It’s inevitable. It doesn’t matter which side of my family you’re talking about – get a few of us together, and the memorieswill start pouring forth. Do all families love stories this way? I can’t remember a single family gathering – small, large, formal, informal, happy, sad, or utterly ordinary – that didn’t involve at least one “remember when?”
This past Monday my mom had her second cataract surgery, which required a trip to Seattle and someone to drive her home. Aunt Peggy was kind enough to volunteer, and I tagged along for moral support. The surgery was relatively quick, and by late morning the four of us (Radar too) were tucked back into Peggy’s Little Red Sportscar ™, boarding the ferry back to Bainbridge Island. Since I had my tape recorder with me, it seemed the perfect time to interview my mom and aunt about their memories of Scouting.
“It seems to me,” Peggy said, “the Brownie uniform was one piece, was all brown, short sleeve, like a shirtwaist dress, and then we wore that gold sash. And we had a little brown tam that we wore on our head. And I don’t remember much about it, except it was fun. And we just had a good time. We had it at Walt Woodward’s house where he was building the boat in the living room.”
“I went to the other end of the Island,” Mom said. “I think it was Rolling Bay, to Cheryl Jones’ house. And I was so impressed because her mother I think was the first woman captain, you know, that could captain a boat in this state.”
“What kinds of things did you do?” I asked.
“I can’t remember what we did,” Peggy said. “Not as Brownies. And even as a Girl Scout, I know we worked on badges, but I don’t have any specific memories of that. I can remember going off to Girl Scout camp when I was in 8th grade, and that was an absolute blast.”
It’s been over half a century since either woman went to camp, but even so the names of three Washington Girl Scout campgrounds – River Ranch, Lyle McLeod, and Robinswold – came easily to the two sisters’ minds. So, too, did the memories.
“Swimming and canoing,” Mom said. “That was my favorite, to go to the waterfront. And I liked meals because you got to sing after. And when I went to River Ranch, the kids washed the dishes.”
“Did they really?” Peggy asked.
Mom nodded. “Yeah, they had three big washtubs.”
“I remember going and picking you up,” Peggy said. “You may have been a counselor then.”
“We had a craft shed over at McLeod,” Mom said. “We would go up to do crafts, and you would always make God’s Eyes.”
“What are God’s Eyes?” Peggy asked, and then it was my turn to cut in.
“They’re those things where you have two sticks, and you put the yarn around in a square.”
Mom nodded and demonstrated with her fingers. “You put two popsicle sticks like this.”
“They call them Ojo de Dios too,” I said.
“I remember the swimming,” Peggy said. “I remember the silly camp songs that we all loved, and I remember where we stayed, you know in the little cabins, and they were always so cold in the mornings. I don’t know that we had heat there. I don’t remember. If we had heat, it wasn’t til later in the day, and that was probably from the sun.”
Cookies, too, were a strong touchstone. “The cookies!” Peggy said. “And the cookies tasted better then!”
Mom laughed, and asked, “How much a box were they?”
Peggy shook her head. “Can you remember?”
“I remember fifty cents a box,” Mom said.
“I don’t remember the price,” Peggy said, “but I can remember those were the best cookies my whole growing up.”
Mom laughed. “And there were a lot more of them in a box than there are today.”
“Did they have very many kinds then?” I asked.
“They just had the shortening bread,” Peggy said. “While I was a Girl Scout, they didn’t have any other kinds. And we could hardly wait to get the big box with all the separate packages, they were so pretty.”
Badges, however, were a fainter memory. “What badges can you remember?” Peggy asked.
“Hmm.” Mom squinted. “Can you remember any?”
“No, I can’t remember one,” my aunt said, shaking her head.
“They were hard,” Mom said. “Now, today they get a choice, do so many of these, like do ten of fifteen or whatever it is. We had to do everything, no matter what you didn’t have a choice. And sometimes you’d get nine things done, and then you couldn’t do the tenth one. That meant you didn’t get the badge. I didn’t think that was fair.” She thought a moment. “I got a folk-dancing one, I can remember that one. And there was one you got when you… there were a whole bunch of activities, and when you got into the One Match Club you got one. They were just harder to get, and it doesn’t seem like you worked on them as hard as kids work on them today. It wasn’t the important part of Girl Scouting as much.”
“What was the important part then?” asked Peggy.
Mom’s answer was immediate. “Going to camp and selling cookies.”
“See that’s my memory too,” Peggy said.
“And treats,” Mom continued, “at campfire meetings. Everybody was assigned a treat, every week.”
“Yeah, I’d forgotten that,” Peggy said, nodding. “But those are my identical feelings.”
“And we sang the Girl Scout song, and the Chalet song,” Mom said.
Peggy smirked. “Kumbayah,” she said, and they both laughed.
“Oh, and Michael,” Mom said, but Peggy shook her head.
“No,” she said. “Michael hadn’t been written yet for me.”
“Oh, and Rise and Shine,” Mom said. “I hated that song.”
Which is about the time that our informal interview turned into a singalong. As our ferry neared the end of its crossing back to Bainbridge Island, I found myself smiling at this small, happy treasure of a moment. Crammed cosily into a little red sports car, the windows fogging up with our laughter and singing, the three of us dusted off the Girl Scout songs of our childhoods.
I read recently that when you remember something, your brain experiences it as though it’s really happening again. My mother and aunt finished their childhoods long before I began mine, but even so we shared something. I think they felt it, too, because as we sang through a round of the Brownie song each of us finished with a grin and a little bit of a giggle. For a moment it was like being back around the campfire again, and generations didn’t matter.
“I’ve something in my pocket
that belongs across my face.
I keep it very close at hand
in a most convenient place.
I’m sure you couldn’t guess it
if you guessed a long long while.
So I’ll take it out and put it on,
it’s a great big Brownie smile!”