Cub Scout March by
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(183 Stories)

Prompted By Scouting

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A more contemporary image of a cub scout, but definitely my brother’s age when he was a scout

This week I bought Girl Scout cookies from Imogen, age 11, my neighbor’s oldest daughter. The cookies were gluten free, and I admired Imogen’s initiative pushing a large wagon of boxes (accompanied by her mom, of course, these days). This brought back one of my only memories of scouting, perfect timing for this prompt.

My mother volunteered, or was more likely pressured, into becoming the assistant den mother--a less likely role for her I can't imagine.

While I had nothing against scouting in particular, I’d never been a brownie or girl scout and had never wanted to join, being averse to anything requiring a uniform and crafting skills. To her credit, my mother never even brought up the idea, seeing that I would not have been a good fit. With her immigrant family background, she probably wasn’t that familiar with scouting anyway.

When I was 12, my family was in its second year of living in our “new” town of North Caldwell, New Jersey, and I had started seventh grade in the regional middle and high school. My brother Allan was eight and in the third grade. My mother got to know some of the other moms in Allan’s class, which somehow led to him being a cub scout for that year. My mother volunteered, or was more likely pressured, into becoming the assistant den mother–a less likely role for her I can’t imagine.

My mother was an artist and has a rather “unstructured” personality, so I’m sure she hesitated about the whole scouting idea. But Mrs. Unger, wife of the high school’s football coach and the troupe’s den mother, assured mom that it would be an easy task. Unfortunately, a couple of months later, Mrs. Unger ended up in the hospital needing surgery, and my mom had to take over. Afternoons when there were cub scout activities, which often occurred at our house, were pretty chaotic. According to Allan, there were a lot of boys in the den who were known troublemakers. I tried to avoid the mess once I got home from school by going to my room and doing my homework.

One afternoon I came home from school to hear odd music, likely from a record player, coming from the dining room. Rounding the corner I saw a number of cub scouts attempting (and failing at) an orderly march around the dining room table, with my mother shouting at them to be quiet and behave. My mom could be a lot scarier than most mothers, and for a while the boys actually listened, quieted down, and tried to march. At that point I made myself scarce. Later I learned that the marching was practice for the scouts marching into a larger school assembly.

So the next few months went until, mercifully for all, Allan’s tenure in cub scouts ended for good. Years later, my mother explained that, in addition to the stress of managing a bunch of unruly boys, she was uncomfortable with kids in uniform marching–it reminded her too much of Hitler Youth. Just this week Allan remarked to me about this incident, “This was the first time I realized I had a mother who was a little bit different.” Even before the cub scout year, I’d already had that realization, and known that I was a little bit different, too.

Many thanks to Allan for confirming my recollection of this incident.

 

Profile photo of Marian Marian
I have recently retired from a marketing and technical writing and editing career and am thoroughly enjoying writing for myself and others.


Characterizations: been there, moving, well written

Comments

  1. Betsy Pfau says:

    This is really interesting, Mare. I sympathize with your mother, who had to try to corral those unruly boys. But the reference to Hitler Youth – wow! Nothing to do with Scouting, but on the Sarason side of my family, my grandfather’s brothers didn’t want to be in the army because it reminded them of the Russian troops who beat them during pogroms. Plus ça change…

    Somehow, my mother was a den mother too, but my brother is 5 years older than me and my mother was a nervous, unsuitable den mother as well. I thought I remembered meetings in our basement (I would have been 4 or 5 when they took place). As you will read, I did not.

    • Marian says:

      I’ll be interested to read your story, Betsy. I’m glad my brother was younger and my memory of what happened pretty accurate. My great uncles escaped from the Russian army when they were forcibly conscripting Jews, and made it to the US, so I get your great uncles’ take.

  2. Dave Ventre says:

    This hit a chord. I, too, had and still have misgivings about large, uniform-wearing pseudo-military organizations, especially for kids.

  3. Khati Hendry says:

    It seems the Boy Scouts and cub scouts were both more unruly and militaristic than any of the female organizations—maybe the trade off for more “adventure” vs domesticity, both dysfunctional tropes IMHO. I think/hope both have mellowed a bit over the years. Your mom sounds like a force of nature. I can understand her aversion to the regimented troop!!

    • Marian says:

      Yes, I recall that the girl scouts tended to be more domestic in our time, Khati. From what I understand now, they are definitely more empowering, thank goodness. At almost 94, my mother is still a force of nature. I tell my niece, who is 32, that she is so fortunate to have a grandmother still with us.

  4. This story didn’t end up where I anticipated at all (the immigrant mother becoming a successful troop leader). Instead, it got very thought-provoking. When I finished, I had to recheck what the title was, because in my head, the story was called, “A Little Bit Different.” Well done!

  5. John Shutkin says:

    Fascinating story, Marian, and good for your mother. I must say that, like Dave, I’m pleased (but not surprised) that a lot of us Retro folks found the whole scouting thing a bit militaristic — and certainly a likely place for bullying. I’m not calling scouting evil — especially with the yummy cookies! — but there is a side of it that continues to creep me out.

  6. Suzy says:

    Very interesting take on Boy Scouts, Mare. Love your description of your mother as assistant den mother – “a less likely role for her I can’t imagine.” The marching reminding her of Hitler Youth must have been VERY uncomfortable, I’m surprised she didn’t make them stop. Glad that my GS experiences, both as a kid and an adult, never included any marching. I have only good things to say about GS, as you know from my story.

    • Marian says:

      Your GS experiences sound really fun, Suzy. I do remember the girl scouts when I was in sixth grade, and they did seem like they were having fun. Interesting that they weren’t “mean girls,” which was starting to happen at that age. The GS values must have been transmitted.

  7. Mare, thanx for this look at scouting from your mother’s point of view.

    My heart stopped when you mentioned Hitler Youth. Was your mother born in Europe? Was she otherwise affected by the war?

    • Marian says:

      Although my mother was born here, she was raised more like most people’s grandparents and didn’t speak English until she got to kindergarten. We did lose a lot of extended family in the war, particularly on her mother’s side. I had no direct knowledge of them, since I was born in 1953.

  8. Understood.
    My husband was born in 1943 in Bolivia, his parents had fled there from Europe in ‘39.
    Many Jews stayed in South America as you know but in ‘46 Danny’s family came to New York to start a new life.
    How did that generation survive all they endured.

  9. Laurie Levy says:

    I agree with your mother’s view of the militaristic aspect of scouting for boys. My experience with that was limited to being a “den mother” for my little brother when my mother didn’t feel up to it, and by my son’s brief foray into scouting. I’m sure a lot of this depended on the leadership and the times.

  10. Marian,
    I am alert these days to whiffs of fascism blowing in the wind, and worried by it., even as I counsel myself to let it blow over as it surely will (?). As with you and your mother, I feel a fascistic evocation in scouting, carried to an extreme in the case of Hitler Youth. See my Story on this. I can vividly see those “unruly” boys practicing their march around your dining room, and your mother’s effort to maintain civil order.
    Jon

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