There was a time when I wore the uniform of the Boy Scouts but, unfortunately, I never made it far up the ladder of Scouting success.
I remember well my first taste of Scouting. A new troop was being formed in town and they were looking for a few good boys. Mrs. Hyerdahl, my sixth grade teacher, was the first to bring it to my attention. She included the announcement, along with an upcoming 4-H taffy pull, in her list of happenings scribbled on the blackboard.
She wrote something like this: Boy Scout meeting tonight. Anyone interested please come to the gym at 7:30. Bring your own piece of rope.”
I didn’t know much about Scouting, but I sure liked the uniforms, so I came wandering into the meeting not long after it started. The place was packed with boys from 8 to 18.
Our gym wasn’t big, but it did have two levels for seating. The younger kids, as usual, were stuck in the lower section, while the big kids took over the upper level.
Mr. Swanson was in charge of the meeting. His tour of duty during World War II would probably seem peaceful after a few months as Scout leader.
It was clear that a few boys came with intentions of becoming good Scouts; several more were there to see what it was all about; the rest of us just wanted an excuse to get out of the house.
Mr. Swanson stood in front of the group like a man about to enter the Twilight Zone. He did his best to keep the unruly crew in some semblance of order, but it was like shooting pool with a wet noodle.
After a few minutes, he (and his two helpers) divided the group up by ages. The younger kids were placed into the Cub Scout group, the older ones assigned to the Explorers and we in-betweens found ourselves in the Boy Scouts. Mr Swanson volunteered to lead our group. I would guess he later wished he had picked another group.
After a quick rundown on the history of the Boy Scouts, he dove into what a Boy Scout actually does. The first skill he described required the use of the piece of rope each of us had brought along. He then began explaining how to tie certain knots.
Naturally, by this time in our lives most of us thought we knew all about knots, having tied up our friends on more than one occasion. I never really paid much attention to the knots I used, all I knew was the knots would hold good enough that no one ever got away.
Seems the knots I used were all wrong, at least according to Mr. Swanson. I believe he called them “granny knots” and he attempted to show me the proper way to perform the task.
I soon discovered I lacked the talent to be a skilled knotter. I did my best, but everything I tried looked more like a backlash than a knot. All Mr. Swanson could do was shake his head and walk away.
He was a nervous individual with a passion for perfection. I was a kid with more than my share of thumbs. We didn’t mix well. He probably spent more than one anxious moment trying to decide what he should do with me.
Realizing I would never go down in history as the Scout’s best knotter, I still had hopes of finding my niche in Scouting. I spent the next several weeks going through page after page of our official scouting handbook.
Such skills as animal and fish identification should have been easy for me as I spent many a day hunting and fishing. I knew a bullhead from a carp and had little trouble identifying a squirrel, but I soon discovered there was a lot more to winning a merit badge than that.
Unfortunately, I spent more time goofing around at the Wednesday night meetings than listening to Mr. Swanson. No matter how interesting the subject matter was, several of us would be far removed from his lectures.
I lasted a little over a year and never did get past the rank of Tenderfoot. It wasn’t the Scouts’ fault or Mr. Swanson’s that I had the tenderest feet around.
Looking back at it now, I realize Scouting is a lot like any other worthwhile endeavor in life – you get out of it what you put into it. Too bad it took me so long to figure that out.
(Ed Rood is the former publisher of the Tri-County Times. He lives near Cambridge.)