February is scout month, and it always reminds me of the 18 boys that were in my troop when I was scoutmaster. On one particular evening, we were just starting scouts when a new boy came in. He looked lost, so I went over to greet him. “May I help you?”
He nodded. “I was told that a scout troop met here on Tuesday nights, and I was hoping to join them.”
“That would be us,” I said, holding out my hand to shake his. “I’m the scoutmaster.”
He cautiously took my hand. “But no one is wearing a uniform.”
Just then, Gordy came over. “Hey, David, come to join us?”
David nodded. “This is scouts, right?”
“Of course,” Gordy replied. “What did you think?”
“I wasn’t sure. No one is wearing a uniform.”
Gordy laughed. “We got more important things to do than wear uniforms. We wear them for each court of honor, but not for camping, rock climbing, hiking, or anything fun.”
I smiled when I heard Gordy say that. My boys were farm boys. They worked hard all week, and scouting was their break from work. I knew that some people would frown at me for not insisting uniforms be worn at every activity, but I learned long ago to assess the importance of my battles. Some were worth fighting and some were not, and to me, there were more important rules requiring a line to be drawn.
David joined us for the evening’s activities, and seemed to enjoy himself. I was teaching the boys winter survival skills, and we were talking about how to safely build and use a snow cave.
“Do you guys really go camping in winter?” David asked.
“Of course,” Gordy replied. “We have the Klondike Derby coming up the weekend after this one. A guy is only half a man if he can’t survive outside in the winter.”
David looked doubtful, so I explained that if a person was prepared, winter camping was not only safe, but could be a lot of fun.
We ended the evening with a rousing game of basketball, something we usually did as a reward for the boys’ diligence while I taught them. When we finished, I went with David to his home to visit with his mother about getting him registered.
David’s mom, Leanna, welcomed me with a big smile. “I’m so glad that David has found a scout troop to join,” she said. “He was active in his troop in California and has seemed lost without them.”
“We’re glad to have him with us,” I said, handing her the registration paperwork to fill out. “We are a very active troop, and I think he will have a lot of fun.”
She started filling out the paperwork as she continued to speak. “In California, I think they went camping every single month.”
I nodded. “Yes, we do, too.”
She laughed. “Of course, not in the winter.”
“But they do,” David said. “They are going camping a week from Friday.”
Suddenly Leanna’s smile disappeared. She picked up the paper and slammed it into my chest. “That’s stupid. It is below zero out there! I’m not letting my son go camping in this cold.”
“But, Mom . . . ,” David started to complain.
“No!” she answered. “And that is final!” She then turned to me. “I can’t believe you could be so irresponsible!”
“Scouting is about preparedness and survival,” I answered. “We train the boys to survive in cold like this. They need to learn to deal with it because this is where they live. What will happen if your son is caught out somewhere without learning those skills?” She continued to silently glare at me, so I continued. “I will be with them, and I promise that the boys will be fine. That’s what we prepare them for.”
Leanna looked at her son’s pleading face, then at me, and, reluctantly, she signed. But as I was leaving, I heard her say to him, “I think we should be careful. I still think anyone that would take boys winter camping might be kind of crazy.”