When I Loved Bug Juice and Pop-Tarts

During the 1970s, my three older brothers and I made “the trek” to Boy Scout camp every summer. In reality, Camp Tuscarora was just a short drive from our home in Binghamton.

Sleeping in tents during warm summer nights was refreshing. We woke to the call of reveille drifting through the trees and hitting our canvas tents like a blast of air. Was it just my imagination, or did the tent really sway when that horn blew?

The days were long and the nights were short. We got up early to participate in adventurous activities such as rifle shooting, archery, rowing, fishing, canoeing, sailing and swimming. The lake was large and we had plenty of land to roam.

Strange as it may sound, I have many fond memories of the Pop-Tarts there. We campers would hike to the trading post to buy the goodies we needed to get us through the day, and Pop-Tarts were at the top of our lists. Arrive at the trading post first and get your choice of flavors; get there late and be faced with the dreaded words, “Sorry, we’re all out.”

“Bug juice,” a sugary fruit punch mixed in a big, sterilized tin garbage can, was available every day during lunch and dinner. The older scouts made a specific point of describing to the younger boys how they had gathered and crushed all of the bugs required for the delicious treat. Can you imagine what was going through the minds of those little boys as they were handed their first cup to drink?

Back in the days before cell phones, the only communications we received from the outside world were letters from home. Each day my brothers and I would get a letter from our mom (yes, she wrote to each one of us). Neatly folded inside would be a dollar bill to spend as we wished. We bought Pop-Tarts.

More important than our purchasing power was the love and general feeling of home we would get inside each envelope: how the dog was doing, what was happening in the neighborhood and best of all, how much we were missed. You would have thought we had hiked into the darkness of the African jungle, miles from civilization.

Dad came with us on every campout and taught us how to build a fire, set up a tent, identify trees. His specialty was knots. He could identify any one and tie it in a heartbeat. As we learned, we tied luggage to the top of the old Chevy as a test. “Two half-hitches!” dad would exclaim as we fumbled around with a granny knot.

30 years later and still a camper
I have boys of my own now, and each summer we embark on an adventure at Camp Gorton along the shores of Waneta Lake between Tyrone and Wayne, New York. “It’s not about me. It’s about the kids,” is my standard line when I’m asked about it. I don’t comment about a week without the telephone ringing or television blaring. I don’t say a word about the piles of e-mails that I don’t have to respond to. Not one word.

Fishing is one of the more popular activities there. Sunfish, blue gill and perch all stage in the water in front of the dock, waiting for the nightwalkers to be tossed into the water. Every now and then a largemouth bass will happen to take the bait. It’s boy against monster – who will be the victor? If the boy wins, the monster ends up in the tank in the nature lodge for careful observation before it is released back to the lake. If the fish wins, the story of the 20-pound bass that nearly pulled a boy into the lake spreads through camp like wildfire.

An ambitious group of chefs and helpers work daily in the mess hall. The food is pretty darned good, although at the start of the week it is a concern among the younger boys. They don’t understand that what’s being served is the only choice they have. By midweek, even the picky eaters are in survival mode and clean their plates. By week’s end, they eat everything in sight.

Many of the boys’ mothers or fathers stay at the camp with them, but some may not. Leaving home when you’re 12 years old can be tough, and on rare occasions homesickness becomes more than a boy can overcome. Sometimes, an unscheduled departure is the only resolution.

The experience of working together – setting the tables, sweeping tent floors, hauling wood and more – has quite an effect on some of the boys. They become more responsible. They reach out to others and find new friends. They grow up.

As I lie on my cot with the smell of the campfire drifting through the tent, I think about my sons and hope they can experience scout camp with their kids someday. Happy Anniversary Boy Scouts, and thank you for the opportunity to grow and learn.

This year marks the 100th Anniversary of the Boy Scouts of America. The organization’s main objectives are character development, citizenship training and personal fitness. An outdoor program and an advancement program were developed to help scouts meet those objectives. The highest rank is Eagle Scout; less than 5 percent of all scouts will achieve it. Some of our country’s greatest leaders were Eagle Scouts, and it remains a respected distinction.

• 179 U.S. astronauts were involved in scouting (57.4% of astronauts). 39 are Eagle Scouts.
• 35.5 percent of the United States Military Academy (West Point) cadets were involved in scouting as youth. 15.6 percent of cadets are Eagle Scouts.
• 30.5 percent of United States Air Force Academy cadets were involved in scouting as youth. 13.5 percent of cadets are Eagle Scouts.
• 25 percent of United States Naval Academy (Annapolis) midshipmen were involved in scouting as youth. 14 percent of midshipmen are Eagle Scouts.
• 212 members of the 111th Congress participated in scouting as youths and/or adult leaders. 22 are Eagle Scouts.
Source: www.scouting.org

by Tom Heffernan

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