Orphan Survival Stories Index |
A BOY SCOUT OF AMERICA
All the orphans from the Children's Home Society were loaded on the church bus for a Sunday supper held at the Swain Memorial Methodist Church in Jacksonville. Even today at age 53, I can remember those Sunday Methodist Youth Fellowship meetings (MYF) as they had a big impact on my life as a child in the orphanage and maybe as a grown adult.
This was one of the only times I can remember when we orphans were allowed to be kids. We ate supper in the church basement and then we played volleyball for several hours. It felt good to run free and it was wonderful not to have someone from the orphanage breathing down your neck, slapping you up side of the head or telling you that you were stupid or worthless. If I have any good feelings in my heart toward the Methodist church community, this one Sunday evening fellowship meeting would be what stands out most in my mind. It was the kindest, friendliest and most loving of all the things the church ever did for us children.
This one Sunday evening, one of the members of the church asked us orphans if we would like to become Boy Scouts and join the Boy Scout troop at the church. We were flabbergasted and could not believe that such a thing could ever come true. We told them the orphanage would never allow us to do anything like that. After all, we boys were not allowed to be patrol boys at school; the orphanage told the school principal that orphans were not smart enough to follow directions. The man at church just stood there looking at us. He could see how excited we were and said he would talk with the orphanage and see what he could do.
Every night, I prayed to God asking him to allow this miracle to happen. I walked around all day long, every day, saying the different books of the Bible and asking God to give us this one chance to become somebody important. However, hours turned into days and days turned into weeks. Weeks turned into months and we never heard anything at all. After a while, none of the boys even mentioned it again. However, I never did stop thinking about it; I never stopped praying about wanting to wear that uniform or become somebody as important as a Boy Scout.
Someone had given the orphanage two sets of old roller skates and as we were not allowed to have two skates at one time because of the number of boys at the orphanage, we took one roller skate, put a board on top of it and pushed each other around. This allowed four boys to ride and four boys to push. Then eight boys could play at one time, rather than just having two boys skating.
Wayne Evers and I were taking turns pushing one another around the concrete slab out behind the boys’ dormitory. We looked up and saw the man from the church walking toward us, waving his hand in the air.
"Are there any want-to-be Boy Scouts here?" he yelled.
We all stood up and watched him as he made his way to where we were standing. When he approached us he said, "Well fellows, I have brought your new uniforms. All of you are now Boy Scouts of America and I salute you."
We all ran up and started hugging the man, and thanking him for what he had done. I ran toward the bamboos, where other boys were building forts, and playing cowboys and Indians, and told them the good news.
"It is Gospel, It is Gospel, we are Boy Scouts,” I yelled as loud as I could at the other boys.
Boy! That was a happy day in my life.
We followed the man over to the screened-in dining room porch and there lay 15 or 20 uniforms. I will never forget the color of the wonderful uniforms and how they smelled. I picked up one of the shirts and held it up to myself. Then I walked over to the door leading into the infirmary and smiled at myself as I looked at my shadow in the glass window.
"You look good," I said aloud.
"Now you are going to be somebody important," I thought.
I walked over to the man and asked him if I could please try on the shirt. He took the shirt from me, unbuttoned it and handed it back. I slipped it on and very carefully picked up the beautiful scarf that was lying on the chair. I placed the scarf around my neck and slid the metal clip onto the scarf. All the other boys started putting on their shirts and scarves. We were all so proud; we walked around and around the porch just smiling at each other.
When we attended church the following Sunday morning, they told us we were going to go on a camping trip for a whole week. When we returned to the orphanage, I studied tying knots day and night, just to get my first merit badge before going on the camping trip. The day before the trip, I earned my first badge, but did not have any way to sew it on my uniform. Therefore, I glued it to my uniform with model airplane glue and off we went to the great outdoors.
When we arrived, there were all kinds of strange boys all over the place. I had never seen any of these boys at our church before. I asked the leader where these boys came from.
"Well, this is like a jamboree. Boys from all over get together and camp for a week," he said.
Well, all day long we kids from the orphanage knew something was not right with these other boy scouts. They kept looking at us and flipping their four fingers at us off the end of their noses, whatever that meant. However, we just rather ignored it so we would not get into trouble. Late that night, we had a campfire and told scary stories with just our own little group from the church and it was lots of fun.
Then it was time to go to bed, so we went to our tents, which we set up when we first made it to our campsite. As I went to my tent, I was repeating over and over "a scout is trustworthy, loyal, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty... " And as I got into my sleeping bag, I felt something funny and wet inside, which scared me. I jumped out of my bag and ran over to the other tent. As I walked in, I saw other boys from the orphanage getting out of their sleeping bags with yellow stuff dripping off their shorts.
"Hope you orphans like eggs," yelled someone from down the aisle of tents.
This really upset the boys from the orphanage and it took quiet a while for the scoutmaster to get everyone settled down. He finally got it through our heads that a scout must always be trustworthy, loyal, friendly, courteous, kind and all that good stuff, so we went to bed after cleaning up the best we could.
Later that night, I guess about four in the morning, a bunch of (unknown) scouts ran into our tent and began dumping their canteens of water on our sleeping bags. Then they ran out into the darkness. I tried to calm the other boys. I reminded them that we were scouts and should always be friendly, no matter what.
I got up and started to dress, but could not find my shirt. I looked all over, but it was gone. I walked outside the tent and saw three or four men come in with a truck. They were unloading flats of eggs onto a large table. There were tons of eggs and I mean thousands, all stacked on top of one another. I walked over and stood next to the fire to stay warm. When I looked down, I saw my shirt burning in the campfire. I jerked it out and tried to put out the fire by stomping on it, but it was too late. I looked for my badge but it was not on the shirt. I walked back to the tent and told the other boys that someone had thrown my shirt into the campfire. Then I heard someone yell out, "Looking for that stupid badge, creeps?"
That was the final straw; the hornet's nest had been violated for the last time. Within minutes, there were more than 3,000 eggs destroyed at that camp all by orphan hands. Not to mention five tents, two canoes and the pride of 10 or 20 non-orphan boy scouts. I remember smiling very proudly as they told us we were not worthy of being boy scouts, that every boy from the orphanage was immediately kicked out of the scout troop.
Later that day, when we returned to the orphanage, we were not feeling very trustworthy, friendly, loyal, courteous, kind, obedient, thrifty, clean or reverent. However, we did feel "CHEERFUL" and "BRAVE!"
The people at the church called me, "A very bad scout.”
Well, at least that made me “something” and that is all I ever wanted to be anyway. Just to be called something other than "a little orphan bastard."