Boy Scouts in the rearview mirror
— Scout Motto
Boy Scouts of America Troop 41 in the old hometown didn’t boot me out. And I didn’t quit in a huff. Didn’t cuss or call anyone names. Just quietly stopped going.
Not for any serious reason, such as being sexually abused by an adult leader, which more than 82,000 scouts later would say happened to them.
In the 1950s, we knew nothing about this festering secret locked up tight in the popular organization’s national headquarters. The Boy Scouts was widely considered red, white and blue, apple pie and 4th of July Norman Rockwell America, as patriotic and wholesome-seeming an organization as any normal lad could hope to swear an oath to.
I quit anyway.
“Anyone who doesn’t memorize Morse Code for all the other 22 letters of the alphabet can’t go camping with us on Friday,” had been Uncle John’s edict at the regular Tuesday night meeting. “And the same rule applies to all future camping trips.”
We already all knew four letters of the code and he knew we knew them because of a little rhyme made up by one of the scouts and often shouted in unison like a ballgame cheer:
“Three dots, four dots, two dots, a dash. If you go in the grass it don’t make a splash.”
Uncle John never accused anyone of authorship but, based on our history, I’m sure he considered me a person of interest. From the way he looked at me when issuing his code requirement I figured it was payback time for that rhyme. And for my too frequent failure to abide by the letter of the Scout Law, especially when I won his last two contests.
Uncle John apparently had some kind of scoutmaster’s manual that suggested competitions to spice up troop meetings.
One was to pile several random items on a table before any scouts arrived. Then, after the meeting got underway, without saying anything about it, simply cover the items with a tarp. The scout who could recall and list the most would win.
“I saw a pair of shoes, an axe, a camp stove, and a canteen,” said the first scout…