A Weekly Column
By Joseph Walker


I’m not sure whose idea it was to make me a Scoutmaster.

It must have been someone with a bizarre sense of humor – you know, like a reality TV show producer (“Joe’s not a camper, so let’s see how he handles a week in the woods with a bunch of 12-year-old boys”).  Or someone who wanted me dead.  One or the other.

But whoever it was, I have just one thing to say to them: Thanks.

Which is not to say that I’m ready to catch the next bus back to Camp Maple Dell.  At this point, talking to me about another week at Scout Camp is a little like asking a new mother about her next pregnancy while she’s still in the recovery room with the first.  NOT a good idea – at least, not until the hormones stop raging and the wounds have sufficiently healed.

On the first day of Scout Camp last week I dutifully announced to the nine Boy Scouts under my supervision that I expected them to clean up after themselves because – and I quote – “I am not your mother.”  This is a speech that all Scoutmasters are required to give even though we know it is a big fat lie.  Being a mother is EXACTLY what being a Scoutmaster is all about.

You plan balanced meals and then you’re frustrated when the boys ignore the salad and load up on the spaghetti.  You clean up one meal just in time to start making the next one.  You feel their foreheads at the first sign of illness (even though I have NO idea what a sick forehead is supposed to feel like).  You remind them to wash their hands and brush their teeth.  You suggest a nice apple instead of a late night candy bar.  At bedtime you roam from tent to tent, wishing each Scout a good night.  And then you collapse onto your cot, hoping that a few hours of sleep will give you the strength and energy you need to do it all over again the next day.

You know – sort of like a mother.

Of course, mothers generally don’t have to deal with the potentially volatile chemistry that comes into play whenever you bring together multiple pre-adolescent males.  For example, I don’t know why 12- and 13-year-old boys feel compelled to announce – boldly and with great fanfare – every bodily function before it happens, while it’s happening and after it happens.  That which would be considered embarrassing in any other social setting is a cause for celebration, comparison and competition at Scout Camp.  Newcomers to camp – even those who were once 12-year-old boys themselves – require time to adjust to the mindset.

“Oh, yeah, that’s right,” one father said to me 20 minutes after arriving in camp.  “Miss Manners doesn’t do Scout Camp.”

But Scout Camp is like life in at least this respect: for all its aggravation (how is it that no matter which direction you walk, it’s ALWAYS uphill?), there are moments that make it seem worthwhile.  For me that moment came at the foot of a 12-foot wall, where I watched my boys come together as a team.  One by one they had been able to help each other up and over the wall.  But the last boy on the ground – Chris – didn’t have anyone to boost him up, and no matter how hard he jumped he couldn’t reach the extended hand of Mikey, the biggest and strongest boy in camp.  Finally, with time running out on the exercise, Jon came up with the idea to take off their shirts and tie them together in square knots and dangle the shirts over the edge like a rope.

I don’t think I’ll ever forget the sight of Chris grasping onto that improvised rope and hanging onto it for all he was worth, while Mikey hauled him up to the top of the wall.  Nor will I forget the look of exhilaration on all those smudged, dirty faces, or the pride I felt in my own heart at their accomplishment.  That moment alone was worth the tired bones, the aching muscles and the battered sensitivities.  And it’s the reason I wanted to say “thanks.”

Even if I’m still not ready to talk about next year’s camp.

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— © Joseph Walker

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