(Post by Andrea Grace Burn of East Yorkshire – February 2022 )
I joined the Junior Girl Scouts in the summer of ’69 mainly to eat their cookies and wear their uniform. I had seen the Girl Scouts in parades: they looked so neat with badges and patches worn with pride on their sashes; their white gloves echoing their Southern mothers who still wore white gloves to formal events. But it was those cookies that finally tempted me to join. They came in different varieties: Shortbread, Peanut Butter Sandwich and, my favourite, Chocolate Mint (like Viscount Creams).
I took three dozen cookies home to sell, “Sure – no problem!” I grew up on a college campus in Virginia where I could sell them to the students and earn a Girl Scout badge. Trouble was, I liked them so much I ate all of the cookies; all sixty. My poor mother had to pay for them, so in a bid to help teach me the rules of the Girl Scout Law:
“I will do my best to be honest an fair,
friendly and helpful,
considerate and caring,
courageous and strong,
and responsible for what I say and do,
and to respect myself and others, respect authority,
use resources wisely,
make the world a better place,
and be a sister to every Girl Scout.”
..she packed me off to Girl Scout camp.
The campsite was only about fifteen miles away in the back woods of the fabled Blue Ridge mountains of Virginia (near the trail of that lonesome pine) but remote enough for a group of ten-year-olds to feel like we were really out in the wild!
Mom drove me and my good friend Suzy to the camp and left us there with our small suitcases and sleeping bags. A hale and hearty woman greeted us and took us to our hut, where we would sleep with six other girls. But no time now for resting; all the girls met together beneath the open-sided barn, where we we shared hot dog duty to feed the troop, which involved standing in a line of girls as we each helped dole out hot dogs, coleslaw and potato salad. I decided that camp life wasn’t too bad after all.
Later that evening after a couple of rounds of camp fire songs and toasting marshmallows, we settled into our cabins and so to sleep; well, that’s what the hale and hearty scout leader assumed.
Our camp beds were laid out around the perimeter of the wooden hut and amidst shrieks of giggles we all tried each bed until we had ‘claimed’ our own. I unrolled my new sleeping bag which my parents had given me recently for my ninth birthday. It was so cool: covered in ‘Love and Peace’ signs and slogans like ‘Make Love Not War’. I noticed with glee that none of the other girls had such an outstanding sleeping bag.
After dark, once we had begun to settle down, I needed to visit the ladies room, which was a hole in the ground inside a small wooden outhouse back in the woods. Our counsellor insisted we always visit the outhouse in twos for safety and to remember the girl scout motto: ‘Be Prepared.’ Prepared for what? There were rumours of grizzly bears in the woods – and snakes. As Suzy and I traipsed out into the night in our pyjamas and bathrobes with a flash-light, we twitched at the sound of our own footsteps.
“Shh! What was that? Oh Jeepers Creepers and Jiminy Cricket!”
We took it in turns to tackle the outhouse while the other one propped the rickety door shut with a foot. I hardly dared crouch in the shed for fear of snakes, black widow spiders and ants.
Suddenly Suzy screamed! “There – over there – a shadow!” I screamed too and soon our little troop of girl scouts tumbled out of the hut as they came to investigate. Head mischief-maker, Patsy, sneaked around behind the outhouse and gave it a shove; causing it to wobble and Suzy to lose her foothold. The outhouse door swung open and I scrambled out pulling up my pyjama bottoms. Up ahead came the hale and hearty scout leader, who escorted us back to our hut and told us firmly to go to sleep! Not so hale and hearty now.
Back in the hut as we pushed our camp beds together to form a circle, I decided that we should hold a séance. Not that I knew much about them other than watching B movies on TV. Huddled together with only our flash-lights shining upwards into our faces (very ghostly), I asked the question:
“Is there anybody there?”
“Noooo,” came a muffled voice from beneath a sleeping bag.
“Someone tell Tanya to shut up!” I threw my pillow at Tanya.
“You tell her!”
A pillow fight ensued with lots of shouting, more shrieks of laughter and feathers flying. The scout leader suddenly poked her head through the hut door.
“Girls! Get to sleep!”
“Wait! Lets levitate Suzy!” I whispered. (My scant knowledge of levitation was gleaned from a pyjama party at a friend’s house, where her big sister got us all to try and levitate each other.) When each girl (except for Darlene) had placed two fingers underneath Suzy, who lay stretched out on the floor, we counted “one, two, three” and tried to levitate her. Nothing happened.
Darlene, in a tremulous tone, said we “shouldn’t be messin’ with such thangs” and that “we was goin’ against the Good Lord – AND the Girl Scout Promise.” She stood and proceeded to recite the promise to the rest of us:
“On my honour, I will try:
To serve God and my country.
To help people at all times,
and to live by the Girl Scout law.”
We ignored her. “One, two three…” Suzy was a dead weight. As we collapsed into a heap: snorting and trying to stifle our giggles, Darlene suddenly took it upon herself to bring us to heel right there in the middle of the hut to somehow make amends for this blasphemous prank.
“Awl right girls; I’m gonna’ ask you to tell me when you first found Our Lord Jesus.” She shot me a look. “Andrea – you go first. When ‘zaclty did you become a Christian?”
I looked blankly at Darlene. What on earth? I couldn’t think; when did I become a Christian? Jeeze, I don’t know. I was beginning to sweat now: although I had been baptised as a baby I had only ever helped in the crèche at church on Sunday mornings while my parents attended the service. I liked to look after the babies because the sweet lady who ran the crèche was our babysitter, Mrs. Johnson, and would give me candy. What if God knew this?
“Well,” I stammered, “ I was baptised as a baby. Does that count?”
“Yes, Praise Be! Your soul has been saved by the Awl-mighty! Hallelujah!”
Without warning, the Scout Leader stuck her head into the hut again.
“What is going on in here?” She eyed us suspiciously.
Darlene spoke up: “Andrea was holdin’ a séance and tryin’ to git us to levitate Suzy!” Darlene looked smug. “ I was tryin’ to save her soul.”
“Levitate Suzy? A seance? Oh my!” The scout leader ordered me and Suzy out of the hut, told us we were a disgrace to our troop and not fit to be Girl Scouts. We were EXPELLED forthwith (well, after that night) from the Girl Scouts for immoral behaviour! She would be informing our mothers at first light! (How, without mobile phones, I’m not sure.) Before I left, I put a daddy long-legs in Darlene’s sleeping bag.
As Suzy and I sat in the back of her mother’s station wagon on the drive home through the mountains, we had ample opportunity to “consider our behaviour”. Although we were sad that we wouldn’t have the opportunity to go sailing, swimming and horse riding and earn all those badges, we were relieved that we would never have to tackle the outhouse again.
When I got home Mom and I had the ‘talk’ in the kitchen as I enjoyed a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and a glass of milk.
“And what are you sorry for honey?” Mom was always gentle.
I was sorry that I would never now be able to wear my sash and white gloves.
Mom sent me to my room. What she didn’t know was that I had hidden a secret small stash of those delicious, Chocolate Mint, Girl Scout cookies…
( Copyright: Andrea Burn -21st February 2022)