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Woe of the Unprepared

You are, of course, aware the Girl Scouts take pride in the motto BE PREPARED.

In the fall of 1971 I was enlisted along with my friend Jean to help with our daughter’s Girl Scout Brownie Troop. We were recruited because we were the only parents in the troop who did not have “real jobs” outside of the home. Fortunately I was delegated the role of assistant to the very capable Certified Girl Scout Leader Jean who was the essence of BE PREPARED.

Jean not only owned a 150 acre weekend farm with four wheelers and a huge fishing pond, she tramped the vast acreage with her husband and kids squirrel and deer hunting. In other words she knew her way around the woods. I, on the other hand, was a city girl rarely leaving a concrete walk except to mow my standard sized city lawn.

All was well for the year doing crafts, visiting nursing homes to sing to the elderly and selling Girl Scout Cookies door to door. Much of the year was spent doing projects to raise money for our summer day camp where we would be heading out with our troop for a week in the woods. The excitement was building as we pushed the scouts toward their goal each meeting, we could barely keep them focused on making their vinyl “sit upon” for camp.

Scout leaders and their assistants were required to do a day of summer camp training in the woods at the camp site. I had never been to camp, and consequently, I did not have the slightest ideas what I should bring for the day of training. Jean had been a scout leader before I arrived on the scene and was very knowledgeable. She gave me a list of required list of the following items:

1. Rain gear including boots and poncho
2. Jeans, layers of shirt, and jacket
3. Eating utensils and water canteen (no plastic)
4. Tick (What!) and mosquito repellent

She explained that we would be given a camp box with the remainder of the gear we would need to set up our own little campsite on training day, no problem I had toted a box or two.

Jean arrived at my house at 8 a.m. after we had gotten our kids off to school. It was a beautiful mid April day with sun shining brightly. The morning temperature was about 62 degrees with the promise of a lovely spring day; a slight chance of rain was forecast. By now I was as excited as a mama bear emerging from her dull winter den ready to frolic. I walked to the car with my “gear” wearing my boots as instructed. Jean did a double take at my feet as she exclaimed “What are those?” The only boots I possessed were knee high leather boots with blocks for heels two inches high. Remember, that 62 degree temperature will probably climb to an afternoon high of 75 degrees, leather boots tend to keep pace with the rising heat.

I stood at her car door wondering if I should go back for tennis shoes. Seeing my embarrassment Jean said, “Don’t worry they will be fine just as long as you have your other gear.” She was anxious to get going to pick up the rest of our gear at the parking area for our campsite, I leaped into the car.

Arriving at the appointed time we met the rest of the leaders assembling for the group training session. I tried to stay behind Jean so my camping attire was not too noticeable but I could sense a bit of concern from the training staff. Most of the other scout leaders appeared to have on the required hiking boots, jeans and layered clothing as we listened to instructions from the staff on how to transport and use our camp boxes.

The “camp box” was a large wooden trunk approximately 3’X4’X2’ fitted with rope handles on either side for transporting the gear to the camp site. We were led to a truck where the camp supplies were being distributed to each leader to be stowed in our ”box” included were; a shovel for digging our own latrine and fire ring, axe for cutting our own firewood, a lean to structure for shelter, three large cooking pots, an iron skillet, plus various other essential items. The box and gear had a combined weight of at least seventy pounds. To my further dismay, I saw the campsites were down a rather steep incline to a valley of trees below.

I hope you were paying attention and can remember that I had on high heeled boots! Jean and I grabbed our rope handles hoisted our burden and started off down the perilous grade to our designated site some six city blocks below. I was getting some pretty good traction digging my heels into the soft earth maybe my boots were a smart choice after all.

Finally reaching our site out of breath and definitely warm. We set to work preparing our camp. Under the stand of trees was a profusion of mayflower, “Oh how lovely” I gushed, until I realized they would need to be cleared away for access to our large work area and path to our latrine. Chopping through trailing arbutus with a shovel with high heeled boots was somewhat counterproductive.

Meanwhile Jean rigged up the wash stand by hanging two gallon jugs of water from a sturdy tree branch. Looking at the primitive set-up realizing this was our mode of sanitation next to our latrine pit for the week gave me reason to pause. Help, I am partially responsible for twelve precocious little girls who for the most part had never been anywhere near a camp without mom, dad, a fully-equipped camper which more than likely sported a potty with running water. I vowed then and there next fall I would have a “real job.”

For about three hours we worked away doing all of the necessary things to prove we could be trusted to bring our troop for the five day camping experience of a lifetime which included building a fire for our noon lunch of chili. Jean sent me on a scavenger hunt to gather dry leaves, twigs and logs for fuel. My imagination went into overdrive while I foraged for the required items, terrified I would come face to face with a viper, I clicked my famous heels together with sounds of castanets echoing to ward off any predators lying in wait under a bush ready to spring.

Unloading the hard sought treasure from my arms Jean soon had a fire burning into a pyrotechnical marvel. Smoke and heat began to rise from the pyre. Sweat trickled down our faces then pooled under our arm pits, but we could hardly wait for the counselors to see how well we were prepared.

Just as our chili came to a boil, a loud clap of thunder shook the ground. A shrill whistle sounded from the top of the hill where the camp training crew had assembled for a hearty lunch before passing inspection on the various camp sites. Jean yelled “Break Camp! That whistle means thunderstorms approaching.” Like I hadn’t felt the earthquake! My reply, “We’re out of here” fell on deaf ears.

Not so fast, as all good girl scouts know, “Smokey the Bear Says, Drown All Fires”. Grabbing the shovel we buried our fire with dirt and the pot of simmering chili. Tossed the equipment into the gear box we donned our ponchos. Clutching the rope handles we started toward the hill which now looked as formidable as Pikes Peak. The clouds opened up with a deluge of water as the wind whipped the billowing ponchos over our heads. We struggled on barley able to see the ground in front of our feet. The ‘box’ had increased from seventy pounds to at least twice that weight straining our muscles to the limit as we climbed ever upward. At last we reached the top of the hill dropped our burden at the supply truck and headed for Jean’s car. 

Due to the downpour and trampled grass, the parking area was a muddy mess causing our feet to slide every which way. Jean opened the truck to her car and directed me to throw everything wet in as fast as possible. It was now critical to get off the grass parking area before becoming mired down in a sea of mud. The wind was a frenzy of driving rain. I felt a knock on my head as I was pulling my poncho off to toss it into the trunk, Jean not seeing I was still half way into the trunck had start to slam the lid. Bam! Down it came smack onto my head. I fell backward into the mud, she screamed “Dear God Pat, are you okay?” I barely felt a twinge, but there I was flat on my back. Jean came skidding to my aid trying to pick me up as a crowd gathered to help. Dumbfounded as I was being lifted off of the ground, I could not imagine I had just gone over backward and was staggering around like a drunken sailor. “Honestly, I am fine” I repeated to my anxious audience. 

I tried my best to keep my chin up and join in the laughter as we stood in the pouring rain. The scene I had just made was running through my mind like a movie reel. I could see myself trying to jump clear of the offending trunk lid, the heels refusing to budge then breaking off from my boots. Without the stilettos holding my body upright I was hurled backward making my slippery hold onto terra firma impossible.

A counselor’s voice rang out loud and clear jolting me back to reality “What’s our motto?” In unison the cry was heard “BE PREPARED.”

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