The highs and lows of childhood remembered

Screen Shot 2014-04-18 at 2.15.58 PMThe summer after second grade, Laura Ledford’s mother was still the leader of our Brownie Scout troop. That summer was the first year we went to Girl Scout Day Camp.
Today, this camp would violate at least a hundred public and child safety codes, but attending this day camp was a rite of passage in my hometown. It existed on the sheer will of half a dozen women. How they gained permission to take 100 or so girls out in the middle of the woods, with no facilities for a week remains a mystery, but they did.
This camp was run with the precision of the Swiss train system. There was order. There were traditions. And there were latrines to be dug.
We believed this camp would last every summer of our lives — or at least through childhood (and really, that’s all that mattered). The camp ended up continuing only one year more after that summer. I’m not sure why, but probably the same reason these things always end. Putting it together takes a force of nature. And in our case, the force of nature’s children were aging out. This camp had a major impact on my life and perspective. I struggle to believe that I only spent five days there.
Early in the summer, girls between the ages of 7 and 18 from our town went to the camp for one week. We arrived shortly after the crack of dawn and stayed until 3 in the afternoon. It is important to note that the rest of the year, this area was not a camp. It was simply a small patch of land in the middle of the woods within walking distance of Moore Tower — the most exciting landmark in the area (used to keep a lookout for fires in the Bienville National Forest).
Moore Tower, an oversized erector set with steps zigzagging around its sides leading to a room the size of a Hyundai, was the center of much intrigue and lore. Climbing the tower was a rite of passage. Moore Tower was off limits. Only forest rangers could climb its hallowed steps. But every now and then, with a permission process akin to passing a Congressional budget, a group would earn the special right to climb to the top.
Seriously. Climbing Moore Tower was epic. I cannot emphasize enough what a big deal it was — doing so opened all kinds of doors for a girl of seven or eight, or even nine or 10.
At the camp, each of the five or so levels of Scouts had its own area. An elaborate system of paths (that we made by trampling tall grass and briars) connected the various camps.
The primary task of the week for the different troops was to dig a latrine for each camp. There was also the weeklong competition to see who could create the best camp, which basically boiled down to who had the best latrine. Occasionally, we came together to have sing downs — Mrs. Strode would divide us into groups and give us a category like “girls’ names.” On cue, each group would sing an appropriate song until there was only one group left singing. The camp-wide sing downs were fun, but mostly we stayed in our areas and worked on the latrine. We also created elaborate rows and boxes of pine straw buildings (with imaginary walls) to build our camp.
And, we waited for Thursday.
On Thursday, every group of Scouts would be escorted by our very own forest ranger all the way up the steps of Moore Tower. Per my eight-year-old understanding, this is the way things happened every year.
On Thursday, because we were the youngest troop, we were the last troop to climb Moore Tower. The older the troop, the earlier/cooler in the day they were allowed to climb the tower.
I remember not being able to sleep the night before because I was so excited about the prospect of climbing Moore Tower. My fellow troop mates and I waited with butterflies in our stomachs for our cue to climb. Every conversation was about the feat ahead of us. We recounted every story anyone had ever told us about climbing Moore Tower. We wondered how many steps we would have to take to reach the top.
And we waited.
And waited.
It seemed like we were waiting to long to me, and I wanted to go check, but Mrs. Ledford assured us all our turn was coming.
So, we waited some more. Surely, the forest ranger would come for us soon.
We heard tales from other troops about their escapades up and down the tower. One girl fell down the steps and surely almost died.
And we waited some more.
Finally, one of our leaders went to see to the whereabouts of the forest ranger. The moment she walked back into our pine straw estate, I knew something was wrong — and I was right.
The forest ranger was gone.
The leader of the troop ahead of us, for reasons she will surely take to her grave, told the ranger that her troop was the last to go up the tower. And he left — taking all of our tower dreams with him.
We wept.
I mean, we seriously wept. That moment was as disappointing as any I had ever experienced in my life. With our hopes trounced, we didn’t care so much about the beauty of our immaculate, pine straw imaginary walled camp — or even our glorious latrine.
It had all been for naught. Moore Tower was outside our grasp.
I could tell the adults had no way of understanding what not getting to climb that tower did to us. In retrospect, I believe that may have been the day a mistrust of authority took hold in me — and the day I decided that if it were within my power, I would do my best never to disappoint a kid. Of course, I have failed and that too along the way, but I have have that reminder to be vigilant to do my best.

Share and Enjoy:
  • Print
  • Digg
  • StumbleUpon
  • del.icio.us
  • Facebook
  • Yahoo! Buzz
  • Twitter
  • Google Bookmarks

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *