Sunday, April 15, 2012

Things I Learned from the Evil Girl Scouts

I did a brief stint in the Girls Scouts back in my girlhood in the 1950’s. I was reminded of this yesterday, when I ignored common sense and went to the Strawberry Festival in Pontchatoula wearing my beloved white jeans. Whenever we go to the Strawberry Festival, we always have strawberry shortcake. I was as careful as I could be, but nonetheless got a spot of strawberry topping on the leg of my freshly washed pants.

Not to worry. I remember from my Girl Scout days how to remove fruit and fruit juice stains from cotton. You stretch the fabric over a bowl or basin, and pour boiling water through it. Stain gone. Yes, it’s true that it probably would have disappeared if I had simply washed the pants in warm water with bleach, but if any of it had been left, the cold rinse cycle might have set it. I was taking no chances.

What else did I learn from the Girl Scouts? I learned how to set a table properly (properly = not how my husband does it.) Forks on the left with napkins to the left of the forks. Spoons and knives on the right. Glasses on the right above the knife. I would drive my mom crazy not putting the fork on the napkin. I would later grow up to drive my mom crazy by moving to the South and calling her “mama” in good Southern girl style. Good Northern girls are expected to drop that last vowel (or even the whole syllable) sometime around toilet training. I was a big disappointment to my mama.

I drive my husband crazy with my table setting, too. He also prefers the fork on the napkin, unless he places the fork on the right and the knife on the left. He does try, though. Lately he has been placing both on the left, but with the fork to the left of the napkin.

I also sold cookies, pulling them from door to door in a red wagon borrowed from a friend. Since I had to do this after school, it meant I was usually out until dusk. I don’t know if we kids were really any safer going door to door at dusk back in the 50’s or if our parents just thought we were. Most of the Girl Scout cookies we have bought have been purchased from coworkers whose daughters were supposedly selling them, or else purchased from a table set up in front of Walmart. I think that’s wise.

I learned other things: green serge is not my best look, berets are hard to balance on your head, a square knot is tied “right over left and left over right”. 

The most important lesson came from a troop member in a wheelchair. She had cerebral palsy and couldn’t talk or walk, but her parents wanted her to have the Girl Scout experience. Since our troop leader had had polio as a child and walked with a slight limp, our troop was seen as a suitable place for her. (We never went in for camping much.) We all accepted her, but thinking back on it, we probably didn’t interact with her as much as we could have. In defense of us girls, I should add no one tried to teach us how. Nowadays she would have some sort of augmentative communication device to help her ask “Would you like to buy some cookies?” and help her quote prices as she sat at a table in front of Walmart, but back then we were all in the dark about those with disabilities. I commend her parents for finding a troop for her, and our parents and leaders for impressing on us that we had better be nice.

My life has a way of repeating itself. For 36 years, I worked at a rehab facility that started out being exclusively for children with cerebral palsy and expanded to take care of children with all disabilities. I arrived there shortly before the passage of Public Law 94-142, The Education of All Children Act. I saw the computer revolution that allowed us to give non-verbal children devices to help them talk. So yes, I was able to help children, verbal and non-verbal, practice asking, “Would you like to buy some cookies?”

And I never forgot how to get fruit stains out of my jeans. 


  1. That's sweet. I was in the vaguely-offensively named Indian Princesses, the dad-daughter program put on by the YMCA. (Now it's called Adventure Princesses, more appropriately.) I enjoyed it, but was jealous that the Boy Scouts seemed to learn useful outdoor things, like tying knots and canoeing. To this day, I wish I knew some of those knots.

  2. I don’t know if we kids were really any safer going door to door at dusk back in the 50’s or if our parents just thought we were.

    These days we still go door to door, but always in groups of at least two, and if you're below early-mid teens or so one of those people must be an adult. Mom and I usually went out on weekend afternoons, though later my troop would all go out together during our regular meeting time in the evening.

    We were repeatedly warned never to enter the house of someone we didn't already know, not even if it's the middle of January (as it always was in New Jersey; Ontarians are more sensible). If you're getting seriously worried about the frostbite state of your nose, that just means it's time to go home.

    berets are hard to balance on your head

    Hence the large quantities of bobby pins.

    I haven't learned about getting rid of fruit stains (and I doubt I'm going to in the two months or so I have left), but I have learned many other things.
    I learned that it is perfectly doable to get around Toronto without using a car except to get to the Greyhound station at the beginning, especially if you're willing to spend a couple days letting your feet recover.
    I learned that Marmite tastes awful yet oddly appealing in small quantities, and squid tastes like a fish store smells.
    I learned that campsites contain temporal distortion fields and you need to be able to entertain yourselves for at least five times the amount of time it would be if you were spending it in normal space, or you will spend vast quantities of time being extremely bored.
    Most importantly, I learned that humans are very, very strange, and you'd better get used to it because it is okay, and even if it wasn't it's not going away.