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Sunday, September 18, 2016

1964

Some years ago, I examined three years that were historically important to me, 1510, 1892, and 1964. This being an election year, a time to reflect upon what democracy means to the future, and Sunday, I have selected the lattermost as my sermon.

In keeping with a somewhat irritating recent preoccupation with dates, I am going to examine 1964. Hadn't intended to, but I was in the pumphouse  and found an old uniform patch in a disused humidor --as one does. I picked it up, ran my thumb over its stiff threads and thought of old chums --Tom, Jack, the boys we used to be. The embroidered patch measures about one and a half inches by two and depicts our first president, Geo. Washington, on bended knee proposing to a lily.

The lily is a fleur-de-lis, a heraldic flower that does not occur in nature. It represents royalty, in which case it's unlikely Gen. Geo. was proposing marriage. It also represents north, which makes Washington's pose even more improbable. However, the patch was one I wore on my Boy Scout uniform that year and fleur-de-lis was on everything scouty. Also, north is a favorite direction of mine so I gave it benefit of the doubt.

Doubt.

I just made a long arm and fetched my Handbook For Boys --39th printing-- and found this: "You probably know there is a huge chunk of iron in the earth, up north, that attracts the magnetized needle of your compass -- that this iron deposit is known as the magnetic north pole." --page 162. I have never had reason to challenge this idea. Even now, the symbol attracts my memory like a big magnetic brain-chunk.

I am in my 60s now and highly suspicious of brain-chunks. I do not like to think my hairline is receding so much as my mind is expanding, but one cannot rule out brain-chunks. I was only 14 for most of that year and thought no more of them than I did of dingleberries on livestock.

In the summer of 1964, last half of July, I was one of 50,000 Boy Scouts camped in Valley Forge, Pennsylvania. You probably know about Geo. Washington's awful winter there in 1777. It was all snow and blizzards and the Continental Army ruining in ice. If you were in a high school marching band in the 1960s, you probably know that's where your uniform got donated from. Here is a slight exaggeration of what Valley Forge looks like in summer:

It was hot. It was very hot and my chums, Tom and Jack, and I tried to do all the things Boy Scouts are supposed to do. We were, after all, young Americans with vigorous bodies, hearts of lions and the digestion of goats. We hiked and tied knots, worked on merit badges, cooked and puked. But usually we'd give in to the heat, find a little shade, share cigarettes and discuss the future. We liked discussing the future --there was so much of it back then-- and as our stay proceeded we got excited about it. President Johnson was going to visit the Jamboree on its final evening and give a lecture about the future.

That evening arrived, unfortunately not without incident. One scout, in a dash to catch up with his troop, was hit by a bus. Word spread and we all reflected negatively upon our illusion of immortality. Jack led Tom and me in a prayer over our little supper. Jack was very religious, even though he laughed when I once asked him why the Pope dressed like a hand-puppet. He responded by asking why we dressed in little shorts and tassles like circus chimps. There were no answers.

Doubts.

Doubts were forming even as we made our way to three hills that served as rough seating for 50,000 boys. Three slopes converged upon a dingle and we arranged ourselves like berries around it. There was a little stage and microphone down there. Lyndon Johnson arrived! We clapped and clapped.

The president began by assuring us we were "the hope of Amurricah", then outlined what we might expect of our country. He said: in the next 50 years tremendous progress would be made in medicine, the puzzling out of biological mysteries; space exploration would take us closer to the stars and advance earthly technology, especially in communication. From this remove of a half-century, I must admit he was correct. We clapped and clapped. But still, there was doubt. Jack and I looked over at Tom. He was not clapping.

"Come Tom," I said."Clap for Lyndon!"

He clenched his teeth and said, "Do you have any idea what that s.o.b. is going to demand we do in four years?"

Having learned sufficient wilderness survival skills to decide against a career in homelessness, I left the Boy Scouts shortly thereafter. Jack also quit to pursue an interest in sociology, then psychology and finally theology. Tom stayed in Scouts longest, well into high school and his teeth remained permanently clenched. Years later, I asked him why.

"Brown shirts," He said through teeth. "I like the brown shirtssss."

Tom became a neo-Nazi. Jack became a Catholic priest. As usual, I became a gardener.

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We're all in this together.
Go in peace.

33 comments:

  1. Go in peace.
    So simple. So profound. Can any of us ask for more?

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    1. As a way of life and personal adjustment, EC, I think asking for more might be too much. But peace is propagated by example and that is enough.

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  2. How true. In 1964, the future stretched far and wide ahead of us.

    Nice post, dude. (I shoulda known you were a Boy Scout...) :)

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    1. Indeed, Susan. 60 years after the Wright Bros.' flight and 5 years before the Moon landing. An exciting time to grow up in.

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  3. 50,000 boy scouts? That is a lot of boy scouts. That must have been an amazing experience.

    This is a wonderful post.

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    1. O Jenny, thank you."That is a lot of boy scouts," was precisely my thought too when I hiked into Valley Forge!

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  4. I read it twice, Geo., and it was even more delightfully satisfying the second time. That's the quality of a good writer (and a skillful storyteller).

    My humble input is minimal:
    I was never a Boy Scout. I wouldn't have lasted two hours.

    I've never been to Valley Forge, but I'm assuming it's a good thing they didn't send you there during the winter.

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    1. Your assumption is accurate, Jon. Had it been in winter our uniforms would still be worn by high school marching bands instead of donated to circus chimps.

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  5. Wonderful story, Geo!

    I live a few miles away from Valley Forge and in the way, way, interiors of my brain I remember the Boy Scout Jamboree being held there. Back then, though, I lived about an hour away but it was a big deal for the whole area and belonging to the scouts was looked upon with pride. My brother belonged to the scouts, and like you, he grew up to be a strong aand honorable man.

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    1. Dear and wonderful Arleen, I wish I'd met you then. Would it have been an imposition to have invited 50,000 Boy Scouts over for dinner? We were very well-behaved and tired of our own cooking.

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  6. I never attended a jamboree as a scout, but did as an adult. However, my uncle was there with you in 1964. THe next year I became a Cub Scout. Nice writing.

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    1. Thanks, Sage. I have great admiration for those scoutmasters and attending adults who kept the kids organized. Did your uncle get go on to the NY Fair at Flushing Meadows that summer? Many troops did.

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  7. If only we could all 'go in peace' but sadly there seems to be less and less 'peace'. We all need to do some gardening. In the battle against bugs and droughts we may forget to fight each other.


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    1. Agreed, Delores. The theme of the NYC World's Fair that year was "Peace Through Understanding". I'm afraid the world has a ways to go on that.

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  8. I found myself looking and waiting for the usual quirky post that we have come to love and enjoy. Instead I found something rather shocking, and appropriately so. "Tom became a neo-Nazi."

    Events in Europe are, once again, taking an uncomfortable turn. More than ever perhaps, we need to travel in peace. Bless you Geo.

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    1. It was sometimes strange seeing what became of my teenage contemporaries in the 1960s --the more shocking movements into racism, xenophobia and paranoia were often drug-fueled. I too hope our species can find peace.

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  9. An extraordinary post. A wonder examination of history, from your own view and what a statement about how old friends turned out. Thanks for sharing. I'm now going to spend an afternoon mulling about old friends of mine and our subsequent fates.

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    1. Thanks! One always wishes one's old friends happiness and prosperity. I hope yours were fortunate.

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  10. My family was active in Scouts too. That meant that Boys' Life was delivered in the mail each month. The articles in there were the basis of many essays for me. All got A's. Are you still in contact with Tom and Jack? I have to admit I am curious as to whether Tom's teeth are in good shape.

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    1. By the late 1960s, Jack went off to study for his calling and Tom just went off. Haven't seen either of them since. And yes, Boys' Life was a fine magazine --much enjoyed by my older brother and me.

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  11. I wanted to be a cub scout in the worse way as a young girl. I memorised the pledge, read the handbook, worked on earning badges, but was still turned away. My parents said, "Why not be a Brownie?". I didn't dignify the question with an answer. Cub Scouts eat brownies for snack and if my mother was a den mother, she would know that full well. "Why does the Pope dress like a hand puppet?" Best Question Ever.

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    1. I quite agree with your scout-group decision. It would a horrible thing to be eaten by Cub Scouts.

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    2. There's no good outcome there. I'm reading Bruce Springsteen's autobiography. The section I read yesterday went back to 1964. Now I know what you and Bruce were doing the summer of 1964. And I like it.

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    3. Glad you like it. Mr. Springsteen and I were born the same year. When I joined the National Stereoscopic Association 21 years ago, I noticed his name on the membership roll. Yes, we are geezers.

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    4. The national what's it what? I'm going to have to look that one up and get back to you, but my first thought is maybe this would be a good time to publish your memoir.

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  12. Loved this post, Geo! Also the ones for 1892 and 1510 (which I had read before)! That is a very strange jamboree badge.

    I have been to Valley Forge, and I walked it's perimeter trails. I was very hot and thirsty when I was done, and most grateful for a cool glass of merlot afterwards. I'm glad I wasn't there in the winter of 1777!

    I'm up north in beautiful Victoria which has gorgeous flower gardens everywhere. I keep thinking of you when I see them. Prince William and Kate arrive tomorrow, so all kinds of public works and parks people have been out sprucing up the city and gardens. Victoria has some of the most gorgeous roses I have seen anywhere. Hope all is well with you and Norma!

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    1. Thank you Blue! I know those Valley Forge trails after having spent 2 weeks there in '64 and envy your vigor to have hiked them. All is well with Norma and me, and I hope to find time to post photos of her sunflowers, mums and zinnias that might rival the gardeners' art in Victoria. I do miss the horticultural effects I used to produce on special occasions, but am happy with what we manage here. If the Royals would like to sample local wines in a pretty garden, this one to which we have retired might do.

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  13. Dear Geo., I read your highly interesting post twice - and all the comments and your answers. I had to look "dingleberry" up, and - as so often in translations for plant names, the German word "Klabusterbeere" astonished me very much. Never heard of it - and in plants names I hear a lot :-)
    Oh!!! Wiki enlightened me - oha.
    My husband was a boyscout too - St. Georg (a Catholic group) - I was a girl and a protestant, in Bremen they would have taken me if I had been a boy.
    As to the neo-Nazis: very, very unsettling.

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    1. Dear Brigitta, I am definitely learning here! Despite working as a gardener for over 30 years, I had no idea dingleberries and Klabusterbeeren were botanically identical. As to your mention of political extremists, I too hope compassion and humor will eventually unite humankind in peace and harmony.

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    2. The odd thing, Geo., is the explanation of "Klabusterbeeren" on Wiki - I never heard the word before - and it has in the explanation nothing to do with botany, but with human biology :-)

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    3. Indeed, not a plant parents should name their children after.

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  14. A truly amazing post, Geo...you have set me thinking about old friends now too...I am wondering what they're doing and thinking at this moment, and how their lives have turned out.

    Thank you so much for this...a visit to you always inspires me so much.:))

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    1. And I thank you, Ygraine, for your kind and thoughtful comment. One always hopes old friends made good.

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