Let Me Call You Sister by
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(297 Stories)

Prompted By Scouting

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Molly’s Brownie (brown), Junior (green), and Cadette-Senior-Ambassador (khaki) vests

There are many Girl Scout songs, but this one is my favorite, sung to the tune of “Let Me Call You Sweetheart.”

I loved being a Girl Scout, and I appreciated Girl Scouts even more when I became a troop leader.

Let me call you sister, I’m a Girl Scout too
Let me hear you whisper all the Scout laws through
Keep the Girl Scout promise in your heart so true
Let me call you sister, I’m a Girl Scout too.

I was a Girl Scout in fifth, sixth, and the beginning of seventh grade. Both of my sisters had been Girl Scouts before me, and I had the hand-me-down uniform of one of them. It was a long-sleeved green dress with the badges sewn on the sleeve. My mother must have removed all of my sister’s badges from the dress, and only put them back on, along with new ones, when I had earned them myself. I don’t know what happened to that dress, I suppose it was given away with so many other things when my parents moved out of the house I grew up in.

Our meetings were held at an Episcopal church that was two blocks from my house. The minister at the church was the father of one of the girls in the troop. We met in a big room in the basement, which must have been the church social hall. There were eight or ten girls in the troop, all of whom were in my class at Number Three School. The troop leader’s name was Mrs. Cxypolski, and I can’t believe I just came up with that name, but I’m sure it’s right. I assume her daughter was in the troop. I have only vague memories of working on badges in that big basement room, and I don’t recall any camping trips or other excursions, although there must have been some.

Sit-Upon (not mine from 60 years ago)

The two things I remember vividly are making sit-upons (a GS tradition, it’s a homemade padded seat cushion for sitting on the floor or when you are camping), and selling (and eating) Girl Scout cookies. The rest is just a blur, unfortunately.

In seventh grade I was at a new school in a different town. After the first few meetings that year, I was feeling alienated from the other girls, who would talk about goings-on at Number Three School that I couldn’t share. I decided to quit the troop. In retrospect, I think it would have been good to maintain that connection with my Belleville friends, but at the time I felt that I had moved on and didn’t want to hang out with them any more. Sad to say, after I quit the troop, I never saw any of them again.

The Next Generation

My older daughter, Sabrina, went to an introductory Brownie/Girl Scout meeting at her elementary school. She was interested until she found out that the girls didn’t get to keep the money they collected selling cookies. That was the end of it for her.

My son Ben went with my husband and me to an introductory Cub Scout/Boy Scout meeting for all the elementary schools in the area, which was held at the local middle school. My husband had been a Boy Scout and initially thought it would be a good thing for Ben to do. But all three of us were turned off by how militaristic it seemed. The Boy Scouts marched into the auditorium while the leader barked commands. The speakers stressed discipline and rigorous training. That was the end of it for him.

Molly’s Scouting Experience

Molly had a very different experience from her siblings. It began when she was in first grade at a new school. She was slowly getting acquainted with the other kids, who had all formed their friendships in kindergarten. We heard that a new Brownie troop was being formed at the school that would consist of both first and second graders, so we signed her up. It was wonderful! It ended up being six first-graders and six second-graders. There were three leaders, all second-grade mothers, who were sweet, nurturing women. This picture of the troop is at their investiture ceremony, all wearing their brand new Brownie vests. The first-graders are in front (Molly is second from the right), second-graders behind them, and the leaders in the back.

I could go on at length about Molly’s seven years in that troop, two as a Brownie, four as a Junior Girl Scout, and one as a Cadette, but that’s her story, not mine. However, I will say that after her sixth grade year, I got to be one of the chaperones who took the troop to Disneyland for four days, and all the costs of transportation, food, lodging, and park passes were paid for with the profits from cookie sales. Pretty impressive! And a very fun trip.

A year later the troop disbanded when the leader moved to D.C. and most of the girls lost interest in scouting. Molly wanted to continue though, so we tried to find another troop for her to join in eighth grade. By November of that year, it was apparent that the few troops that still existed for middle school and high school girls did not want to take new members. However, it turned out there were three other eighth grade girls who were looking for a troop to join. So I started my own troop.

We met once a week at my house, sitting around the dining room table. Three of the girls were at the same middle school, so I picked them up after school and brought them to my house. The fourth girl either came by bike or her mother brought her. Of course the first order of business was having a snack, so I started stocking up on the foods they liked. The girls got along well, and worked together planning the badges they would earn and activities they would do.

The only hiccup came during that first cookie season, when one of the girls (I’ll call her Shari) impressed us all with an order for a huge number of boxes, but then, after delivering them to her customers, never turned in the payment. We knew her family didn’t have much money, they lived in the housing projects, and the troop had paid for her sash and the insignia that went on it. But still, she was supposed to collect money from the people who bought cookies and turn it in. I guess she or her parents just kept it. Then she quit the troop. I had to fill out a bunch of forms about the theft, but the good news was that the Girl Scout organization absorbed the loss, it didn’t come out of our troop funds. They may have gone after Shari’s family to try to recoup the money, but at least it wasn’t my problem. That spring, one of the girls recruited a new fourth girl to replace Shari, and she stayed through all of high school.

Whenever Girl Scouts move from one level to the next, it is called “bridging” and there is always a ceremony involving walking over some kind of bridge. Many troops from around here actually go down to San Francisco and walk across the Golden Gate Bridge for their bridging ceremony. However, that bridge is 1.7 miles long, and none of my girls wanted to make the trek. So instead we found some kind of bridge in a park or playground each time. Here’s a picture of the girls jumping up in the air on a local playground bridge after they had finished their bridging walk. I’m not sure if it was when they bridged from Cadette to Senior or Senior to Ambassador. We used different bridges each time.

Here is the front of Molly’s last vest (the back of it, with all her “fun patches,” is shown in the featured image, along with the front of her Brownie and Junior vests). The khaki vest was used for the last three levels, Cadette, Senior, and Ambassador. (The Ambassador level had just been created in 2011.) The twelve stars underneath the troop number signify the twelve years she was a Girl Scout. The wings underneath that represent “flying up” from Brownies to Girl Scouts. At the bottom of the vest, the badges in the bottom row were the ones she earned as a Cadette, the middle row were the ones she earned as a Senior, and the top row (okay, there were only two of them) were the ones she earned as an Ambassador.

The whole troop aged out of Scouting when they graduated from high school in 2014. We had been trying for several years to earn the money to pay for a trip to Europe, which, when it was clear we wouldn’t have enough, was scaled back to a trip to Savannah, Georgia (the birthplace of Girl Scouts), and ultimately became just a long weekend in San Francisco. Consequently, we had a lot of money left over, which we either had to spend on troop activities or turn in to the Girl Scout Council. Of course we decided to spend it. We went out to dinner at a really expensive restaurant that the girls would never have gone to otherwise, got old-time photos taken, and came up with some other fun things to do to use up the money.

Here is one of the old-time photos they took, which I love. These are very popular to do in Old Sacramento, which has a gold rush vibe to the whole place. Note that there are two bags of gold from the First National Bank in the picture. The girl on the left is brandishing a gun, and Molly has a bottle of Jack Daniels. The girl on the right chose a fan for her prop, so she may have been unclear on the bank robber/saloon girl concept they were trying to convey. The fourth girl was away, unfortunately, so she missed out on the photo session.

After the troop disbanded, I really missed it! Maybe more than the girls did. But reflecting for this story, I realize that they got so much out of their Scouting experience, whether they realized it or not. Having a supportive place to go every week during high school, where we talked about everything from bullying to wedding dresses, was so important. Cookie sales taught them marketing skills, money management, customer service, and so much more. I showed Molly how to make an Excel spreadsheet of her customers and their orders, and then rearrange it by street address when it was time to deliver the cookies. Since she sold more than 400 boxes most years, that was an important skill! Also, she and one of the other girls were on the staff of the Girl Scout magazine, “Hear and Now.” Spending the money they had worked for five years to earn, even though it didn’t add up to enough for a trip to Europe, was a memorable ending to the journey.

The four girls have gotten together periodically in the years since then, and while they have taken different paths, they are always happy to see each other. And every year I buy several boxes of cookies from the current Girl Scouts who live on my block. This year’s new cookie is called “adventurefuls.” I had to take a picture of the box before we tore it open and devoured the cookies. Not sure that any of the cookie varieties are really worth five dollars a box, the current price, but I have to buy them to support the next generation of Girl Scouts in my neighborhood.

Here is a very small picture of me taken today while writing this story. I had to put on my Girl Scout sweatshirt for inspiration. Needless to say, this is from my time as a leader, not from when I was a Girl Scout back in the ’60s. Did they even have hoodies back in the ’60s?

 

 

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Profile photo of Suzy Suzy


Characterizations: funny, moving, right on!, well written

Comments

  1. Betsy Pfau says:

    You are a Girl Scout family, through and through, Suzy. You describe all the experiences with such zest and fun, it is clear that they were an important, fun part of your life and that of your daughter.

    And how important for Molly! She was really invested and your description of what she took away (in terms of personal growth and learning experiences) is impressive. I think back to that time in my life and wish I’d had such a supportive environment, group of steadfast friends and adults to see weekly to ask questions, work on good projects, learn Excel (I still don’t know how to use). Yes, those are wonderful life lessons for Molly. Well done, Troop Leader and Girl Scouts!

  2. John Shutkin says:

    What a great compendium of scout stories — both happy and sad — through the years, Suzy. I enjoyed all the stories — and also felt a bit vindicated by your reaction (along with husband and son) that the Boy Scouts were too militaristic.

    What I find particularly fascinating is how deeply involved you became in the Girl Scouts not when you were one yourself but when your daughter Molly was one. I wonder how true that is for other boomers. And I love all the photos you have from Molly’s scouting years — including you modeling your scout leader sweatshirt.

    Finally, thank you for explaining your song title title. This is one I never would have known. And, of course, it is absolutely perfect for your story.

    • Suzy says:

      Thanks, John. All my scout stories are happy except for the one about Shari, and even that one turned out okay. Her family must have needed the money, and the GS organization absorbed the loss, so it was all good.

      I assume you do know the old barber-shop quartet favorite “Let Me Call You Sweetheart,” even though it was written in 1910, a little before your time. It was also sung in season 2 of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.

  3. As always Suzy, I’m impressed by your amazing recall, and not surprised you’ve kept Molly’s uniforms and sashes and badges. And wonderful that you stepped in to start that troop.

    I lost touch with the girls in my troop over the years, but reconnected with some at a wonderful neighborhood reunion a dozen years ago. Sadly the husband of our leader, whose daughter was in the troop, had committed suicide in the family’s apartment. That put a damper on my memories of the troop altho I can’t blame that on the Girl Scouts!

    Your hopeful plans for a Savannah trip reminded me that just last week the final Jeopardy answer was Juliette Lowe – I knew it but none of the three contestants did! And love you in the GS hoodie!

    • Suzy says:

      Thanks, Dana. I could have written so much more about Molly’s 12 years in scouting, but as I said, it’s her story, not mine, except insofar as I experienced it as a leader (and Disneyland driver/chaperone). Just wish I remembered more from my own childhood troop, or that I was in touch with any of the girls who were in that troop.

  4. Khati Hendry says:

    Great breadth of experience with scouting, and lots of fun for much of it. I think the leaders make an enormous difference, and given the variability of parental talent, the troops thrive or not. Good on you for stepping up for those girls.

  5. Marian says:

    I love the idea of that small, intimate troop of Molly’s with you as the leader, Suzy. What a great way to stay in touch with the girls and provide them a safe place for learning. It’s reassuring to know that scouting can be a positive experience for some, depending on the leadership and personalities of all.

  6. Jim Willis says:

    Suzy, I enjoyed reading the experiences you and your kids had with scouting. For one thing, I think it shows how scouting works well with some kids and not so much for others. Sounds like Molly really benefitted and that you enjoyed being a part of her experience. As a former Boy Scout and later, Explorer, I found it all boiled down to the leadership of the troop. I would not have made it so long had my outfits been militaristic. I do remember them being supporting learning experiences, and ones that helped me begin the process of growing up.

    • Suzy says:

      Thanks, Jim. I have such good feelings about Girl Scouts as an organization, and it saddens me that the problems Boy Scouts have had in recent years tarnished the whole idea of scouting. I got a lot of resistance when I proposed this prompt, but I think it has turned out to be a good one. Hope you will write a story too.

  7. Laurie Levy says:

    Thanks for jogging my memory a bit about the sit-upons. I’m not sure about when hoodies came into vogue, but it was great to learn about how wonderful scouting was for Molly and you.

  8. Now I understand why this prompt meant so much to you, Suzy! I wouldn’t say we gave you a lot of resistance, but since none of us had the depth of experience with scouting that you had, it was hard to imagine the appeal of the prompt. I left scouting behind when I graduated from elementary school and didn’t know anyone who stayed with it. Your story really opened my eyes to the joys and benefits that some young women, and their leaders, experienced. Thanks so much for sharing the love of your own experience…it comes through loud and clear in this very warm piece of writing. And by the way, I’d never heard of the sit-upons…fun tradition!

  9. This is a great story and I have to say, one of your sweetest. I was not expecting the “new Suzy” that emerged when Molly had no troop to attend. At that age, I expected her interests would just turn to other priorities. You made it meaningful even though it was a very small gaggle of girls. And you even managed to help them recover from what I can imagine was pretty disturbing ini its own way–dealing with a peer who “sold” (or gave away?) cookies and did not turn in the money.
    So, good story, and way to go!

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