Boy Scouts


My Father and the Rowdy Boy Scout: When I was 13, I was a boy scout. I went to a troop that did not keep scout leaders. A new scoutmaster would come and stay a few months and then leave. Then, another scoutmaster would come. Each of these scoutmasters would come and talk with us scouts about what we would do, like camping and other outings. But we seldom, if ever, did anything. We just talked. As a consequence, we were not very cooperative scouts. At each meeting, we would talk about what we were going to do and then go home. There was no doing; we just talked. After a while, we became rather rowdy in the meetings. We spent our time goofing off a lot, which would anger the scoutmaster and other adults there. The adults were upset at us for not behaving during the meetings, and we were upset at the adults for talking but not doing.

I was a ring leader of the rowdiness. I would get the other scouts to become rowdy and then sit back and enjoy watching while the others got into trouble while I was sitting like a little angel. The problem was that the leaders knew I was the one who would instigate rowdiness, but they could never catch me at it. After four or five scoutmasters had come and gone, the troop committee met to decide what to do about the rowdy scouts. They thought they had a big problem that would require much effort to change. The truth was (which the committee did not understand) that what was needed was to do something, not just talk. We needed to go on an outing once in a while. We would have been much more compliant.

My father was on the troop committee. I knew the night he went to the committee meeting to discuss the rowdiness problem. I wondered what would happen and what would be decided. I was soon to find out. I heard my father come home around 10:30 pm after I had gone to bed but was not asleep. My bedroom was on the second floor of an old farmhouse out in the country in Winton, CA, where we lived. I knew something was up when I heard my father pull into the driveway, into the garage, in the back door of the house, and straight up the stairs to my bedroom. He did not stop for anything. He marched straight from the car to my bedroom. I knew I was in trouble.

He opened the door to my bedroom and, in his commanding deep voice, said: “Paul.” I answered feebly as if I was asleep. “Get down here,” he called. (I slept on the top bunk.)  I slid off my top bunk. “Do you know where I have been?” he asked. “No,” I stated, which, of course, was a lie. I knew good and well where he had been, but I was doing my best to save my life. He then reached to unbuckle his belt (these were the old days when corporal punishment was still in vogue) and said:  “I have been to a scout committee meeting!”  At that moment, my life began to flash before my eyes. I knew that no amount of complaining, begging, apologizing, repenting, or crying was going to spare me. I saw the beginning of my life, and now I am about to see the end of my miserable existence. I prayed to live through the night. “Do you know what we talked about at the committee meeting, he asked. “No,” I said, which was again a lie. One had to have an IQ of 18 not to know what was discussed. “We talked about how rowdy the scouts are and what to do about it,” he said angrily. By now, his belt was off his waist, in his right hand, and ready to meet out just punishment. Again, my life flashed before my eyes, but the end went into a black blur this time. “Oh,” I said weakly. He grabbed my arm, raised the belt, and, looking like a cobra ready to strike, he said:  “And how do you think I felt when I found out my son was the worst one?”  Providence must have been smiling upon me that moment because when my father uttered this question, his eyes filled with tears of embarrassment and agony at the thought. His entire body weakened; the belt went to his side, and he said in a shaky voice, almost cracking with tears:  “I don’t ever want to hear about you causing trouble again!”  With that, he left the room. 

My father could have beat me with that belt until I was bloody and not had the effect upon me which came from his tears. I saw my father cry just two times in my entire young life: This incident and when his mother died. I knew from those few “almost tears” that I had hurt him terribly. I was a good scout after that; not perfect, mind you, but never again did I cause the problems that I had before. Moral: Behave yourself. You may never know how your actions influence another. Moral #2: Never afflict your father with emotional pain. He already has enough.

Camp in the Hell Hole: Back in the day, scout camp was not an organized, programmatic training operation. Rather, it was just a bunch of Boy Scouts and leaders getting together and going rough camping in the wilderness for a week. One year, we went into an area known as the Hell Hole. Leaders had found this location in the Sierra Nevada foothills of Northern California. It sounded pretty awesome to us boys. We hiked for about five miles. There was no transportation by truck or car to the campsite. It was before I had my last heart surgery, which occurred when I was almost age 16. It was the surgery that fixed the main heart problem: the intraventricular septal defect. (For you non-physicians, the hole between the ventricles was closed.) I must have been 13 or 14. Most of the guys and leaders were ahead. I needed to rest every so often. One leader stayed along with me while everyone else charged ahead. I did not arrive early in camp. When I did arrive at the campsite, I found out the others had killed 14 rattlesnakes on the way in. Guess what we had for dinner? Yep! It tasted like chicken to me. Moral: The early bird may not get the worm, but neither is the early bird attacked by venomous “chickens.”

Camp Hell Hole and Blue Belly Lizards: One day at scout camp, I was out on the wide flat rocks by the river attempting to catch a blue-belly lizard. They were running all over the place. The lizards were quick; when I was about to catch one with my hand, it would be under a crevice between the rocks. One time, I was in hot pursuit with the lizard running for cover. Just as the lizard reached the crevice, a snake’s head came out with its mount wide open. The lizard ran straight into the snake’s mouth. The snake retreated back under the rock, with the lizard’s tail wagging frantically. Drat! I missed another one. Lesson: Be careful where you stick your hands.

Lemonade and the Aluminum Canteen: I think I was fifteen years old. Living in the central valley of California, our scout troop was going on a camping trip to the coast of California to camp on the beach. Several of us boys were riding in the back of a two-ton open-bed truck with all the equipment. (Yes, I know. Riding in the back of an open bed truck is not transportation that would not be allowed today—the good ol’ days.) But it was great; wind in our hair, bouncing along. One of the guys had some lemonade to drink. I was jealous and wanted some. He offered to share. I dumped the water out of my aluminum canteen. He poured some lemonade into my canteen. I took a really generous swig with a smile on my face. That tasty lemonade hit my stomach, and I thought I was going to die; my life began to pass before my eyes. How was I supposed to know that lemonade was not chemically compatible with aluminum? Lesson: A little knowledge of chemical interactions would be a wise thing to know.