Saturday, October 20, 2018

Patch Me Up

It was all about the patches.

Once you got to be a Camp Fire Girl, you got a vest, and then you could start accumulating these cool patches. I don't know what they were for, because I never got that far. They could've been for anything. Conservation. Service. Congeniality. Typing. Showing up. Marshmallow cuisine. Patch-sewing. Patriarchy-fighting. I don't know.

You had to be a Blue Bird before you could be a Camp Fire Girl, so I was. That got me an outfit, thus enlarging my school wardrobe by 50%, because I got to wear it to school one day a week. We had meetings. We had officers. I was Secretary. All I knew was Secretary was a thing I could be, because Mom had been one before I got invented. I was hoping it was a ceremonial title, but they made me take minutes and stuff.

Summer after fourth grade, we got to go to Camp Mawavi. I was plenty excited. Mom and Dad saw me off when we filed into school buses. I was in line with all my friends and when we got to the front of the line they asked us our ages, and all my friends said Nine and went in one bus, and I said Eight and they sent me to a different bus, like Auschwitz. It was horrible. I squeaked and pointed but I had no experience arguing with an adult, and quickly ran out of options. The buses pulled into camp and my friends went one direction and I never saw them again, and I went with the Little Kids in the Little Cabins, where they checked on us at night by shining flashlights in the window and telling us it was the fairies. The next day they doubled down on the fairy story to point out the fairy dust shining in the dirt, but my older sister was a rockhound and I knew it was mica flakes, and said so. It didn't go over well.

This is how far I would go into the ocean.
I was miserable. We made lanyards out of gimp and potholders out of little loops. The worst was they kept trying to teach me to swim. All week I pretended I had a cold so they wouldn't make me put my head underwater, but at the end we were supposed to demonstrate our ability to put our heads underwater by navigating an obstacle course in the lake. We were supposed to duck under the big floaty thing and come up the other side, and I must have looked mighty wretched, which is how you look when you're only eight and contemplating your own death, because I remember the adult waiting and waiting and finally lifting up the floaty thing so I could go under it with my nose out of the water, and I passed. She must have realized she'd be stuck with my sorry fake-sneezy ass all summer if she didn't.

After that my friends all Flew Up, right there at camp. That's what it was called when you shed your Blue Bird wings and become a Camp Fire Girl and got the patches. If there's anything I hated more than putting my head underwater, it was flowing up. Also, they eliminated our school so we all had to go to a different school for fifth grade. And guess the hell what? All my friends went to Tuckahoe and I went to Taylor Elementary and didn't know anybody. That had to do with our house being in the Nearly Negro section of the county. We were red-lined out of a lot of things, including, not coincidentally, the public swimming pool. I went from being the most popular girl in Mrs. Rejuney's fourth-grade class to being a real nobody with still only two outfits and no friends, and I got an attack of bashful that lasted for years. Never really quite pulled out of it until I got me a little social currency in the form of real titties. Once the dress code was abolished and you could wear hippie jeans and a hippie work shirt to school and still be cool, my remaining obstacles had been lifted.

All of which is to note that I never got to earn patches for a vest. But now I have a hat. A Metro Volunteer Hat, earned for being a frog egg counter for the regional gummint, and I have five Birdathon pins to stick on it too. Shiny ones. Also, I can put my head underwater. I'd rather not, but I can.

40 comments:

  1. Late bloomers still bloom; they just need the right incentive!

    Your summer camp learn-to-swim experience is eerily like mine, except I was too stupid to pretend to have a cold. I just cried until they took pity. And I was twelve, so that tells you a whole lot about me right there.

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    1. Still can't swim. I actually learned when I was 25, enough to save myself in a big lake, but then I didn't go in the water for a couple decades, and the last time I did--four years ago--whoa, I was climbing the ladder again as soon as I was over my head. Not good. Not good.

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  2. Oh, that's awful, being pulled away from your friends like that!

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    1. ...and put in with the LITTLE kids! I was little too, of course, but still...

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  3. I was a Brownie and I never flew up to be a proper Girl Scout - so no patches here either. Never went to a sleepover type camp of any sort. I did, however, become an accomplished swimmer by the time I was seven or so. That said, these days I'd just as soon not put my head underwater. But I still can - if I have to.

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    1. The Girl Scout sash was cool. Kind of cooler than the vest. I do have a photo somewhere of me in my Blue Bird outfit but I'll be darned if I can find it.

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    2. Girl Scouts were cooler all around. We had tents with Coleman lanterns. The Camp Fire girls had cabins with electricity. Wimps.

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    3. Mmm. Cabins. Electricity. It was the S'Mores delivery service that really sealed the deal.

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  4. Never too late. I was/am happy to put my head under water, but never earnt any patches. Or any shiny Birdathon pins.

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    1. If you were to get a patch for one quality or accomplishment, what would it be?

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    2. EC is being modest - she would get one for gardening as well, at the very minimum!

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    3. I knew we couldn't count on her to give us the straight poop!

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    4. I can confirm that-I've seen the gardens.
      Being in the Brownies gave me a lifelong distrust of being pigeon-holed.So much so that I never went to Girl Guides. (called stepping, hopping or flying up, depending on how many merit points you'd amassed.) I doubt I'd get a merit badge for anything today.Animal welfare, perhaps?

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    5. You were a sensitive child. I think I only remember toasting marshmallows. Animal welfare is worthy.

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  5. Awww, thanks for sharing more of your pre-Williamsburg Jr. High history with us. I guess that in fifth grade, the fact that Taylor was socioeconomically superior to Tuckahoe was probably lost on you. I went to Tuckahoe, and we were uniformly middle-class -- didn't have any of those high-falutin' kids from Country Club Hills in our school....

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    1. Taylor was brand-new fresh, I knew that, but you're right, I didn't know the other bit. I wonder how I ended up there? Must have gotten "patched" in with all the kids on the other side of Glebe Road.

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  6. Murr, I have no idea how many of us there are, but you can count every one of us who compulsively read your delightful dispatches from murrville--as a patch. That out to decorate your shirt pretty thoroughly.

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  7. I was pretty disappointed that the CYO camp I went to around the same time you did boasted a twilight lake swim in the brochure that in reality was at 4 p.m. I had a bunkmate named Frog. With a nickname like that of course she went to summer camp.

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    1. Twilight, 4pm, either way I'm dead. I did go to a Lutheran Youth Camp, twice, I think. I remember we slept in Hogans and there was a lake but nobody made me swim in it.

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  8. I remember spending a lot of time underwater, but could never hold my breath very long so I'd be up gasping in another lungful all the time. I had friends who could swim across the pool underwater and others who could almost do the length of the pool underwater. I couldn't quite make it across without coming up for air, but I loved being under.

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    1. Those two things don't make sense together. I am so very fond of air. You wouldn't believe how often I partake.

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    2. I'm fond of air too, me and my inhaler. I sometimes wonder if I was a mermaid or fish in a previous life.

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  9. I was once a boy scout, but the indoctrination into that paramilitary organization for boys got to be more than I could take. It was somewhat similar to your experience. Did I ever tell you about the time I convinced myself that if I inhaled water through my mouth and blew it out through my nose that I would be able to breathe under water like a fish? I was 10 at the time. Is that a topless picture of you?

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    1. Well, shoot. It does look like there's a wardrobe malfunction going on, there.

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  10. I was a good swimmer, and never interested in joining anything. The fewer people around, the better, as far as I was concerned. Still feel that way.

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  11. If you look closely, you'll see me in my Brownie uniform which I wore for picture day in the third grade, along with a hairstyle that looks like I combed it with an egg beater. (The result of a bad home perm.) My uniform looks a bit wrinkled because I probably neglected to tell my mother we had a troop meeting that day until too late. And probably didn't tell her about picture day either. I was a bad Brownie and even worse Girl Scout. Never got any patches and flunked Table Setting 101 miserably. I did get the plate in the right spot though. I remember our Scout Leader saying "Well, that's a start."

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    1. HA! Oh, Mom gave me a Toni in fourth grade. What a disaster. I think I smiled in every photo of me during childhood except when they tried to Shirley Temple me.

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    2. Between you and trailer trash up there, I'm in stitches. Oh, that reminds me. I got my sewing badge pretty early on but it took me longer to get my badge for fire-starting.

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  12. I was a Brownie, but I never could learn to tie my tie right, so I couldn't even get badge one. Then we moved to a different town, which was a relief.

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    1. Did you have to move every time you messed up in Brownies?

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    2. It's part of the oath. It's like WITSEC for the tying impaired.

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    3. Am I the only one who had to look up WITSEC?

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    4. Luckily, Mom had learned her lesson and never enrolled me in anything except school from then on. :)

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  13. We didn't have Blue Birds or Camp Fire Girls but I flew all the way up to a Junior Girl Scout before I finally hit puberty and quit before I could fly up to a Senior. I still have the sash with ALL the badges I could possibly earn. I was and remain an over-achiever in all things.

    I'd swap my GS sash with badges for that hat in a New York minute though.

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  14. I was a Girl Scout from Brownies all through Seniors. (We didn't have Daisies back then or I probably would've been one). My mom was a Girl Scout leader so it was predestined. However, I was never a real go-getter and only got a couple of badges (same as your patches) over and above our troop earned as a whole. I totally relate to your camp experience. My mom sent me off to sleepaway camp for a week when I was 8. No swimming involved, but lots of lanyards and pot holders. I didn't know anyone there and I was miserable the first few days. All I remember is those damn potholders and also finding the carcasses of newly-hatched cicadas. Apparently it was the year of one of those 17-year-cicada swarms. As for feeling ripped away from your friends, we moved from upstate New York, where I had lots of friends, when I was 14, and had to start high school in a new state with no one I knew. I got made fun of by the kids who all knew each other and was miserable for two years until I finally made friends, mostly a year younger than I was. It took a long time to get over that inferiority complex I developed as a result!

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