Read the Latest Story – Follow the Leader

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© 2016 Tim Weil, Stories and Songs

The Troop Song

The Hawk Patrol has standards high
We’re moving forward all the time
This cast of hawks never lets you down
We’re Scouters on the uphill climb
We’re honor bound to service
On brotherhood our aims depend
We’re all of like persuasion joined
That Scouting may not ever end

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Fall of the Leader

On a sunny August Sunday in the Maine woods, parents, friends and scouts slowly stumble out of their campsites for the breakfast drill.  Cooks assemble, coffee pots heat and the pancake griddle sizzles.  No one is really awake and several kids pull the sleeping bag over their heads in hope of avoiding yet another work detail.  Scoutmaster Pat Donnelly (Mr. D), has yet to appear.  This summer marks his 20th  year with Troop33, and the memory of many trips gone by drifts over this campground – scenic places along the Eastern seaboard as far north as Acadia National Park in Maine, as far west as Mammoth Cave in Kentucky, and as far south as the Great Smokey Mountains in North Carolina.

As shepherd of the flock, Mr. D. had seen it all – hundreds of teenage boys, dozens of adventures, family convoys and the almost accidental progress of boys growing into men.  With scouting as a compass, pointing towards the North Star of young adulthood, he has guided these lads past family comforts into the world of uncertainty and beyond.  Yes, Mr. D. has seen it all, but today he does not rise for the morning program.

Two scouts playing cards at a picnic table are interrupted by a young boy frightened and shaking as he tries to speak.  “Did you hear what happened?  Mr. D. has died in his tent.  Heart attack”.  The card players laugh.  “It’s too early for jokes.  Why don’t you go chop wood, make a fire and burn some bacon?  We’ve got better things to do than to listen to your nonsense”.  But the joke won’t go away.   As the morning unfolds, a tragedy of silence spreads from Mr. D.’s tent and fear takes holds throughout the troop.  Faced with the harshness of a death in the woods adults scramble making calls to 911.  A medical team arrives to take Mr. D. away.    The troop has lost their leader.

The chaos of an aborted camping trip follows with  the slow sadness of campsite breakdown and the long sullen drive home to Maryland with cars full of sorrowful children and grieving friends.

Closing the Ranksare-we-there-yet

In the sad summer weeks ahead, a proper memorial is arranged for Mr. D. and dozens of tributes pour in, testimony to the years of community service Mr. D. has given to Troop33.  A new scoutmaster steps forward, Frankie Cloud (Mr. C), himself an Eagle Scout, now a government attorney with his own son part of the program.  Other parents, new to the troop, step forward to offer volunteer service.  Wiley Timmons is one of these new recruits.  A former public school teacher, with a teenager in Troop33, his experience is zero (“my mom paid me $5 to quit cub scouts”).   No matter.  Wiley’s wife, Marigold, gives him plenty of encouragement.  Her dad, Lloyd, had been a Colorado scoutmaster for twenty years, a Norman Rockwell type of  ‘knowing and capable’ leader.  ‘You’ll figure it out as you go’ she says.

Encouraged by Marigold and welcomed by Mr. C., Wiley asks for advice.  “So what do I do next?”.  Mr. C. recommends Wiley to a Scout Leadership program and asks him to enroll, accompanied by Eddie, a college dropout on his second (or third) drug rehab program.  .Mr. C. is plain in his motives.  “Looking to you two to ‘learn the ropes’ so to speak and maybe help Eddie get his act together.  How’s that sound?  By the way, you’ve already missed the first class but I’m sure you can figure this program out.  You know, ‘tie the knots, sing the songs, learn some first aid, camping skills, leadership training and stuff like that”.  Wiley is ready to go.  He’s moving forward, all the time.

The Hawk Patrol

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On a Tuesday night, at a Methodist Church near the county landfill, Wiley and Eddie join the Hawk Patrol, a group of 10 adults assembled as a working scout team.  Their leader and coach is Russ Faraday, an off-duty motorcycle policemanbuilt like an offensive lineman.  Russ knows how to get your attention, give orders, and train adults as capable scout leaders.   He is quick with advice – “There will be 4 more meetings of the Hawk patrol followed by an overnight camping weekend to test your scouting and leadership skills.  You know, tie the knots, sing the songs, first aid, camping skills and following orders.   Stuff like that.  Each meeting begins with a color guard, Pledge of Allegiance and the Troop Song .  With 6 other patrols  enrolled  we have 70 adults for the leadership program.  “Don’t miss any class and you’ll all be fine.  As the song  goes ‘we’re all of like persuasion joined that scouting may not ever end’.

The weeks go by quickly .  By the fourth class Eddie is gone.   Wiley keeps up with his studies.  He likes the songs.  Fire safety, merit badges, orienteering, first aid are easy for him.  Following orders,  not so much.  This thing about the patrol method (chain of command) just doesn’t fit his 60s-era, anarchist personality.  Russ always offers sage advice –  ‘Buckle up, huckle buck.  We’re moving forward all the time’.  By week 5 the Hawk patrol are ready for the overnight camping weekend at a local state park and for two days they run the gamut of scouting drills.  Highlighting scout teamwork, Hawk Patrol builds a bridge out of timber and rope, lashing together a sturdy structure allowing 20 adults to ford a narrow stream. On Saturday afternoon clouds darken and the rain pours into the night.  Now the program is really getting under Wiley’s skin.

cobbler

That rainy evening, on kitchen duty, he gets the KP assignment as dessert chef tocreate Peach Cobbler surprise using Dutch oven and coals.  Too bad he can’t follow directions – Can of peaches, biscuit mix, sugar, fire and coals are the recipe for Dutch oven cooking.  No one told him about putting coals on top of the Dutch oven cast iron lid.  Without overhead heat from the coals, the doughy biscuit mix sinks into the mélange of lukewarm peaches and juice, creating a lovely tepid mixture, a chewy fruit surprise.  Good though.  Given the cold and  rainy weather, culinary skills don’t matter and Hawk Patrol devours the dessert.

bridge

Shake Down

After this deluge in the woods, the Hawk Patrol’s soggy weekend ends on Sunday afternoon and Wiley emerges a seasoned scout leader.  He has tied the knots, sung the songs, given first aid, and used camping skills, leadership training and stuff like that.  When he gets back to his home and kids (Marigold is away) he goes straight to the hearth to light a wood-stoked fire and bring heat back to his weary bones.   Within minutes, the living room fills with smoke.  ‘Damn the damper’ he curses.   Handkerchief to his face, Wiley fiddles with the fireplace and opens the flue.   Windows fly open and the kids just laugh at their Dad, the scouting man, trying to asphyxiate his family.

Next Tuesday night, Wiley and 70 scout leader trainees arrive for the graduation class.  Lots of high fives, atta-boys and camaraderie of team spirit fill the room.  A couple of speeches from the trainers start the program – ‘be proud of yourselves, you’ve completed the course, learned the skills and are ready to be leaders for your own scouting program’.  As the names are called, Wiley waits for the ‘Ts’ near the end of the alphabet.  ‘Wiley Timmons please come forward’.   In front of the assembled audience, Wiley shuffles forward to receive his certificate from Russ.  The handshake is offered but just before Wiley makes contact Russ pulls back his hand to remark – ‘you missed the 1st class right?  Sorry, you can’t graduate tonight.  You’ll have to come back in the Spring for the makeup program’.

Dazed and confused, Wiley returns to his Hawk Patrol table.  WTF.  He speaks with the other trainers who advise him to call next week and sort things out.  Making the calls he finds that he’s talking to several members of the county police department who have volunteered their time for scout leadership training.  The general conversation is like trying to talk your way out of a traffic citation – ‘uh huh, uh huh, uh huh, no’.  Come back in the Spring and finish the training’.  Mr. C. offers words of encouragement – ‘you tie the knots, sing the songs, and give first aid, master camping skills, and leadership training.  You’ll be fine’.  Russ sends a ‘mea culpa’ letter.  ‘I should have kept a better eye on you so you wouldn’t miss the makeup class.  I’m still learning myself.  Come back next Spring and finish the training’.

Wiley joins Troop33 as an Assistant Scout Master.  He patiently waits until Spring to finish the leadership training program.  The agenda for class is to recite and study the Pledge of Allegiance and to fold the American flag.  When he passes the class his scouting son consoles him – ‘don’t forget Dad, two thirds of BSA is still BS’.

Fall of the Leader (part II)

A good training program can stick with you for a long time.  With three years of university training Wiley had once managed a year of teaching in the ethnic, inner city neighborhoods of South Central LA.  With six weeks of Scout Leadership training, he has improved.  Wiley stays with his Troop33 program for 10 years and over time helps 25 kids (including both his sons) advance to the rank of Eagle Scout.  Eddie and Russ don’t do so good.

Two years past the Hawk Patrol classes, Eddie makes the local county news, arrested for multiple armed robberies in the affluent homes of suburban Maryland.  He gets fifteen years in the penitentiary for his crimes.  The last time Wiley and Russ run into each other they are both riding the DC metro. Russ is escorting some inner city kids to a Redskins football game.  He remembers Wiley and gives him a football poster for his kids.  A couple of years later Russ appears in the local county news.  On an ‘off-duty’ motorcycle trip in West Virginia, Russ is killed by a car, jumping the median and crashing into the bike.

By now, Mr. C has left Troop33, replaced as Scoutmaster by Sailor Man, another community parent who like Wiley, has gone through the scout training program with Russ.  Together they tie the knots, sing the songs, and give first aid, master camping skills, and leadership training.   Stuff like that.  Wiley and Sailor Man attend the memorial service for Russ,  an evening of tribute and mourning,.  To pay homage to a respected member of this community, a dozen police cars blink their patrol car lights outside the funeral home.  Inside, hundreds of people queue up for the casket viewing and memorial service.  A squad of county policeman perform close-order drill in tribute to their fallen colleague.   Sailor Man and Wiley pay their last respects.

trained

As the song goes, ‘this cast of Hawks never lets you down’.  They carry on Russ’s leadership training, working together with Troop33 for the next severalyears.  They tie the knots, give first aid, and teach the camping skills, passing on the lessons handed down from their Hawk Patrol.  Stuff like that.  Wiley still writes the songs.

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Talkin’ Scout Master Blues
At Boy Scout camp, in West Virginia country
Kids went camping with our trusty Scoutmaster
Who brought his whistle and mosquito-net stockings
Took us hiking, canoeing, and rocking
Timber bashing,
Capsizing
Having a good time

Now Troop33 are a mighty good bunch
They get up in the morning just in time for Lunch
When the work patrol starts, you know it’s a winner
They will be on the job when it’s time for Dinner!
‘Cause they’re busy,
Building campfires,
Having a good time

There’s Andrew, Alex, Alex and Chris
And Brian and Brian (who did I miss)
Dan, Danny, Daniel and Daniel
(somebody give me a cocker spaniel)
There’s Evan, Mark, Michael and Nick
Page and Patrick (that will do the trick)
Trina and Tyke (who have I forgot)
Nobody!

This song’s almost over but the story’s not done
There are many more trips that we haven’t begun
So when you’re back in school and Life’s really a bummer
Keep your eyes on the trail
We’ll see you next summer
Timber bashing,
Capsizing,
Having a good time.

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