Thursday, May 29, 2014

The Color Collaborative: May: Childhood


I've got something in my pocket, it belongs across my face.
I keep it very close at hand, in a most convenient place.
I'm sure you couldn't guess it if you guessed a long, long while.
So I'll take it out and put it on, it's a Great Big Brownie Smile! 


I'll always remember the "Brownie Smile Song," along with the song "Make New Friends," and the Girl Scout Promise. I recited it week after week for years, holding up the middle three fingers on my right hand. The Promise is as ingrained in my mind as the Pledge of Allegiance, and I took them both very seriously. I wanted little more from life than the opportunity to serve God and my country and to help people at all times. I spent ten years as a Girl Scout, from second grade through high-school graduation. It was a very important part of my childhood and my experiences made for lasting memories. My time in Girl Scouts is a big part of who I am today. I learned to think for myself and to be proud of my interest in making the world a better place. I remember these years not just in the events and activities in which I participated, but also in the insignia and badges, earned and worn with pride.





Brown

I waited a long time to become a Brownie, and not necessarily patiently. I watched Brownies I knew with a combination of awe and envy: the zippered brown tunic, the colorful badges, the sashes crookedly encircling their torsos from shoulder to hip. The beanies! I had to wait, though. My elementary school had several active Brownie troops when I started first grade - the minimum Brownie age-requirement - but they were all full. The school held an open house for scout troops at some point during that school year, and I attended with my mother. There was talk of a new troop starting up the following year, and my mother placed my name on a waiting list. Sure enough, we received notice that summer: there was a new troop starting and they had room for me. My time had come. 

In the fall, I became a Brownie. We met on Monday afternoons in the basement of the local Elks Club. One of the leaders' father was an Elk, I think. I had a second-hand Brownie tunic and blouse from the "free to take" box at the council office. I also had an orange tie with a snap closure, brown knee socks and "flashes" - elastic bands with fringed orange flags attached - sort of like a bagpiper might wear on his socks. I did not manage to procure a beanie, however. They were expensive. I wasn't sure I could make one perch on my head properly anyway.  As in many groups of little girls, there were queen bees. Holly* and Melissa* ruled the meetings.They competed over wearing the most GSUSA-licensed merchandise to each meeting. I watched in amazement as they showed up in Brownie hair bows, Brownie earrings, Brownie necklace-and-bracelet sets, even Brownie underwear. They picked on certain girls. Mostly they ignored me; I was quiet and shy. I often felt left out.

But I loved Brownies in spite of this. I dove enthusiastically into the badge-work, crafts and council events. I learned to cross-stitch; I loved it so much I took the stitches out numerous times to re-stitch my design. I loved "finger knitting" and potholder-weaving too. I attended a "birthday party" for Juliette Low, the founder of Girl Scouts, long deceased by then, where we made small tissue-paper covered Styrofoam apples, dipped in wax to seal them. Mine hung on our Christmas tree for years. For a service project, we planted flowers at Val-Kill, the country retreat of Eleanor Roosevelt, located on the Hudson River about fifteen minutes from our town. During my Brownie years, GSUSA celebrated its 75th anniversary. Our council held an event called Jubilee Jamboree at the county fairgrounds in Rhinebeck, a location now famous for being the site of the New York State Sheep and Wool Festival.




Kelly green

I "flew up" to Junior Girl Scouts at the end of third grade. Holly, Melissa and the others decided to leave after Brownies. I needed to find a new troop. My mom found a great solution: a young woman in our neighborhood was starting a troop. She lived with her parents right down the street. I could walk to and from the meetings on Saturday mornings. Kathy* was 19 and I adored her. She had babysat for us a couple of times and I thought she was a lot of fun. My new troop had really nice girls in it. We did so many fun things! We learned to make peanut butter (peanuts and salt in a blender, who knew?!). We made molded chocolate lollipops at Christmas. We had a tour of a well-known publishing company's offices in Manhattan, an hour's train ride from where we lived. Kathy also introduced me to what would become a lifelong passion: letter-writing. She signed us up for a pen-pal program and I began corresponding with children in Sweden, England and India; my English pen-pal and I would write for over a decade. My pen-pal experiences are at the heart of my interest in blogging today.

Our time with Kathy was unfortunately short. In the spring, she informed our parents that she was unexpectedly pregnant. It was decided that it would be inappropriate for her to continue as our troop leader. I was truly sad. That fall, my mother heard of another troop forming and we joined that one, my mother helping out. I loved having my mother there. My younger sisters joined the new troop too, being done with Brownies by then themselves. The new troop was good and I would stay with this group for years, until they all moved on from Girl Scouts. I earned many badges and did some amazing craft projects. We had badge workshops, camping trips and themed get-togethers with other troops. I had good friends in this new troop, girls I would still be in touch with as an adult. 

By sixth grade, my last year in Juniors, there was some attrition. Girls were no longer interested in the kinds of activities they'd loved just a year or two before. My first inkling was at a council-wide camp-out, when another troop of girls our age performed a song by Paula Abdul at the campfire talent event. Our folksy song about an "army of children" couldn't compete. I could see it at our troop's meetings on Monday nights. They participated, but with one eye on the clock, hoping to get home in time to watch Blossom and The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. They stopped attending camp-outs and weekend workshops. They no longer sold cookies. Change was in the air.



Royal blue

At the end of sixth grade, I "flew up" again, this time to Cadettes. Most of my troop came with me, but within the year, almost every girl my age in the troop would decide they'd had enough. We had some really good times that final year. But thirteen is a tough age. Some of my friends were beginning to move into territory I wasn't prepared for. For me, Girl Scouts felt like a refuge from the changes going on around me. Whereas school brought endless discussions of boys, bras and periods (but mostly boys), in Scouts I could be a girl outside of the context of those things. It wasn't that I didn't share my peers' anxieties about growing up. I had the same troubles and experienced the same sense of tumult. But I felt able to compartmentalize, I think. Then, as now, domestic pursuits held great interest for me and were a welcome relief from other pressures.

I pressed on, sewing my own uniform skirt (worn with my sash and a plain white blouse, official blouses being expensive and used ones hard to come by at this age level), attending career-planning and leadership workshops, earning my Silver Award - the second-highest honor in Girl Scouting - alongside the younger girls in the troop. For this, we planned and hosted a science fair for younger girls in the council, a night of science experiments and demonstrations. One perk of staying in Girl Scouts this long was that we got to spend time with Boy Scouts our age, in official capacities as community volunteers. We even had a winter camp-out with them one year. (For the record, I eventually married an Eagle Scout. They're usually okay guys).

The numbers continued to dwindle until I was the only girl left in my troop. I still wanted to achieve my Gold Award, though. I don't mean to sound like a smarmy do-gooder. I had a job by this point, dated boys, went to proms...and was not always well-behaved. But I really loved being a Girl Scout and wanted to finish what I'd begun as a little Brownie. So I planned and executed my Gold Award project during my senior year of high school. I did it as an independent Scout, with help from my family. I organized a donation drive to benefit a shelter for homeless mothers and babies in my community. I brought 50 care-packages of toiletry and personal supplies to residents of the home. Everything was donated, even the boxes themselves. I was one of only seven girls in our county to earn the Gold Award that year. I was given letters of commendation from our mayor, our state and US senators, military officials and the governor, as well as a letter from then-President Bill Clinton and an American flag which had been flown over the White House. This was standard issue for Girl and Boy Scouts achieving the highest ranks, but it felt good to have stuck it out.

 

 Royal blue, too

This shirt is the second-oldest piece of clothing I own (the oldest being a shirt from preschool). I wore it at GSUSA's 75th birthday celebration, Jubilee Jamboree. I was eight and I had just finished my first year of Brownies. My father accompanied me; we had a new baby and my mother stayed home. It rained the entire day and we couldn't participate in many events. We all waited out the rain in the animal barns. My troop, along with many others, was in the goat barn. Plastic sheeting had been laid over clean straw on the floors and we ate our picnic lunches and had a sing-along. We sang the "Brownie Smile Song" and all the rest from the official songbook, plus lots of patriotic tunes. I learned all the words to "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" that day. Still know them now, too. This little shirt fit me like a nightgown back then. It has holes in it now - probably chewed by a mouse - but I was so proud to wear it and to be part of that important celebration. I knew I was on to something very special.

*I have changed these names.

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Don't forget to visit the other Color Collaborative blogs for more of this month's posts. Just click on the links below: 

Annie at Knitsofacto 
Sandra at Cherry Heart 
CJ at Above the River
Sarah at Mitenska 

What is The Color Collaborative?
All creative bloggers make stuff, gather stuff, shape stuff, and share stuff. Mostly they work on their own, but what happens when a group of them work together? Is a creative collaboration greater than the sum of its parts? We think so and we hope you will too. We'll each be offering our own monthly take on a color related theme, and hoping that in combination our ideas will encourage us, and perhaps you, to think about color in new ways.

41 comments:

  1. An amazing blast from the past. I was a Brownie Leader, a Brown Owl when my own 3 daughters were growing up. Your post has just brought back some wonderful memories. Have a great week.

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  2. What a lovely read. And well done on achieving that gold! I too was a Brownie and then a Girl Guide, although I was forced to quit around about my 14th birthday when I changed schools and the longer journey home meant I was never in early enough to attend. You've brought back some happy memories for me with this post, thank you.

    PS Luckily I was able to switch from Guiding to the Duke of Edinburgh Award Scheme, which my new school participated in.

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  3. What a lovely post. I can see in your story the shaping of the woman you have become - the love of crafting and all things domestic, the attention to details and a hard-working generosity that you should be proud of. You were clearly exceptional from the start Jennifer, and I found this post quite moving. I was a brownie and a girl guide, and my boys are in beavers, cubs and scouts (I have one of each!)

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  4. Such a lovely interesting post Jennifer, it was obviously such a huge part of your childhood.
    Kate x

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  5. A lovely and fascinating post, Jennifer. You did so well and gained so much from your wonderful childhood experiences of being a Brownie and then a Girl Scout.....truly enriching.
    Have a great week.
    Helen xox

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  6. Hey Jennifer,
    This post has brought a tear to my eye. Yes it took me back to my time as a Brownie and a Girl Guide. But more than that I get a picture of you as the young girl, and how experiences such as these has helped to shape you into the person you are today. I have never met you. I have never heard your voice. I know that you are reserved and shy. I sense that you lack confidence in yourself sometimes. I see pictures of you, and there is a beautiful woman looking at me. I hear the love and care that you invest into your family and your home. They resonate throughout your blog. You are generous. And kind. This post brings me a little closer to you. Thank you, lovely girl (can you tell I've gotten all emotional?) ;)
    Leanne xx

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  7. This is beautiful Jennifer. You describe yourself exactly as I pictured you would be as a younger girl. I'm not at all surprised you continued up the ranks and then gained the final accolades that you did. All the qualities you speak of are evident in the way you write about your family and role as a Mother and Wife now. Mel x

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  8. Hi Jennifer! This post has sure brought back memories of my own childhood of Brownies, Girl Scouts, Cadettes, then finally Seniors. Camp at Camp Washawtee, selling cookies and working for months sometimes on badges. These are also some of my best memories.
    Thank you for sharing with us. I feel I know you much better now and see where many of your current interests have been with you for years.
    Congratulations on your Gold and Silver Awards. Well done!
    Blessings,
    Betsy

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  9. Such a lovely post, I was never a brownie but Ii was a girl guide for a while. Such clubs are so over subscribed now & by the time my boys got in they felt they were to old to take part. I'm pretty sure I heard of parents putting their child's names down at birth! A time for you to look back proudly in I'm sure.

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  10. What a wonderful post about your childhood, Jennifer! I think you should submit this to the Girl Scouts (in Canada they are called Girl Guides). I'm sure they would love to read it, and might be able to use parts of it in their promotional material. Your badge sashes are very impressive. I'm sure you remember what each badge represents, too!

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  11. It is lovely to read your memories and to see all of your different badges, they are so different from the ones that we had in England. Ours were mostly brown with yellow motifs in the Brownies and then black with red or green motifs in the Guides (Girl Scouts) and no badges for different campaigns or things like that. Nowadays it is quite different and far more colourful, but back then it was more sedate! I still have my old guide hat somewhere and a couple of years ago attended the 100th Anniversary Celebrations of the Guides in the village where I was a child and attended these groups. I was also one of the two youngest Brownies at another anniversary when I actually was a Brownie, but I don't know what celebration that was for, but I did have my photo in the newspaper! You have bought back some lovely memories for me with this post. Thank you! xx

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  12. Absolutely lovely Jennifer. It was so nice reading about part of your childhood. Great post!

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  13. Fab post such a great reminder of you're childhood, here in the UK i was in something called the Girl Brigade which had badges too
    Clare x

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  14. Such happy memories. I'm afraid I really didn't get on with Brownies - they weren't happy that I wanted to wear nail varnish! For some reason, it put me off going.

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  15. Such an interesting post, I was a Brownie & briefly a Girl Guide but I think it's a little different in the UK, or maybe I'm just very old and things have changed! I think the highest achievement here is a Queen's Guide which I guess would be the same as your Gold Award.

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  16. Wow, you were a great Brownie and Girl Scout! Congrats! I was in Brownies and GS for 3 or 4 years and enjoyed it a lot. I remember our leader taking us to a mountain cabin for a camp out and there was a big wood cookstove in the kitchen. I remember making dinner with meat and veggies in tin foil on top of a big tin can with holes in the side with a tuna can with wound up cardboard, a wick and filled with paraffin. Good stuff. ((hugs)), Teresa :-)

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  17. Wow, your uniforms and badges over there are far more exciting than ours here in Blighty ever were! We had to stick to a very limited palette of brown and yellow...
    I loved the Brownies. Our pack were very outdoorsy, which I loved, and we were forever going on little treasure hunts and nature walks. Maybe that contributed to my love of nature.
    For some reason I didn't want to be a girl guide. I suspect I thought it 'uncool' so didn't bother. Either that or my head was turned by other activities such as hanging around aimlessly in the park...
    Great post, and I love those badges.
    Sarah x

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  18. This is a beautiful post Jennifer, I am really moved. I can see you as a young girl, making experiences that contributed to the amazing personality you have. I would love to meet you one day, I really would. I was never allowed to go to Scouts unfortunately. My daughter is in the boys Scouts, she didn't like the Brownies and Sam is a Scout, too. I can see how participating shapes their personalities, just as being a Brownie has shaped yours. Thank you. xx

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  19. This is so interesting to read... Here in Belgium we also have scouts, and then there is the "chiro" (something similar), but none of those two are so "big" as the girl scouts you describe... Too bad because I think that it has a very positive effect on children, and how their character is shaped while growing up...

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  20. Jennifer, why doesn't it surprise me that you excelled both in Brownies and the Girl Scouts?! Yes, I can certainly see how your personality is perfectly suited to such wonderful influences.

    Poppy

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  21. Congratulations in working so hard to get your Gold award and have so many badges! I was a Brownie too, my mum was a guide and my daughter started in brownies and is now a young leader so the Guiding movement has been an important part of all our childhoods! Do you think your daughter will join?
    Sarah x

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  22. I enjoyed reading your post immensely, Jennifer. I went to Brownies and Guides when I was young too. I loved it! :o)

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  23. Jennifer, I enjoyed this post immensely, it is wonderful that you enjoyed your time in brownies and girl scouts so much and it is clear that the experience has had a big influence on your life. I was a brownie and a guide and I loved both so much, I had a wonderful time in both and learned so many things and had some really great and interesting experiences. I loved going on camp and looked forward to the meetings each week too. I was away from girl guiding for many years as I left when I finished guides but in January of this year an opportunity presented itself to me to become part of girl guiding again. There is a lack of brownie places in my area and when my daughter couldn't get a place after finishing at Rainbows, I decided to start a new pack! I am now unit leader of a lovely brownie pack and I am enjoying every single minute of it! It has been challenging and I am learning all the time but it makes me so happy to see how much my brownies are getting out of girl guiding. It certainly keeps me very busy and tonight in fact I have been busy preparing a craft activity for a beach themed party we are having in a few weeks! It's fantastic fun and I really believe that girl guiding is such a valuable, enriching thing to be part of.
    Marianne x

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  24. What a beautiful piece of writing. Loving finding out about something so close to your heart, remembering my own memories of brownies and guides and thinking of a friend who is a Brown Owl arranging a camp at present. Just lovely.

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  25. This post really touched my heart. In so many ways.....the years that I was in brownies and Girl Scouts were some of the best years of my life. I had the best troop leader and we often went camping. She taught us how to sew and how to make peach pie with bread over the fire....I still feel this earthiness is a part of who I am today and wish the same thing for my beans. I had no idea that you went that far! Bravo to you for what you have accomplished! You are an inspiration!!! Loved this!!! Nicole xo

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  26. So lovely reading you post, I made me remember my time in Brownies.

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  27. Although I was not in scouting as long as you I had positive experiences and I am glad I was part of the organization. I like your clever take on the colors of childhood. Well done, Jennifer :) xx

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  28. Congratulations on reaching the top of the Girl Scout world!!! I am very impressed, that takes a real dedication, and it shows in your life and creativity today! I love that you married an Eagle Scout! :-) And now I'll have the Brownie Smile Song in my head the rest of the day (and I say that in a good way!). Thank you, as always, for a lovely post and for bringing back fond and funny memories...Chrissie xxx

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  29. I have fond memories of Brownies too, although that's as far as I went, just to Brownies. It's great to hear how far you've taken it and it's also so interesting to learn how different and how similar it all works across the pond, most fascinating!

    S x

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  30. Such wonderful memories you have there. I admire you for sticking it out, especially as there were times when it would have been easier to give up when troops folded or when it wasn't deemed cool to be a Girl Scout any more. I only went to Brownies a few times before deciding that it wasn't for me, but Daniel went through Beavers, Cubs and Scouts and Eleanor through Rainbows, Brownies and Guides, though neither of them stayed very long in Scouts and Guides. I think it's a great organisation, it has good values and teaches our young people about all aspects of life. Congratulations on your Gold Award, that's quite an achievement.

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  31. Congratulations, Jennifer, on setting a goal as a little girl and seeing it through! Our daughter and son were both in Scouts, and I was a leader and then leader-assistant over several years. Even though they didn't continue on, everything they learned was beneficial and worthwhile.

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  32. I was never in the Brownies but I remember the girls from school showing me their badges and I wanted to be like them!
    Jess x

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  33. I didn't even know there was a Cadette level. Or maybe I did and just forgot. I was a Brownie -- and this summer, my mom gave me my beanie and my tie (I already have my brownie pin in a school year book that she gave me some time ago). Unfortunately, my memory is not as good as yours and I don't remember much about those days. Good for you seeing it through and finishing up with a bang. I've always been involved in community service. So rewarding! Best wishes, Tammy

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  34. What a beautiful story Jennifer! x

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  35. Beautiful story! I only went through brownies. I was sick with kidney problems and didn't go after the promotion to the next level. I loved brownies though, the girls were great :) I love your post!

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  36. I always wanted to join brownies! You got some cool badges from your childhood x

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  37. So interesting! I suspect you were a much better brownie than me. I love the rich colours of your badges and sashes. When I went we had to wear a brown knee-length dress with pockets, and wooly hat. I hated that hat, it was itchy. We looked ridiculous and your uniform looks a lot more comfortable. Thank you for a fascinating read. x

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  38. What a fab posst - I loved reading all about your experiences in Scouting. I was a Brownie myself, and went all the way up through Guides, to Rangers and then I became a leader in a Guide pack myself. Though sadly, everything I'd loved about Guiding (especially camping), the new generation weren't interested, which was a real shame.
    I learned so much from Guiding, and I hope that Violet, now a little Rainbow, will enjoy it as much as we did.
    Jill x

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  39. A marvellous post, Jennifer. Your beautifully described memories brought back a lot of my own. I was never a Brownie, but joined the Girl Guides when I was 12 and my sister 11 and we stayed there through high school and enjoyed ourselves very much. DD was a Brownie, but didn't move on to Guides, even though a major centre of Welsh Guiding is just across the valley from us.

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  40. What a wonderful post Jennifer. I loved being a Brownie (although I'm with Gillian on the itchy hat!!) but didn't get any further than that in the guiding movement than that for all number of reasons (oversubscribed groups for one). I think you did so well to set yourself goals and get finished.

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  41. Such a lovely post and I love the colours of your badges/sashes. They look so retro! I was in the brownies, I enjoyed it but do not remember much. I never went on to the guides, but my sister did before me. I know it taught her many life skills and I always regretted not carrying on. You have some lovely memories. :)

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