Mike Wilson: Scouting days

Published 12:00 pm Thursday, March 16, 2023

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Mike WilsonI loved Scouting. I “went the distance” from Cub Scout on the first day I was eligible to Eagle with gold palm before I regrettably aged out and went off to college. I was also an Explorer and a Vigil Member of the Order of the Arrow. I must admit, however, that it wasn’t always fun…

The Pinewood Derby was pretty depressing. I used my official Cub Scout knife to whittle my block of wood into something roughly resembling a car and then nailed on the wheels and applied whatever paint we had left over in the garage. When I went to the pack meeting for the big night, I encountered an array of sleek, gleaming models that for all the world appeared to be perfect miniature Indy cars with stripes, numbers, and gleaming finishes. Obviously, many of the eight-year-old boys were closet automotive engineers. My Flintstone vehicle came in last in its first heat. Today, 60 years later, you can Google “Pinewood Derby Cheating Hints” and get some great ideas for your dad’s–sorry, I meant your–project.

I turned 11 in late November, and before I had even attended a troop meeting I joined the troop for a December campout. We went to the Woolco department store and got a cheap, thin sleeping bag, the only one in stock. Our patrol was assigned to sleep in an Adirondack shelter, something of a wooden cabin that was open in the front to a firepit. We slept on shelves facing the fire. I was not quite close enough; my teeth were chattering most of the night, but at least the morning brought a warming and cheerful fog. I feel lucky that we did not have hypothermia in those days, nor–when I think about it–hydration.

For most of my career, my dad was the Scoutmaster. He wore a Smokey the Bear campaign hat just like Fred McMurray in the movie “Follow Me, Boys.” One time we found a grapevine in the woods that would let us swing out over a pretty deep ditch. He felt he should test it before he let us use it, so out he swung. No problem. Then he did it together with another adult leader. Perfect! Now it was Jay’s turn. [Jay, the Senior Patrol Leader, never returned from a campout without numerous cuts, scrapes, and bruises. Once he “went long” to catch a pass and crashed squarely into a large and unyielding hickory tree, knocking himself unconscious.] Jay smiled and grabbed the vine, and at the apex of its ark, it snapped and he plummeted to the ground below. It took a good while to get him on his feet.

Our Explorer post specialized in scuba diving and ribeyes: one of our leaders worked in a butcher shop, and before each outing we would tell him how many we wanted at a dollar apiece. I loved the diving in nice clear reservoirs in Arkansas. There was a Civil War era shipwreck at the bottom of the lake that we really enjoyed exploring.

Mike Wilson is a former Hampden-Sydney Spanish professor and 13-year resident of Prince Edward County, who now calls North Carolina home. He can be reached at jmwilson@catawba.edu.