Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Cookie puss

This post from Salon's Broadsheet column--about Minneapolis-area Girl Scout troops actively recruiting little girls from the area's Muslim population--got me thinking about my own days wearin' of the green. On general principles, hey, I'm all for the outreach: Muslim kids, atheist kids, whatever--get 'em out there camping and making hideous craft projects, get them into the hideous green polyester jumpers, all in the name of cameraderie. I followed some of the links in the article and was genuinely shocked to see any discrimination suits brought against the Girl Scouts, frankly--someone tried to exclude particular kids? seriously? Because they ought to be BEGGING kids to join, based on the inevitable realization that came to me and every other girl of 11 or so in the whole Totem Council, eventually: that Girl Scouts were...pretty lame.

Oh, I wanted to love it. I think it's still very much a part of my nature, this craving for order and community that I experienced as a kid. To be an Official Member of any organization that had regimented achievement awards was frankly my wildest dream. Badges, buttons, stickers, cheap ribbons with PARTICIPANT in flaking gold print: sign me up. When I was about six, I had a rare begging tantrum in a thrift shop with my mother when I discovered a Campfire Girls Bluebird uniform on the rack. I thought that the mere outfit conferred Belonging, and would open a path to an endless stream of beads or patches, some tangible reward. I fell on the floor and whined, to no avail--obviously not following my reasoning, Mom saw no reason to buy me the perky paramilitary ensemble for a group to which I didn't belong. Eventually she did locate a Brownie troop with evening hours in our neighborhood. I hit it off famously with the leader's daughter and spent many happy hours, rocking that brown beanie and singing the "Johnny Appleseed" grace before snack. When we had our "bridging" ceremony to Junior level, somebody's sweet dad had actually constructed a wee wooden bridge, like the kind you'd see in faux Japanese-garden landscaping. It was painted seafoam green. They set this up in the rec hall basement and one by one we clomped over it and received our little gold-winged badges. I dragged my bored father to Penney's to purchase the official Juniors uniform, the REAL thing, not the brown Brownie baby dress...though I was unable to talk him into all the extra accessories I coveted, like the collapsible green plastic pill case/drinking cup, or the special tassels for my knee socks. No matter. I had the green jumper. It was the real shit, man.

Actually participating in Juniors, however, was a rite of passage very similar to getting my first period, in that it took me about 30 minutes to realize that this sucked. The troop leader was one of those rare lifers, in scouting; she'd achieved the rank of General or the equivalent, I think, and she had one of the old-school 50s scout leader uniforms, the olive-drab shirtdress and Mountie hat. I wish I was making this up. Her daughter was in the troop with us. Lois. Lois was adopted. We knew this because it came in her introduction: "My name is Lois and I'm adopted, so you have to do what I say." Is it wrong, to look back from an adult vantage point and think of a ten-year-old girl as a spoiled little bitch?

Junior Girl Scouts. It's a bad age, I think: 9 to 12, so that you have newly minted dorks like I was, dying to start raking in the serious badges...but they're paired with the jaded 6th graders who spend the campouts brushing their hair and applying lip gloss. I also hated the cookie sales, and was forever just making the cutoff to earn the little "Cookie Sale '80" patch. PARTICIPANT, again, basically. Of course there was always the one girl who sold, like, 500 boxes to your 24-and-eight-of-those-to-grandma. Nowadays, too, they just set up a card table in front of the Safeway and bludgeon you with their cuteness; sending little girls door-to-door is considered too dangerous. But me, I had to lug that damn carton up and down the block for what seemed like months at a time. The collection envelope had a little pie chart printed on it that illustrated what percentage of each sale went to the troop, to the council, to the bakery. I remember this because the old coot who lived two doors down would make me explicate this in detail each year before shelling out his $1.50 for a box of shortbread trefoils. This was also the period when our local council experimented with a "healthy" alternative to cookies, these whole-grain sesame crackers that were impossible to unload. Those made up a significant portion of Grammy's purchases, come to think of it. We had those suckers crushed up in meatloaves and atop casseroles for months. Possibly years.

I was a lousy Girl Scout, frankly. For all my covetous fascination with the merit badges...I earned one. One! That's got to be the record, for suckage, right? It was "Cooking," I remember, and I'd done all the tasks for it at home, on my grandmother signing them off in the little red badge book. (So probably I made meatloaf with those effing crackers, no doubt.) I stitched it proudly, crookedly, to the dark-green sash (a "Sewing" badge was never in the cards, for me). Then I quit. They actually owed me a couple, but I left without cashing them in.

I still have the sash, though--slightly mildewed, that long swath of empty green polyester, indicating my considerable lack of merit. I know exactly where the damn thing is; it's made multiple appearances in Halloween costumes and, once, at one of Sis's "Survivor" parties--when that crazy Scout leader was on? Sis dressed up as her, strapping my fourth-grader's sash on over her 30-year-old bosom like a tourniquet. Good times.


chicklegirl said...

Scary. I remember buying mint cookies from you and Kathy and Liese in middle school.

This also brought flashbacks of the year I spent in Campfire Girls with Cheryl (remember her?) At one point I realized that she got some kind of merit badge or bonus points for getting a friend to join, and things fell apart pretty quickly after that. But oh, the candy sales: the almond roca and the mints and the GUILT.

Like you said, good times.

Holly said...

Oh man, Kim. I forgot you were a girl scout too. You were a better one than I, however -- I never once in all those years got the Cookie Sale 80 badge. (Probably because Liese pretty much scoured our neighborhood in the first 30 minutes of the sale, so no one wanted to buy from me.) And my family never bought cookies from me; hmph. I started GS in first grade. My mom was the leader, and it was fun. Then Kathy's mom took over, and it became a bit more like boot camp. My mom made me quit Junior's because Kathy's mom wanted to force me to buy all the cookies I couldn't sell (she wanted us to get the most cookies sold troop badge, apparently). Just as well; it was getting a bit embarrassing at that point.

Kim said...

You guys! I am shocked at how much MORE I could go on about my kelly-green-tinged Girl Scout memories, spurred by you both! Somehow I hadn't remembered your mom being a leader, Holly--but I do remember Kathy's mom. She was another "lifer," wasn't she? Wore the little lapel pin with every outfit? I do remember finding that odd, and starting to back away sloowly from the whole thing, right around 6th grade.

And who could forget Cheryl? I am almost certain that she was in that Camp Fire group with my best bud in elementary school, Alyssa. At least once, after a sleepover, I got to hang out at one of *their* meetings and dyed Ukranian Easter eggs with them--a far more sophisticated craft than I think my group ever mastered. So it's entirely possible, K, that I knew you before I knew you, if that makes sense. Who knew, that these little-kid sororal (?) organizations had their hooks in us quite that deep?!

chicklegirl said...

Kim, you're right--Alyssa was in our Camp Fire group. I remember that she and Cheryl were really tight, but I don't remember the Ukranian eggs, so that must have been before my time. I think I joined in seventh grade--whichever year it was that Cheryl came to Washington Middle School.

Before then I never really knew any kids in my neighborhood because ever since third grade I had been bussed across town to IPP. So it was weird (and let's face it, impossible) to try and break into a group of girls who had known each other for so long and had already drawn the boundaries for their friendships. Especially considering my apalling lack of social skills at the time.

chicklegirl said...

Oh, and I had to laugh at your description of Kathy's mom. Because even though I was never in Girl Scouts with you guys, that's exactly how I remember her! I wonder what ever happened to Kathy...