I was wandering through the Wal-Mart the other day, as is something I often do when needing to buy stuff. Say what you will about Wal-Mart but without them we would have to make seven stops all over town, and a lot of 10 year olds in Beijing would be out of work.
So I’m browsing through the camping section looking for something, when a long-ago memory popped through the surface. Most of my Junior High and High School memories have been repressed and firmly locked away for eternity, however, there are some childhood memories lacking such security and occasionally one pops through the thin barrier.
When I was a child there was no Wal-Mart that I remember. Oh, I’m sure there was one somewhere, and we may have even gone to it. But what I remember was instead going to Roses (which nowadays seems like a Ghetto version of Wal-Mart), Farmer Don’s (a grocery store which later became a Piggly Wiggly), and the Belk. Belk had the stuff too good for Roses to carry, but they didn’t have food.
One of the highlights of any trip to Belk was the Boy Scouts counter. Near the front door was a special jewelry-style counter dedicated to all the crap you have to buy for boy scouts outings. There was just one problem – I was never in Boy Scouts. I started as a cub scout, but don’t remember much about it. Oh I had the book with the merit badges in it, and even the subscription to “boy’s life” magazine. But all I remember was hanging out in the basement of the church building and making crafts. I got two or three of those yellow beads, whatever they were for. I may have earned a badge or two, I don’t recall, but mostly it was hanging out with the den mothers.
Where was the adventure? The canoeing, the campfires and hot dogs, the fishing? Actually I did go fishing with them once, I think. I learned how to remove a fishhook from my thumb, and then how to hide the bleeding so I didn’t wind up going to get a tetanus shot. What about shooting stuff, tying knots, using a map and compass? How does making a box from popsicle sticks prepare a young boy for a future life (unless you want your future life to involve making complex models from popsicle sticks)?
I remember making the car for the pine derby. My father and I worked hard with simple tools, drawing the shape, cutting with a hand saw, chiseling out parts, Weighting it carefully, and painting it. My car looked like what you would expect a cub scout using hand tools, sandpaper and leftover paint to look like. Then I got to the church basement and there was some kid with what looked like a formula one race car, carved from the same block of wood. Someone’s dad cheated. If it was today I would think he had it made on a CNC machine.
But the thing that reminded me of the Boy Scout counter was the toothbrush. I had a toothbrush that was collapsible – it came apart in the middle and the handle became a little case. It would be perfect for the backpacking trips where I will be out long enough to use a toothbrush, which might be any time I eat a Coleman meal-in-a-sack. Everything was the blue-and-yellow color that signified scouting, even the toothbrush, which I guess comes in handy in the woods. A group of blue and yellow kids wandering around lost is probably easier to find.
I have a compass now. I was supposed to go to a map and compass class recently, but was unable to. The only thing I know about maps and compasses is what I learned in JROTC in high school. We didn’t learn much navigation, but we did learn how to call in Artillery on a position. Actually I wish I could do that. Having artillery at your disposal could only be a good thing. I don’t remember ever actually owning a compass from the Boy Scout counter, but they were there, I’m sure.
All too often the Belk trip ended with a trip downstairs to the pattern room. Before we sent all our manufacturing jobs overseas to ten year olds, people in this country actually made stuff. The pattern room held sewing patterns and big books full of drawings and photos of what the clothes might look like provided you sew at least as good as a sweat shop laborer. For an eight year old, it could be very boring. I think. The toys were upstairs, however, alongside house wares, and all the other non-clothing related items, and provided a distraction whilst mothers picked through the Simplicity catalogue.
Those days are long gone. Now instead of running down to the Belk for my toothbrush, and since Wal-mart doesn’t have it, I guess I’ll have to order it from Ohio. Oh how the times have changed. First, though, I might check the Dollar Tree.