Homesick and Deep Six: Confessions of a Former Boy Scout

A lot was going on in May of 1956:

Rummaging through a box of photos the other day, I came across one I had taken as a kid back in May of 1956. Similar to Marcel Proust’s taste of a petite madeleine that conjured in him “involuntary memories,” seeing this photo sparked my own mixed bag of memories and emotions. And, because these memories include a particular food episode, I thought it appropriate to share them with you for today’s BigLittleMeals blog.

[Before I go further, I should confess that I missed my sister’s wedding in order to go on the Boy Scout camping trip I will be telling you about. To this day I harbor a nagging sense of guilt for choosing a camping trip over such an important family event. But that’s another issue for another time.]

Our Scoutmaster snoozing (photo by me).

When I snapped that photo (shown above) I was one of the 4,526,302 boys who in May of 1956 were members of the American Boy Scouts. Our Chino scout troop was on a week long camping trip in the California Sierras. In the chair snoozing is our Scoutmaster on the day before we started on a 4-day backpacking hike over the rugged and beautiful Piute Pass.

In order to appreciate what I am about to confess, you need to know a little about our Scoutmaster. To start with, he was quite strict and demanding and ran a tight ship, so to speak. I was quite intimidated by him, which may explain why the only picture I took of him on the entire trip was one I surreptitiously snapped while he was dozing in a chair.

While we were in our base camp prior to the big hike, he emphasized how important it was that we all finish our meals, ostensively to fortify ourselves for the rigors of the hike. I don’t recall much about what we were served with the exception of seemingly gigantic wedges of iceberg lettuce with each meal (without dressing!). He told us that the lettuce was good for our digestive system and insured us that it would help with an essential prerequisite for the upcoming hike – moving our bowels. He warned us that those who were not able to be perform this bodily function would have to stay at the base camp while the rest of the troop was on the hike. I actually think he meant it.

One poor guy was unable to perform the deed until just prior to our bed time the night before the hike. He got a standing ovation as he exited the outhouse with his arms raised in victory.

The rations for our upcoming four-day back pack trip. Mercifully, iceberg lettuce was not packed in (photo by me).

What I am about to confess has nothing to do with my success or lack thereof in accomplishing my latrine obligations. It has everything to do with what I didn’t eat on that trip. Even as I think about this some 66 years later can I feel that sting of chagrin I felt back then.

I had never been away from my home and family for any length of time prior to our camping trip. Quite to my embarrassment, soon after we arrived I found myself getting terribly homesick. I had never felt that way before and at the time I wasn’t sure what was going on. I could barely interact with the other boys and had to fight back tears, which if shed in their presence would have been devastatingly humiliating.

Some of my fellow scouts (photo by me).

I should interject here that when I began thinking about this blog I did some web surfing about home sickness. Some studies estimate that up to 75 percent of American adults have at some time in their lives experienced bouts of homesickness. Furthermore, according to Webmd, homesickness can lead to physical symptoms such as “lack of appetite, stomach problems, lack of sleep, headaches, and fatigue.” It is the “lack of appetite” part of homesickness that (finally) brings me to the object of my confession.

We were served our first camp dinner while I was in the throes of my misery. With the exception of that wedge of iceberg lettuce, I have no recollection of what kind of food was placed on my WWI vintage mess plate . But I do recall being very aware of our Scoutmaster’s admonition of how important it was that we all finish our meals.

My vintage WWI mess kit (purchased at a war surplus store near Chino).

But I was feeling so awful I couldn’t bring myself to swallow a bite of any of it. So I sat on a rock away from the others and pretended to eat. Then, when I didn’t think anyone was looking, I dumped my dinner behind the rock and brought my empty mess kit plate back to the cooking area to wash it.

Later that evening, while we were gathered around the campfire, the Scoutmaster announced to the group that he had discovered that one of our scouts had dumped his dinner under a rock. My heart froze. I was sure he was going demand that the guilty party fess up. But he only went on to say how disappointed he was and something to the effect that this was not the way that true Boy Scouts act. He then dropped the subject and didn’t mention it again.

I never could figure out if he knew I was the guilty party. But the mortification of thinking that he might have known still lingers, buried no doubt amongst other suppressed memories that periodically and unexpectedly find their way back to the surface. Not having been raised a Catholic, I have only a fuzzy understanding of the rationale behind “doing” confession, but I’m hoping that by openly admitting my transgression in a food blog I will have earned some form of absolution for my sin (leaving one less demon lurking somewhere inside me).

Absolution or not, I feel like the confession has lifted a weight from my soul and that I may have the makings of a good Boy Scout after all. I appreciate having a listening audience. Scout’s honor!

Afterword:

By the time we hit the trail over Piute Pass my homesickness had faded and my appetite was back. Although my chagrin over the meal-dumping caper lingered on, the overwhelming beauty and majesty of the mountains around us made the incident seem less significant. Over all, the trip was a wonderful experience about which I have many more fond memories than not.

Summit Lake on the Piute Pass trail – elevation 11,423 feet (photo by me)
Piling into one of the parent’s cars to head back to Chino at the end of the camping trip (photo by me).

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