When I was young I was in Troop 55 of the Boy Scouts of America, which would meet on Wednesday nights in the basement of the Baptist Church on Main Street in Hyannis. We were an interesting group of Scouts. Most of my memories here are accurate, although I admit some may have become a little exaggerated in the remembering. In any event, on my honor, I will do my best to do my duty to God and my country and to obey the Scout Law; to help other people at all times; to keep myself physically strong, mentally awake, and morally straight.
If you don't know, that last part is the Boy Scout Motto, and we had to recite it every night. I still remember it. Lately I've had some trouble with the physically strong, mentally awake, and morally straight bit, but I'm doing my best.
My first memory of Boy Scouts was in the winter of 1964–65. There was to be a Klondike Derby, in which each troop had to build a dog sled. The scouts would drive the sled around a course to demonstrate their amazing skills at navigation, fire building, etc. Well, my troop built a dog sled like no other. Our runners were made out of 6 x 6 pillars, and the whole thing must have weighed 500 pounds. The fire department could have used this sled as a brush breaker—and that is exactly what we used it for.
The derby course wound around several small hills and then doubled back on itself to head toward the finish line. Clearly, if we skipped all the skill stations and just went straight down the hill we would have a tremendous time advantage … and time counted. The problem with this plan was that there were dozens of small trees in the way, and it was impossible to avoid them. No problem for us, though. We just aimed our beast straight down the hill and everyone jumped aboard for the ride. Small trees were no problem; we just ran right over them. Same for rocks and any other obstacles in our path—including other scout troops. I'm not sure, but I think we took out at least one other sled. When we crashed through the finish line we were immediately disqualified, and the officials called our parents to inform them that we’d cheated. We weren't invited to the Klondike Derby of 1965–66.
We had many adventures in this troop, but the one that stands out in my mind was our stay in Camp Greenough, the local Boy Scout camp. The camp had a number boats on Lake Greenough, and our favorite was the whale boat. This was a dory1 that had four oars on each side, and you needed a coxswain2 to steer the thing. One of our more intrepid scouts, Don, took over the steering duties, and off we went into the lake.
We were having fun just paddling around when two guys in a canoe from another troop decided to splash us with their paddles. Big mistake. Don immediately called out “ramming speed,” and we took off after them. Before long, we hit their canoe and sank it. This incident was seen by the other scouts on the beach, and they grabbed every canoe and rowboat on site to sally forth and do battle with us.
In the midst of our sea battle, we could hear the scoutmasters blowing their whistles and hollering at us from the shore—but blowing their whistles was all they could do, because every boat was full of boy scouts trying to sink us. Not to fear, though, for we were the biggest and baddest boat on the lake. As I remember, we sank around five boats before the rest returned to shore. We were slightly reluctant to come in after that, as we could see the anger on the adults’ faces, but eventually we got hungry and returned to shore, where we were placed in detention while—once again—our parents were called. The next year we weren't allowed back at Camp Greenough.
I'll share just one more memory with you so I don't leave you thinking we were a bunch of juvenile delinquents. We were in camp and our senior boy scout was giving us a lesson in axe safety, explaining that when we weren't using an axe, it should be left with the blade embedded in a tree stump for safety. To demonstrate this, he swung the axe over his shoulder and turned around to bury it in the tree stump. What he didn't know was that Albert, another senior leader, was paying such close attention to the lecture that he’d relaxed by resting his foot on top of the stump. Down came the axe, cutting cleanly through Albert's boot and whacking off his little toe. We got to practice for our first-aid merit badges that day, and we got to see how paramedics responded to heavy bleeding.
And that was how Albert became known as “Four Toe.”
1 A small flat-bottomed rowboat with a high bow and stern, traditionally used for fishing in New England.
2 The guy who steers the boat.