Various Veins

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Doug, Mark, Ellen and I went to Kristen's Kitchen for breakfast on Sunday. The dining room was a-buzz with voices, a birthday party in one area, folks from church in another. That's not the best conditions for a guy like me to carry on conversation. I've got top-of-the-line hearing aids. I can hear what people are saying in the far reaches of the room, but lucky to catch two words in 10 from those right at my elbow.

Not to complain, it's great for Kristen's business.

Maybe the reason for this aggravating situation is that the sound is picked up on the body of the device that hangs behind my ears.

A voice did break through to me from a friend sitting across the aisle from our table. He was asking if I remember taking members of the Boy Scouts on hikes when he was a lad. I do, but it was boys in the wolf cub pack that I took on those outings. The full pack included 36 boys, too many to have quiet conversations even when I had good hearing. The pack was divided into dens of six for part of a meeting, the sixers taking attendance and collecting a dime in dues from each of his charges. Then he'd teach his lads a new knot or how to skip rope.

My friend remarked it was 60 years ago when we had those adventures. Where does the time go?

I arranged for parents of six boys at a time to join me on the hikes after school on a day other than the general meeting. We would hike to a secluded clearing in one of the wood lots that were close enough to Straffordville to reach on foot. We would clear a place to kindle a small fire, following rules laid out in the handbooks of the time. Then each boy would use his pocket knife – we were allowed to carry one in those simpler times – to cut a suitable branch, trim it and sharpen the end to impale a hot dog or a marshmallow on.

The fire was lit, hopefully with one match as per instructions in our manual. Each boy had an aluminum mess kit like the ones used by soldiers. It was about two inches deep, rectangular with a wire handle that folded over it when it wasn't in use. We'd have a tin of beans that could be opened by the can opener that folded into the scout knife like a blade. I'm quite sure we had potatoes to roast in the coals.

Did we make a wooden support from a sturdy length of green wood to hang a pail of water over the fire for hot cocoa? May have. It would have been rested on a forked stick close to the fire and held down to the ground away from the fire by an inverted forked stick thrust into the earth.

After we ate I would read something, maybe from Rudyard Kipling's Jungle Book, by the warmth of our fire.

The Jungle Book provided the names for leaders, Akela, leader of the wolf pack was chief. Bagheera, the black panther, Baloo the bear, and Kaa the python made up the lower ranks.

As dusk fell we'd douse our fire, again in the prescribed manner, and hike back to the village to meet the parents of the lads whose homes were outside of Straffordville.

As I write, I wonder if we hiked to the site of our camp fire, or did I load the boys into my 1940 model Plymouth and drive within hiking distance? I believe that's the more likely thing.

We could do things like that in those days before seat belts and background checks and all the hoops today's leaders must jump through to work with young people.

In Kristen's Kitchen on Sunday morning my mind blocked out the murmur of voices and I heard one of my cubs talking in quiet tones to his father about how he enjoyed the adventure. That affirmation warmed my heart then, and it still does today.

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