Building s’more character

The author and son at camp.

The author and son at camp.

Aaron J. Brown

Aaron J. Brown is an Iron Range blogger, author, radio producer and columnist for the Hibbing Daily Tribune.

My youthful excursions to Cub Scout and Boy Scout camps run together in a blur. Tents. Fires. Tripping on tree roots.

One thing I do remember is that my dad was there, especially for my first camping trip as a Webelos Scout. He could only stay one night and his snoring shook the tent flaps and rattled the fire ring. That recollection returned to me last week as I took my oldest son Henry on his first Webelos camp trip. He’s the same age I was then, and I’m the same age as my dad. If I snored like grandpa he was kind enough not to say anything.

Henry and his younger brothers Doug and George have taken to Scouting with a great deal of enthusiasm. They’ve yet to be distracted by jobs, activities and girls, nor do they know the frustrations of tying knots from a line art diagram probably drawn by a committee located somewhere in Hell. If they overcome such challenges, perhaps our boys will gain lifelong skills as Scouts, one badge at a time.

It had been a long time since I’ve been to camp. I’d slept in a tent as recently as this summer, but “going to camp” is a lot more than sleeping bags and trail mix. It has all the structure of a school day without the hygiene.

For one thing, I had forgotten the strange sociological effects that occur every time teenagers are given power over large groups of people. The oldest leaders there were in their early 20s. The chain of command often placed young people over their peers. The whole thing resembled a pack of relatively friendly wolves wearing cargo shorts and dark sunglasses.

Two older, stronger staffers seemed to be sorting out an alpha-beta relationship. Teen counselors in the middle of the pack feigned indifference, but quickly seized command situations when they became available. The sea of parents floating about the place seemed more like U.N. observers for parliamentary elections in some new woodland republic.

Meantime, one feckless omega on the swimming dock desperately sought to ensure that only six kids were on the floaty thing at one time. I sat next to him as he counted “One, two, three … one, two, three, FOUR.” Each time he got closer to six his voice got louder and squeakier. “One, two, three, four, FIVE … SIX! That’s SIX! No, that’s SEVEN!” It went on like that.

It had been a while since I was fully immersed in a character-driven sitcom plot like this. These counselors had clearly done so many sessions of camp that every song and dance was replete with inside jokes and the kind of uncontrollable laughter common to the onset of madness.

It didn’t take long to remember how much I hate group clapping. My son hates it too, so I was forced to pretend to care that he wasn’t participating when I myself would rather pump the latrines than provide rhythm to the Paul Bunyan musical number. Mostly we stood next to each other in tacit understanding that the discomfort was temporary.

The most important thing I took away from scout camp was that my endurance over lack of comfort (or, in some shocking instances, lack of coffee) was not the reason I was there. Simply, I was there to help my son and his friend have a good time. So long as that was happening my job was done.

Indeed, memories run together, a montage of seven-second thought-clips melted together like a S’more. The heavenly combination of graham cracker, marshmallow and chocolate is just as good now as it was when I was a kid. My heart warms to know it always will be.

Aaron J. Brown is an author and college instructor from northern Minnesota’s Iron Range. He writes the blog and hosts the Great Northern Radio Show on Northern Community Radio. This piece first appeared in the Sunday, July 26, 2015 edition of the Hibbing Daily Tribune.

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