Of Boy Scouts, summer camp and Old Goats
I spent the last week camping with Troop 1000 at Camp Parsons up near Seattle. It was an amazing adventure to say the least. We had seven dads and 40 boys exploring new territory more than 2,000 miles from home for nine days. Keeping up with the boys was as easy as herding gerbils. Keeping up with my fellow Old Goats was a different story altogether.
Although I have been to many Boy Scout summer camps in my life and even spent four summers on a camp staff, nothing fully prepared me for this experience.
All of the adults in our troop automatically become members of the Old Goat patrol. With this being my first summer camp with the troop, I had a lot to learn about traditions and the Troop 1000 way of doing things. One of the lesser known but most fervently held traditions is the passing of the Old Goat stick.
The hiking stick is passed from the holder to the Old Goat who has done the most “old goatish” thing of the day. The recipient must not only keep the stick with him at all times, but he must adorn it with a new item before passing it along.
The original Old Goat stick did not make the flight from Houston to Seattle, so a new one was acquired at the camp. The holder at the end of the last summer camp was with us, so he made the first presentation. For the first two days I managed to fly under the radar. The stick was justifiably passed from one recipient to the next.
At our Tuesday night pow-wow, the stick was passed to me. My offense? Taking a nap. All of us were regularly guilty of that offense, I just happened to do it at a time of inconvenience for the stick holder, so I got stuck. All Wednesday I got to tote the unwieldy staff with me wherever I went. What I discovered was that a big stick brings great power. All of a sudden these fine gentlemen whom I love and respect suddenly became the biggest brown-nosing suck-ups and cutthroat snitches I have ever seen in my life!
It was a nice bonding experience to have these guys catering to my needs by bringing me coffee, holding things for me while I took pictures and just acting unusually nice. I also received pictures via text of serious Old Goat violations and plenty of remarks on the side about what my companions had done while out of my sight.
At the end of the day as we gathered in our circle of folding camp chairs, I carefully recounted the old goat moments I had observed and/or had brought to my attention. I could have given the stick to anyone for any number of offenses. Instead I awarded it back to myself. Not only had I left the stick behind in our campsite while going to the waterfront to participate in the pier jump (an offense that strangely enough no one but me caught), but I also left my sweatshirt on the pier. Those bonehead moments were far worse than the other violations.
Although it’s rare, I’ve been informed that awarding the Old Goat stick to oneself is not unprecedented. Although I was stuck with the stick for another day, I also got to wield its power and influence over my fellow Old Goats, who continued their brown-nosing and backstabbing ways. I loved it!
At the end of the day I was prepared to award it to our intrepid Scoutmaster for headgear violations in the dining hall. As we gathered for our evening session, one of the dads decided to take a shower and make us wait. It didn’t take me long to change my mind. I was happy to see the stick move on. It changed hands a couple more times before camp came to an end. Our travel arrangements required us to stay an additional night at a VFW hall, hosted by a local Scout troop. Our hosts were very gracious and a real pleasure to be with. As a token of our appreciation, we signed the Old Goat stick and presented it to our host with the hopes he would continue its tradition in his own troop.
As entertaining as it was to keep up with the Old Goats, it was the kids who proved the real challenge. When I said it was like herding gerbils, I wasn’t kidding. The seven of us managed to get them all on a plane, arrive in Seattle, visit the Museum of Flight and arrive at the VFW hall for our first night. We then got them to Camp Parsons and made sure all 40 of them got signed up for their merit badge classes, went to class, made mealtimes, dressed appropriately, showered and did a hundred other things required of campers.
As I said more than once, we Old Goats had clocks and the kids had time. Punctuality was tough but I don’t think we were ever late for anything. The bus service we hired was a different story. When we arrived at the airport, they showed up promptly on time at the VFW hall to pick us up. The next day a bus broke down and they were late getting us to camp. After camp, we had an hour to spend touring Pike’s Place Market in downtown Seattle. Man, talk about herding gerbils! After a very brief tour (most of the time spent in line getting food), we met at the designated place and waited two more hours for the bus to pick us up.
At least the bus was on time for the most important leg of the trip. We got to the airport with plenty of time to spare for the return trip.
As I reflect on the week, I will enjoy the memories of watching bald eagles fly, canoeing with seals, brisk swims in the Hood Canal, tall trees, taller tales, lots of singing and cheers and good friends with an old stick. I will always appreciate that we made the trek without suffering major injuries or losing any kids, gear or our minds.