I have been remiss lately in my story telling. I have felt constipated, literarily not literally, in my thoughts. I have written volumes in my dreams but have put nothing down in print the last several months. I feel backed up and irritable. This morning at 4 a.m. my mind would not stop yelling at me and I got up and spit this out. I feel much better now. I warn you, since I have not written in a while so this is sort of long. So grab a cup of cocoa and curl up for the duration.
Gladys did something very dangerous. She didn’t think before she did it. She didn’t weigh out the consequences. She just raised her hand and it was done. Everyone in the room looked at her wide eyed and aghast. Who would be so foolish, they wondered? Who was this woman who put her hand up and was smiling about it? Who was this impetuous foolhardy woman?
The tall thin haggard looking woman at the front of the crowd leered at Gladys like a spider at the fly in her web and asked “What is your name dear?” All eyes turned and looked as Gladys told her name. “What was that dear? I can’t hear you and I want to make sure I get your name right” croaked the woman in the green dress. “My name is Gladys McGuillicutty and I am Taddy’s mother.” The corners of the woman’s mouth began to lift and a grotesque smile came to her mouth. Gladys looked around to see who else had volunteered but found her hand the only one in the air. “Mrs. McGuillicutty, you will report directly to me. You will find your kit on the table at the back of the room and you will need to purchase an outfit. You will need to study the manual completely and adhere to every aspect of the directions. Do you understand?”
Gladys turned and looked at the books on the folding table in the back of the meeting room and then back at Mrs. Haversham swallowed hard and replied “Yes, ma’am.” Penny, Gladys’ next door neighbor, leaned over and whispered “why did YOU do THAT?” A horrible screech came from the front of the room and Gladys looked wondering who was torturing an animal. “Mrs. McGuillicutty! DO YOU HAVE A PROBLEM?” It was Haversham. The noise came from Haversham. Gladys took a deep breath and squared her shoulders “No Ma’am. I’m just wondering. Will there be any other scout leaders or will I be the only one?” Mrs. Haversham narrowed her gaze on Gladys and in a heinous and guttural voice hissed “Captain, my dear. You will be a Captain. Oh, there will be more. They just don’t know who they are yet.” A chill ran the length of Gladys’ spine and she looked down at her hands wondering “what have I gotten myself into? Then thought, CAPTAIN! I’m going to be a CAPTAIN!”
She clutched the book in her hand and made her way to the car with Penny yabbering in her ear. “I can’t believe you just did that. I mean what were you thinking? Now you have to work with Haversham. I promise nobody else is going to volunteer to be a Girl Scout troop leader. They are all scared to death of her. Have you ever spent anytime around her? I swear she is the devil’s sister.” Gladys opened her door and sighed “A CAPTAIN Penny. I’m going to be a Girl Scout CAPTAIN. My mom was always too busy to be anything and I was only a Brownie for one year. I think I got one badge on my sash. This is something I want to do for our girls. I want to work our way through the badges. Will you help me? You don’t have to deal with Haversham.” Penny shook her head got in the passenger seat and said “Okay, but don’t expect me to be around when Haversham is. That lady scares the bejeesus out of me.” Gladys nodded in agreement and pulled from the parking lot.
“Okay, now you take the rope and loop the free end through the looped end and tighten, no dear the free end” Gladys was trying her best to teach a room full of 7 year old girls how to macramé when she herself hadn’t a clue. She walked around with the book in her hand and checked each girl’s mangled mess of knots. “Penny, go get the library book and make sure we are doing this right” Gladys conspiratorially whispered. Penny hurriedly left the meeting room and went toward the foyer. She turned white faced and wide eyed and mouthed “HAVERSHAM”.
Gladys turned to see the starched green dress, the badge covered sash and the perfect pitch of the green beret come into the room. “OH GIRLS! Look who has come to visit us!” Gladys tried to chirp happily. The girls looked up from their tangled webs to mumble a greeting. Haversham looked around the room and then to Gladys “is that the BEST they can do? Have you not been teaching them deportment?”
Gladys glared at Mrs. Haversham as she adjusted her badge laden sash and then absent mindedly ran her hand along her own empty one. “Of course I have. The girls are just a little pre-occupied with their macramé project” Gladys rationalized. “Girls, let’s give Mrs. Haversham a more resounding Bear-cub welcome” she urged the group of girls. There was a mass of heavy sighs and a round of eye rolling but they all piped in with “Hello, Mrs. Haversham!” Gladys smiled proudly hoping that this would lead to a hostess badge for her sash. “Mrs. McGuillicutty, I need to speak with you, in private” Haversham hissed in her ophidian way.
Gladys followed Haversham to the vestibule of the meeting room trying not to visibly shake. A thousand thoughts ran through her mind. She wondered if she were to be court martialed, de-sashed; before she even had one badge to sew. Her knees wobbled and her breathing became hitched “Mrs. Haversham, they really are trying to get their Art’s badge. They have completed their papier Mache’ project and I just know they will get the macramé with a little more practice” Gladys stammered. Mrs. Haversham lifted one thinly penciled in eyebrow and cleared her throat “yes, I’m sure they will, although they will need much more practice from the looks of that mess” she retorted as she cocked her head in the direction of the girls tying each other in knots in the other room. Haversham smoothed her severely coifed hair and looked down over the tops of her cat-eye glasses “we must plan the annual wilderness trip soon. We must have it complete before winter sets in and it becomes too wet and cold for the girls. I have the maps and the instructions; I believe the first weekend in October will suffice.” She thrust a neatly bound one inch thick stack of papers at Gladys and turned to leave. “Oh, one more thing” she said as she turned and looked over her shoulder “they must complete the whole of the requirements in order to earn the badge.” She paused looked Gladys up and down and finished “and so do YOU.”
Then as if she were magic, Haversham was gone. Gladys stood with the manuscript in her hand. She had read the handbook. She knew that the girls had to identify plants, animals, set up camp and cook out of doors in order to qualify; but this was full of additional requirements. It was as if they were studying to become foresters or botanist. Gladys sighed and looked around for Penny; this was going to take some work.
Gladys and Penny had worked hard to gather all the necessary equipment. They had begged borrowed and well borrowed some more in order to get all of the girls outfitted. Gladys had pulled her own tent out of storage and had borrowed her husbands “pack”. She had found a knapsack at the Army Surplus store and had packed it with all the essentials. The day had arrived. They were as ready as they would ever be. Gladys and Penny waited for the girls to arrive. One by one mothers drove up to the Community Center and unloaded their daughters. Each one with their own array of camping gear.
Gladys surveyed her crew and realized how unprepared they all were. Little Abigail had her Strawberry Short Cake backpack full of candy and chips. Eileen’s backpack was so heavily packed with clothes and shoes that she could barely lift it. Gladys decided the only way they were ever going to earn their badges was to take the girls inside and repack their bags.
They were finally outfitted to the best of their abilities and it was getting late. They loaded up in the borrowed vans and headed to the other side of the Marine Corps Base where they would be earning their wilderness decoration. Gladys began singing “I love to go a wondering along a mountain track….” And the girls piped in “and as I go I love to sing, a knapsack on my back…” Gladys smiled knowing that she had prepared them to the best of her ability; after all they all remember the “Happy Wanderer” song.
They arrived at the campsite just as the sun was setting behind the hills. Gladys was a little worried but figured she and Penny could help the girls set up camp and they would be settled in before dark. The girls unloaded from the van and began to unload the gear or so Gladys thought. She looked up and realized they were instead running around chasing each other and poking at something in a hole in the ground. “Girls! Come on let’s get camp set up before it gets too dark. Maryanne you get the tents, Suzy you grab the food and remember we HAVE to put it in the tree so find a rope. Tadpole you and Jessica go get the cooler and put it under the tree” Gladys barked as she tried feverishly to figure out how to put the tent together.
The sun set and darkness settled on the campsite as Gladys and Penny reworked the canvas configuration and repounded in steaks. “I’m hungry” cried Abigail. “I’m cold” whined Eileen.
“I’m bored” cried Tadpole. Gladys took a deep calming breath and replied “I know you are but let’s try to get this finished. Girls stay within the lights of the van and gather some pine cones and firewood, Okay?” This time she was certain she had the tent set up correctly. Penny pulled on her side and secured it to the stake and breathed out in relief “I think that does it!” Gladys looked around at the tents set up in a circle around the haphazard fire ring the girls had built from stones and rocks. She went too the van and took out flashlights and kerosene lanterns and made her way to the center of the camp. “It is getting late, so we won’t try our wilderness cooking skills tonight, instead I brought pizza, it’s a little cold but hey, who doesn’t like cold pizza.” With that three or four little girls raised their hands and Gladys rolled her eyes. This was not working out the way she had planned.
In her mind Gladys had seen this going much differently. She and Penny would arrive with their charges in tow. They would all pile out of the vans, run around like a bunch of elves setting up camp and gathering firewood. They would have a roaring fire and dinner cooking over the open flames before the sun even thought of setting. Instead they were huddled around a barely smoldering fire inhaling copious quantities of smoke, eating cold pizza and hoping their tents wouldn’t collapse in on them during the night. Gladys shook her head and wondered “what HAD she gotten herself into?”
The girls were exhausted and Gladys even more so. They cleaned up their dinner put the cooler away in the van and tied their food stores up in the tree. She had made sure each girl had brushed their teeth and had made their way behind the tree to prepare for the night. Penny took her group of girls and crawled in the tent to a chorus of “I thought we were going to sing camp songs” and “tomorrow night can we make Some-mores?” Gladys heard the same as she settled each girl into their bedroll for the night. Then exhausted she curled up on the hard ground and tried to sleep. She closed her eyes but her ears wouldn’t rest. She heard rustling and twigs snapping. She heard screeching and howling. She heard every little tiny sound in the forest. She listened to the breathing of the girls and tried to will herself to sleep until at last close to dawn she dozed.
She awoke to sounds of pots clanging. She jumped up and looked to make sure her girls were still situated behind her in the tent. She surmised that Penny was making breakfast. She felt a bit guilty and started to rise and go to help. She unzipped the tent and peered out into the center of the camp. She froze as she looked almost face to face with a bear. The bear seemed not to notice her but was enthralled on trying to get the rope unhitched that held up the food. Gladys sat frozen unable to close the tent but wanting to protect her girls. She looked across the fire ring just as Penny unzipped her tent and looked out onto the destruction of the camp and the sight of the big brown bear. She formed her mouth into a scream. Gladys sucked in her breath and waved towards her friend. She mouthed “NO!” and made the sign of stop by slashing her finger across her throat. Penny snapped her mouth shut. The women watched as the bear managed to free the sack of goodies and tear into it taking away bags of chips and cookies. The animal shredded and chomped then grew weary and lumbered away.
Gladys could feel the fullness of her bladder and the scream lodged in her throat. She turned and looked thankful to see her girls were all still sleeping soundly. She looked across at Penny and motioned for her to wait. She did not wish to exit the tent only to have the bear return. After a long while she determined the bear was gone for good she threw herself from the tent. Penny met her in the middle and they hugged one another as they surveyed the damage. “What should we do” Penny questioned. Gladys started picking up their gear and threw it in the van. “We are leaving! Get the girls up and in the van. I’ll get all this stuff gathered up and then we are going HOME!”
Penny stood stunned for a moment. She looked at Gladys with consternation and asked “what about Haversham? What about our wilderness badges?” Gladys stopped in mid-stride turned and grabbed Penny by the shoulders “BADGES??? WE DON’T NEED NO STINKIN BADGES!”