgo the third year of high school R.O.T.C. taking gym class instead. I went out for high school track, but only lasted at that a day. I was a track star for a day, a Boy Scout for a year, and an enlisted man in the U.S. Army for two years and nine months. Eleven months of that I spent in Vietnam. I got out of the Army three months early to attend college. I never completed a degree. I have made many friends since Ric but none that I came to think more of. I am still a devoted friend and fan of adventurer Richard (Butch) Chamber.
Roy Day Oh, Buddy. I still hear his answer back over the many years and miles, “Roe Dee Oh!”
Your friend and fellow traveler,
He Ain’t Heavy He’s My Brother