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.
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.
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.
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.
*I have changed these names.
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
Gillian at Tales from a happy house.
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.