A haunting personal essay
I’ve been told that in times of adversity a Texan will always have your back.
I believe this largely to be true and I’ve known many Texans in my lifetime. They were all good people: strong in their beliefs, honorable and trustworthy (most of the time), generous to a fault, and willing to make sacrifices for a cause -- even when the cause was me.
Mr. G was like a second father to me. He hailed from Texas and was my Scoutmaster. I looked up to Mr. G, who stood a lanky 6-foot-4 and wore a trimmed lumberjack beard that made him look sturdy and rugged — a larger than life real Paul Bunyan. He had an aura that commanded respect. And he always backed up his words with action: dishonesty was the surest way to get kicked out of the troop.
Mr. G was a spiritual man but a general sense of reverence is what he wanted to instill in us. A reverence for life and nature, for country and Creator — a reverence for Scouting as a way of life.
At the end of our weekly scout meetings Mr. G would call the troop members out “front and center!” We all would come running and form a circle with our hands crossed and interlinked.
Once we had settled down Mr. G recited the scouting prayer: “May the Great Scoutmaster of all scouts be with us until we meet again.” Then he gently squeezed the right hand in his. The hand-squeeze traveled like an electric current to each member within the circle until it reached its destination in Mr. G’s left hand. At that point he bid us all a good night.
One scout, however, thought it would be hilarious if he bone-crushed the boy’s left hand clasped within his. His victim screamed in agony. We all laughed hysterically.
Mr. G was furious.
“Good night, gentlemen,” he said, visibly offended by our sheer irreverence. For a while it seemed Mr. G had given up on us: the following week’s meeting was canceled.
As angry as Mr. G had been with us for having defiled the scouting prayer he never lost faith in our developing characters. He believed that with proper adult guidance we could all grow up to be the same upstanding citizens as portrayed in the Boy Scout Handbook.
Things didn’t always go according to the book, however.
In 1972 we were at Boy Scout summer camp, trudging our way along a rock-strewn trail through the heavily forested scout reservation. A dozen other troops were camped out at the reservation.
At summer camp we learned important survival skills and worked toward merit badges, and shared in the powerful elixir of youth. We were spectacularly free of parental authority and control, free of civilization — free to be ourselves in this vast lakeside playground set aside in the middle of nowhere.
As we moved further up the trail one of the boys in my troop was struck by an enormous splash of water.
Then another boy was targeted, his mouth agape and clothes sopping wet, then another, onward down the line. Someone shouted we were being waylaid by a rival troop in a unilaterally declared water fight. My troop had walked straight into the ambush completely unprepared.
Even as the soaking wet casualties in my troop kept piling up we ran around wrestling over pails of water, laughing at the competitive chaos of it all. Then I noticed Mr. G with an older teen from the rival troop. They were locked in a fist-fight that appeared imminent.
Somehow, what began in good fun had devolved into open warfare.
“They started it, and we’re going to finish it!” the red-faced youth lied.
Mr. G never looked angrier. He grabbed the youth by the shirt with both his hands and shoved him up against a big pine tree, holding him against the tree until he calmed down.
Mr. G shook his fist at the rest of us.
“If anyone throws another bucket of water I am going to knock him out,” he shouted.
Not another drop of water was spilled.
Later in the evening Mr. G called a troop meeting and he humbly apologized for his behavior on the trail.
The larger than life figure I’d grown to worship seemed all too human now.