When I was in third grade, I joined the Brownies. I had visions of hiking in the mountains, starting a fire by rubbing two sticks together, and purifying water by boiling it over a campfire.
I don’t remember the leader’s name, but I do remember standing in her front yard and doing our yell: “To look sharp, be a GSA / To feel sharp, be a GSA / To be sharp, be a GSA / They’re the best girls in the USA!” The object was to yell louder than the Cub Scout troop yelling in a front yard down the street. I always suspected they were having more fun than we were.
The high point that year was the hat show. Each girl had to come up with a hat related to the theme “Outer Space.” Alan Shepard hadn’t yet made his flight, but orbiting chimps had been in the news.
Armed with an idea, my mother went into action. She covered a tube pan with aluminum foil and extended a red plastic tube from the center. Then she raided my toy box and came up with Jocko, a little stuffed red-and-white gingham checked monkey. She wrapped Jocko’s arms and legs around the plastic cylinder. Somewhere on the contraption, she attached a sign reading, “Moon or Bust.”
I loved it. So did the girl who wore it in the show. I was home with the chicken pox. Or maybe it was the measels; I had them that year within two weeks of each other. We also didn’t get the hat back. I was sorry to lose Jocko. Mother had to buy another tube pan.
The next fall, I transferred to another troop. I was glad, because my best friend, Vicki, was in it. Mother was glad because she hadn’t been much impressed with what I’d learned the previous year, which was mostly how to sing the adapted Gillette razor blade song.
The new troop met at the Scout Hut. We were supervised by a sweet eighteen-year-old senior scout named Edwina (“Please don’t call me Ed-weeeeena“), who appeared to be the leader of record’s permanent sub.
This troop was more active than the last. We spray-painted glass jars yellow and tossed glitter and sequins at the wet paint to make vases for Mothers’ Day gifts. We sat on the patio and listened to Pam’s British aunt tell us everything she knew about Princess Margaret and the Royal Wedding. We sat on the side steps waiting for Edwina to arrive and admired Nan’s bra, which her mother bought to keep her from chapping.
That year’s high point was the slumber party held at the Scout Hut. Edwina, our only chaperone, crawled into her sleeping bag and lost consciousness at a reasonable hour. Since I’d been under the impression that teenagers stayed up all night, I thought that strange. The rest of us tried to amuse ourselves, something that turned out to be impossible. I was tired and cold and miserable and couldn’t fall asleep when I tried and was so happy to see our two-toned green Chevy Bel Air out front the next morning. I went home and fell into bed and slept for twelve hours. Then I ate supper and slept another twelve.
Our Flying Up ceremony was held in mid-May. We were supposed to wear the Brownie uniforms most of us had abandoned months earlier. When I tried mine on, I remembered why I hadn’t been wearing it. My mother almost had to cut it off me. Part of the problem was the side placket; I haven’t seen one of those since, and I don’t want to. Wearing a black-and-white gingham checked dress reminiscent of Jocko’s outfit, I received my wings and waved at the audience as I walked across the dais.
Two weeks later, my family moved to a town that had no Girl Scout troop. My career as a GSA had ended.
I never got to hike in the mountains or start a fire with sticks or boil the heck out of amoeba.
But if you want to know anything about slumber parties or Princess Margaret or Nan’s bra, I’ll be glad to tell you.