Sunday, April 17, 2016

REMINISCING: Always Prepared. You're in the Boy Scouts Now

This week’s Reminiscing column was influenced by friend and fellow Boy Scout, Bob Confer. I was reading through his blog a week or so ago and ran across a reference to his time in the Scouts. While writing the Washington Hunt columns from a couple weeks ago, I stuck that little nugget into a memory bank for withdrawal later. Well, now’s that time. And if you don’t like this week’s column, blame Bob (not really).

Let me begin by saying that Bob Confer is the quintessential Boy Scout. He lives the life taught to us from our time in the Scouting program. One only has to read his nature columns to witness all that he learned from being on the farm and, of course, from being a Boy Scout. Me? Well, I enjoyed being in the Scouts, but I was never an Eagle Scout. Classic underachieving can be thanked for that.
The day I left for Camp Dittmer with my brother and sister.
July 1986

I think I was in Mrs. Xapsos’ second grade classroom when the flyer for the Cub Scouts was handed out. So, I took it home, showed my parents and became a proud member of Cub Scout Pack 41 at Washington Hunt School. I can’t remember who our first Den Leader was, but I know that Chuck White, my dad, and Bruce Broecker were some of our leaders during the first few years.

Very clearly I can remember one time at the White’s where we had to do some kind of woodworking project. I made a Garfield cat. It came out just fine, but I never put the stake at the bottom to make it a lawn ornament. It’s around the house here somewhere. Yes, I keep everything, much to the chagrin of my wife.

When my dad was our den mother, we met in our basement. Sometimes when we were done with our meeting and we had extra time, we would go outside and play a bit in the backyard and driveway. My dad had one rule: stay away from the hedge between our house and the neighbor’s. Our neighbor, Mr. Enzinna, loved that hedge and took painstakingly great care of it. My dad did not want to have anything happen to that hedge.

Me and Adam Berry the morning before the monsoon hit.
Of course, five minutes into our play session, there is a rustle and and series of giggles. My dad turned around and there was a new hole in the hedge with just a pair a feet poking out, writhing to get some purchase in order to get himself extricated from the thorny branches. My dad helped Eric out of the hedge and said to him, “I thought I told you to stay away from the hedge?” Eric’s reply, in all innocence, was “I’m sorry. I forgot.” That phrase has stuck around our family ever since.
In our Cub Scout years, we held a Raingutter Regatta in the cafetorium at Washington Hunt. I was never very good at it, but I did win a prize for having the best looking boat. I painted my boat jet black with fire engine red trim. I affixed a sunrise sticker to my sail, and named it “The Blazing Sun.” While it didn’t sail very well, it sure was a fine looking boat. Again, that is floating around the attic in some box.
Our campsite.
When we got old enough to move up from Cub Scouts to Boy Scouts, we started going to Emmanuel Methodist Church on East Avenue for Troop 6 activities. Mr. Bidleman and Mr. McCandlish were our Scout leaders. One of the greatest events of my Scouting experience came with the group from the Methodist church.

Halley’s Comet was making an appearance in the 1985/86 skies. The phone rang in the middle of the night and my parents rousted me from bed. They wanted to know if I wanted to go with Mr. McCandlish and some of the other Scouts to see if we could catch a glimpse of the elusive comet. (The 1986 visit was one of the worst viewing years on record for Halley’s Comet.) So, weary-eyed and full of anticipation, I got dressed and waited for our leader’s station wagon.

We went to the Remick Observatory at the Lockport High School. We crowded around the telescope, each taking our turn to look at the skies above. I remember it was cold. And I remember that we didn’t see the comet. We did get to see Saturn and Mars and some other celestial objects, though. It was very exciting. Even though I had spent most of the night out stargazing and comet hunting, I was still expected to go to school in the morning. I was tired most of the day, but I made it through and did my paper route. It was definitely worth it. I still look back fondly on huddling around the telescope, trying to keep warm, and seeing other planets from across the solar system.
Adam Berry, Jimmy Page, and Matt Broecker on the causeway.
One of the other great things I did as a Boy Scout was go to Camp Dittmer. The Boy Scout camp is out near Phelps, NY, and my best friend, Matt Broecker was my tent mate. For some reason, our troop didn’t stay in one of the nice camp sites at the top of the hill. No. We were at the bottom of the hill. Well, not just at the bottom of the hill, but all the way across the causeway to the furthest camp from practically everywhere. Honestly, we were in the middle of nowhere.
It was uphill to absolutely everything from our tent. To eat, we went up the hill. To get to the classes, we went up the hill. It was some pretty good exercise. The one thing that sticks in my mind is how I came home with only two merit badges. Yes, I was the classic underachiever. I was there to have fun, and I played hooky with all the other like minded lads.

Adam and Matt trying to figure out how to untie the boat.
The other thing I remember was that it rained every single day we were there. The sun finally came out about the time my dad came to pick me up. Now, that might seem like a crappy week of camp, but it was a whole lot of fun. We had the biggest, baddest game of Capture the Flag going on for a full day in the driving rain. Everything I wore was soaked through, including my shoes. For the rest of the week there, I had to wear hiking boots that I had failed to break in before attending camp. That made for an interesting hike into Phelps one afternoon.

I’m not sure how many of you remember this, but my hat ended up on the Moose several times. You weren’t allowed to wear hats into the Lodge. Ever. Of course, in our hurry, and because it was raining, we had hats on all the time. Once you stepped through the door with it still on your head, up it went on the Moose. You had to wait a full day to get it back. That part was kind of awful considering how hard it rained all week. Luckily, I brought more than one hat with me.

Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts were an amazing learning experience for me. I’m sure Bob Confer could tell you even more. I’m pretty sure he became an Eagle Scout. Meanwhile, I petered out at First Class. I made some good friends and learned lessons that continue to help me through life. I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

Next Week: Changes. Some things never change. Others are only memories.

Craig Bacon is always prepared. Well, except for that one time. But we don’t talk about that. He’d like to thank Bob Confer for planting the seed in his head for this column.