Be a sister to every Girl Scout

(Last fall, the Girl Scouts here opened a new headquarters building inside the bounds of Camp Dellwood. I spent many summer weeks there. It’s a fairly large plot of land off Girls School Road near 21st St., and until recently, there was little outside to indicate it was a camp. That’s a quiet area, but close to all sorts of busy spots (Speedway, Chapel Hill) and long-ago-developed neighborhoods. When the camp was established some 90 years ago, though, it was quite rural. The council sent out an email asking for memories of Dellwood, and here is what I submitted. I had this as a draft on here, but forgot to post it until now.)

I have so many memories of being a summer camper, attending troop sleepovers and trainings, and serving as a mini-aide for several summers as a young teenager. My strongest memories from my mini-aide days include the Thursday night ritual of TP-ing the field near the swimming pool, convincing frightened girls that the dark wasn’t that scary (it’s just the absence of light – everything that was there in the day is still there), and encountering a girl my age who was almost definitely an escapee from the Girls’ School but was trying to pass herself off as a fellow mini-aide. I also recall how us mini-aides always wanted to listen to other mini-aides’ CDs, like N’Sync, the Offspring, and blink-182. To this day, I occasionally run into a girl I took care of or worked with at camp. I also got stuck in a port-a-potty right before a flag ceremony, and had to yell and bang on the door so someone could rescue me. This happened right as everyone was quieting down for the ceremony, so when I was freed, everyone was watching, and burst into applause.

When my troop went there, we sometimes stayed in a building and sometimes stayed in the tents, but we always had fun. One year it was the dump-cake that just belonged in the dump. Another year, my mom remembers staying up all night – originally to keep an eye on us Brownies, but then to get deep into conversation with her new co-leader. They became good friends that night and lead my sister’s and my troop together until every last girl graduated from high school (and many of us earned their Gold Awards.)

As far as being a young summer camper, I remember how cool the mini-aides seemed, doing awesome crafts and learning funny songs, daddy-long-legs, playing with a giant beach ball with a globe printed on it, and always asking when we would finally go to the pool. My mom was a leader at another campsite, but I would proudly point her out to the girls in my unit. I did the same when I saw my younger sister. I also have this fond memory…

I wrote this a few years ago for my blog:

In the spring of 1993, I bridged from Daisy Girl Scouts to Brownies. My mom, the troop leader, found a little bridge to put in the center of the stage (actually just the front of a church sanctuary), and we held up daisy flowers we’d made. I read the Brownie story (“Twist me, turn me, show me the elf. I looked in the water, and I saw…”) out loud for everyone, then we took turns crossing over the bridge to become Brownie Girl Scouts. Very exciting stuff.

My mom and I were getting really into Girl Scouts, which wasn’t something we would have predicted a year before. A few weeks into kindergarten, my teacher passed out a letter to show our parents, mentioning that Scout troops were forming in the area. It sounded cool, but I don’t remember thinking much of it until I handed it to my mom and we discussed it. She’d never been a Scout, but my dad had earned Eagle status, and we’d all enjoyed the cookies the big girls sold at church. My mom called the number on the flyer and learned that leaders were needed, so suddenly Troop 404 formed. About eight of us joined – a few from my school, a few from surrounding schools without troops. An elegant woman named Celeste, my friend Jasmine’s mom, was the co-leader, and other parents volunteered their time to make our Daisy year a great one. We celebrated the Chinese New Year (“Ni hao! Gong hay fat choi!”) and toured a Hardee’s restaurant (the automatic drink machine was everyone’s favorite.)

So when summer came along, we decided to spend a week doing day camp at Camp Dellwood. The camp served all of central Indiana and just so happened to be two miles up the road from my house, hidden in thick trees between softball fields and subdivisions encroaching on cornfields. My mom would be a leader for a unit of older girls, while I would be with a group of first graders and my sister would spend her days with the “Tags”, the preschool – or male – children whose parents worked at the camp.

My memories of the Rotherwood unit are generally hazy. I remember eating a sandwich from a Tupperware container, then accidentally throw away the container. I remember ponchos and canteen sets and canvas tents and the thrill of the swimming pool. But most of all, I remember Allison.

Allison was a perfect child. Curly blonde hair. Sweet to everyone, it seemed. Adults doted on her. I was impressed by her, I wanted to be her, I was jealous of her, and I suspected she wasn’t as perfect as everyone thought. Tensions boiled over one afternoon in a meadow, when one of us (her?) pushed the other (me? That’s how I remember it.)

Time moves differently when you’re six, as nearly everyone has noticed. Day camp was only about the length of a school day and lasted Monday-Friday. Thursday night everyone slept at the camp (except the sissies whose parents picked them up.) So while my time with Allison had quite an arc to it, it happened over the course of just a few days.

On Thursday evenings every camper gathered at the amphitheater to sing songs. Each unit presented a skit, and our unit was to act out the tale of Snow White. Every first grader wanted to be Snow White, of course. I was no exception. I had a real flair for the dramatic, and I longed to be one of those dreamy Disney princesses. Ariel, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, etc. (Belle was my favorite, but I placed her in a different category, perhaps unconsciously noting her self-determination and autonomy.) Flowing hair, poofy gowns, admired by all, sweet and pure and kind.

Of course, Allison got the part.

And me? My theatrics had not gone unnoticed by the unit leaders. I was cast as the other female lead… the wicked witch. Hmm. Well, at least I’d get to act in front of everyone. But Allison was going to be the star. I could never win.

The thing was, I wasn’t normally too competitive with other girls. Boys, yes. I wanted them to realize that girls could be just as good as them or better. Girls, I mostly wanted to befriend and encourage. The patriarchy was going to stop in my generation!

But Allison represented something I didn’t think I could be or achieve. She reminded me of a story my mom told about a perfect little girl named Connie in her preschool class. Connie was just like Allison, and one day, when no one was looking, my mom pinched her. I understood perfectly.

So when the play started, I was ready to be that wicked witch. No, I wouldn’t pinch her. But I would let her know how I felt.

When my scene began, I walked towards Allison just as I pictured it in the movie. I hunched over and leaned in when I got to her, pausing for dramatic effect. Her blue eyes suddenly looked timid in my presence. I thrust the apple towards her. “Bite it,” I snarled. And to my surprise, people laughed and clapped. Allison took the apple, bit it, and fell over dramatically. It was quite satisfying to see. She was very cute and played her part well. I’m sure she got lots of congratulations and attention afterwards.

But it no longer mattered to me. I was the star of the show, as far as I could tell. People came up to me immediately, asking me to say “Bite it” again and again. I hadn’t realized my performance had been funny or well-executed until then. I hadn’t even realized that the witch could be a star, or that anyone would enjoy her performance. Up until then, most people in my world had only had time for princesses.

Suddenly it was clear that the villains and vamps were far more fun to play. The world was full of princesses and damsels in distress, and sure, it was fun to pretend to be them. But it was far, far more satisfying to make people laugh or to be evil or saucy. There were many roles a girl could play. (I’m pretty sure Girl Scouts was founded, in large part, to teach us that lesson.)

And with my new-found confidence, it was easy to smile and wave goodbye to Allison on Friday afternoon. She’d was no longer a threat; she’d helped illuminate something very important. And I’d convinced her to bite it.

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