Glued-On Badges and Proto-Fascism: My Brief Career as a Girl Scout

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Throughout my years at Christ King School, my mother thought it would be good for me to be involved in some After School Activities. I did not agree, because my all-time favorite after school activity was laying on the cot in our basement reading Reader’s Digest Condensed Books and eating chocolate malted milk balls. Regardless of my preferences hobby-wise, however, my mother insisted that I join the Brownies and then the Girl Scouts. She wanted me to be a Fully Rounded Person, which apparently involved something more than reading and eating malted milk balls.

I don’t remember very much about being a Brownie, but I do I remember the cool coin purses that attached to our Brownie b-purseUniform Belts. This nifty purse brownieexisted for the sole purpose of storing cash for our Brownie Dues. I don’t remember how much they were, but they were enough to make my mother suspicious. Even though joining the Brownies was her idea, she started asking questions. At a Brownie/Mother get together, she asked my Leader what all those dues were for. I don’t remember her reply, but it didn’t satisfy my mother; she said something about fascism and brown shirts/brownie uniforms. After that conversation, my mother didn’t check too closely to make sure I attended my Brownie meetings, which was fine with me.

After one year as a Brownie,  I “flew up” and became a Girl Scout. I was actually looking forward to being a Girl Scout, because my sisters had been Scouts and I liked paging through their copies of the Girl Scout Handbook. Bgirl-scout-handbookeing a Girl Scout meant going camping. I thought camping would be fun; I have no idea why. I did not like being outdoors, team sports, or eating bad food. I did not like to sing, and I neither knew nor wanted to learn how to start a fire. Nonetheless, I thought it had to be more interesting than the other activities I engaged in with my Troop in the North Hall at Christ King School.

The Handbook also talked about earning badges for mastering certain activities, such as ice-skating and housekeeping. Before I could plan what badges I wanted to earn, my mother took me upstairs to her bedroom and opened her dresser drawer. (My mother’s dresser drawer was a real treasure trove; for more about that, see here.) Nestled in her drawer was a small collection of badges, the ones earned by my sisters when they were Girl Scouts. These were the badges that I would be allowed to earn, she explained; that way, we wouldn’t have to give the Girl Scouts–in her mind, a proto-fascist organization– even more of our money for new badges.  (When Girl Scout Cookie Time rolled around, my mother confronted my leaders and said that she thought the Girl Scouts were exploiting children for money, and that she had seen Girl Scout Headquarters in Chicago, Illinois and boy, it was plenty fancy, built on the cookie-selling skills of eight year old children. My mother was not my Leaders’ favorite person.)girl-scout-cookie

My sisters had earned a decent number of badges, and I was content to earn only the badges we already owned. When I completed the requirements for my first badge, the Ice Skating Badge (which I fudged on a little bit, seeing as I couldn’t ice skate beyond ‘step-step-glide’ and I had utterly failed to construct a pom-pom for my skates out of yarn and cardboard ring), I found out that the earned badges were supposed to be sewn onto my sash. My mother didn’t sew, and I certainly didn’t either. Neither of my sisters had earned the “sewing” badge, and neither of them could sew. I don’t know how they got the badges onto their own sashes back in their own scouting days, and I surely didn’t know how to sew the badges onto mine. My mother came up with the solution: s-l300sewing-2Elmer’s Glue-All. I glued the Ice-Skating Badge to my sash, and I glued the other two badges I earned as a Girl Scout as well. The Glue Solution didn’t work very well, because the Elmer’s would dry and get all crunchy and white on the back of the badge, eventually causing the badges to curl up and fall off the sash. By the time I confronted the inefficacy of the Glue Solution, I was already on my way out of Girl Scouts. It involved being good at too many things that I just wasn’t very good at. My mother wanted me in the Scouts so that I would make some friends and be Fully Rounded, but she herself wanted as little to do with them as possible. When I started out as a Brownie, my mother instructed me to volunteer her ONLY for driving. Nothing else. No coming on trips with us, no craft assistance, no snack making. I could offer her driving services. I waited for three years to volunteer my mother’s driving services, but the opportunity never arose.

Before I ended my career as a Girl Scout, I did get to go camping. (Later that summer, I went to a two week sleepaway Girl Scout Camp that involved tents and possible bears. I wasn’t charmed by the experience. See here) This camping experience was tame compared to my vision of “roughing it” in nature, which I counted as a blessing, having never understood why my ancestors worked their whole lives to obtain indoor toilets merely so that we could trek back out to the wilderness and outhouses. Camp Alice Chester was actually a rather nice dorm-style building in a lovely woods near a lake. We had beds, and there was both a kitchen and a “great room” with a fireplace. d6d118d3437a69c50a0e32277ab0c110Camp was a more luxurious experience than many of the family vacations I had been on. Unfortunately, though, I found that the social atmosphere of camp had all the same problems as my regular-life social experiences, except exponentially worse. Whatever snottiness, casual cruelty and back-biting I had endured in my daily life showed up at camp; the only difference was I could not escape my tormenters, the beds were harder, the food was worse, and the adults kept making me sing.

By the end of my second year as a Girl Scout, my mother was ready to let me move on. Instead of becoming a more Fully Rounded Person, I mostly complained about going to meetings,  fretted about the scaly badges peeling off from my sash, and managed to sell my Cookie Quota only by selling many boxes to myself, eating them in the basement on my cot with my Reader’s Digest Condensed Books. I gratefully turned in my uniform, sash and all.

 

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