Once a Girl Scout

I could have been the cookie champion, but it was not to be

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Growing up in the 1950s, especially in small towns like Connellsville, Girl Scouting was a big deal and one of my earliest passions. I loved everything about it ... wearing a uniform, earning lots of pins and badges, saluting. And the highlight of our scouting year was the annual cookie sale. This was when I hit my stride.

I viewed every cookie as the salvation of scouting! Orders were taken in February for delivery in early March, an event that coincided with my birthday on March 4, which I saw in my childlike way as an alignment of the stars foretelling a stellar year of sales!

I would put on my carefully ironed uniform, covered with patches I had laboriously sewn on with my small fingers (and reluctantly covered it with the outerwear that my mother made me put on and which I quickly removed as soon as I was out of her sight). I consulted my handbook with the precision of a Marine recruit lest anything should be out of place.

The weather was always awful. "March in like a lion and out like a lamb" my mom would chortle. But after school and on weekends, out I would go. I wandered into strange neighborhoods, across dangerous streets. I filled up one order sheet after another. My eye was on the prize!

When the cookies arrived, my dad would drive our black Ford station wagon to the "Cookie Station," where we would load up my cases, then carry them into the front hall of our house. I remember my little brother trying to build forts with them.

I would spend hours sorting them, plotting efficient delivery routes. I would fill my brother's Red Flyer wagon, covered with his yellow patrol boy rain slicker, and make trip after trip.

All the while, I kept an anxious eye on the other scouts' number of orders. My greatest dream was to be called on stage and awarded the certificate for being cookie sales champ.

The certificate was always given out by the doyenne of scouting in Connellsville (I shall call her Mrs. Crumb). I would lie awake at night deciding how I would mount the stage, smile and acknowledge the crowd, perhaps wave and sheepishly make a few remarks. Most certainly my picture would be on the front page of the Daily Courier.

The weather one year was especially brutal -- sleet, wind, icy cold. For the last delivery, I took a shortcut through the muddy ballfield behind our house. The wagon and I were totally bogged down. My nose was running. I was hungry but would never touch that last box of cookies. My hand-me-down, too-large rubber boots were sucked right off my feet.

I started to cry. I pulled my feet out of the worthless boots and slogged to Mrs. Pernatozzi's house. Bent over, mud up to the hem of my uniform, I cried all the way home. And I had wet my pants a little.

My dad said I looked like I had been on the Bataan Death March. I had no idea what he meant as we had not learned about World War II in grade school. But I knew I looked bad.

The great day arrived when Mrs. Crumb would announce the cookie sales winner. And I lost by 10 boxes.

The winner was a girl whose family ran a small chain of three drug stores. It turned out that her dad, in collusion with Mrs. Crumb, bought case after case of cookies that were put out on the stores' lunch counters for free.

I had a complete meltdown. I was crushed at being robbed of my crown due to the cheating and unfairness of these adults, all at the expense of a little girl whose whole world was being a scout. Yes, my parents said, it was unfair, but nothing could be done.

Well, I screwed up my courage and looked up the phone number for Mrs. Crumb.

I hung up the first time she answered as I was so scared of her and the apparent power she had over my tiny life.

The second time, I told her in a wobbly voice that I knew what had happened and how hurt I was. She said in her lofty, snooty-lady voice that what really mattered was the money raised for all the scouts, and shame on me for not knowing that. Click! She hung up.

I put down the phone and had learned a powerful life lesson.

Well, a little bit of me died that day. I went on to earn the Curved Bar (now the Gold Award), the equivalent of Eagle Scout. But I never again had a zeal for scouting, or a lot of other things.

I remain a fan of the Girl Scouts. I buy cookies every year from every scout who asks. But not from adults. I see awards given for selling 300 or 400 boxes and I wonder just who exactly was selling them. There is now a cookie app.

I still feel a bit of my once-boundless joy when I see those green boxes, too, and I wish it upon the young women in green who hand them to me.

opinion_commentary

Susan Parker is a writer living in Ligonier (fiona1433@comcast.net). You can find her blog, Zuzu's Petals, at sue-parker.blogspot.com.


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