The Dot Rat troops…
Yes it’s true….I was a Boy Scout. Good ole Troop 40 out of Saint Marks to be exact. I couldn’t pin down the exact time but if my memory serves me, my buddy Timmy across the street was the one who got me into it. He always had cool knives and an axe that his parents actually trusted him with because the Scouts taught him proper safety. My parents barely trusted me with a butter knife so as you can imagine….I wanted some of that action. It was all about respect….and it was this uniform that was gonna get me the respect every 10 year old kid deserves…
That’s right….I still have it to this day and I would seriously wear this b*tch out right now if it actually fit. Scouts, as it turned out, was an incredible experience for a young Dot Rat. I soon found out that it was really about something bigger than myself (not easy for a chubby kid). It was about service to one’s community and country and the more you served the more respect you garnered through the ranks. Within my first year their was this Jamboree held somewhere on the South Shore. This was an event were every Troop in the state came together to make friends and learn new skills. Because we were the “poor” kids our resources were limited so every troop in Dorchester pooled their funds that year so we could afford the week long trip. My parents put aside some money for me and off I went….
Dorchester showed up in 10 buses where every other troop showed up in 1…we were massive…to ballpark it…I would say a few hundred kids. We had Irish, Italian, Haitians, Vietnamese, Polish, Black and Hispanic kids….we looked like the United Nations. To all of us this was very normal but to most of the other kids it was a novelty judging by the thousand yard stares we got as we all marched up onto the pageant field to salute the Stars and Stripes. The only thing we were missing was theme music…something like this.
It turned out to be a very competitive environment to spend a week….I think this was by design. We had swimming, archery, rifle, basketball and baseball competitions….every scout was required to take part for the sake of team building. You had Polish kids cheering on their teammates from Grove Hall and Vietnamese kids helping Haitian kids weave through obstacle courses.
We had three meals a day together and learned fairly quickly what true table manners were all about. But what the Dorchester troop leaders really concentrated on was our merit badges. We were there to learn…about our country, first aid, the environment, carpentry, avitation, welding, literature … you name it. They made it a point to help this giant crew of inner city kids get exposure to as much as possible….
We were all too young to understand why our leaders made us hit the books so hard during this camping trip. Most of us wanted to go swimming or hit the rifle range. But it all became very clear on our final day at camp when we made our way to the pageant field for a giant bonfire and awards ceremony. They start rattling off all the different troops and the number of combined competition, awards and badges they received during the week. On average we are talking anywhere from 20 to 30 per troop. Towards the end they announce Dorchester….none of us were really paying much attention till the first numbers came over the PA. Dorchester walked away with 300 or so badges, 40 or 50 new ranks and another dozen or so competition wins. I can remember hearing “whoa” being uttered from the other troops as our numbers were rattled off….then getting this massive round of applause from everyone there. I can honestly say it brought a smile to every “poor” kid there. Then there me, this young Dot Rat that went for some “respect” but ended up walking away with a few merit badges and something in the back of my head that meant so much more.
Like all of our older institutions, the Boy Scouts need adapt their policies to the ever changing world around them. But, I will always be grateful to the Scouts for how they helped me develop as a young kid and for showing me I could do anything if I just tried.
Years later, when I needed to build a fort down the marsh so my boys and I could drink a few suds in relative peace, the Boy Scout experience sure paid dividends! ; )