(From "Patches and Pins" by Mike Walton (c) 1998 )
I had a "heart to heart" talk with my first wife, the one I called "Henna-red" because of her naturally flowing reddish-brown hair.
She wanted to know when I was going to finally "grow up" and stop being a "boy scout." I told her firmly but lovingly, "never."
"You've done all they will let you do in it...and then some. Why won't you just quit?" she responded. She was right -- I have done my share of Scouting...and perhaps some of some others also over time. To her, it was not so much spending more time with her and our two kids (at the time), with a third bursting from her belly any day back then. I was working two jobs, having been transferred back to the National Guard after a pretty successful tour on active duty. So really, I had three jobs.
She could no longer participate in Scouting due to her child-rearing responsibilities she set for herself. She wanted to be "that mom," doing things similar to what her mom did for her and her two sisters. She was active in Scouting -- Exploring -- and was a great Advisor and mentor to a small group of teens where we lived in Germany.
The issue was the Scouts had no need for her -- nor me -- in Georgia. They let it be known, and that added jet fuel to what was a slow tendering fire. Millie got up and went about her Mom's duties.
I sat there and asked myself, "just when is it time to quit?" Is it when people feel they no longer have a "place" or "function"? I remember a friend of mine -- Charles -- Chuck. Chuck was a fireball -- active in everything in our community where we lived in Pattonville, Germany, our last duty station. Every time you turned around, there he was. He was on the "other Troop" in town's committee.
"I'm quitting the Committee," he told me while he was ringing up my things at the Thrift Shop, one of the many places he volunteered at. Having retired from the Army and remained with his German wife in Kornwestheim, a suburb of Ludwigsburg, Chuck found lots of ways to help. He ran the Headstart classes with his wife, teaching new families how to cope with living in Central Europe. He was the Vice-President of the German-American Kontact Club. Managed the video store where my wife worked for a few hours to get some "mad money" for herself. Worked at the PX auto store for a few hours himself. The Thrift Shop, a bagger at the Coffey Barracks/Ludwigsburg Commissary, and who knows what else.
Chuck was a busy guy back then. So it took me by surprise that he told me he would "quit" one of the things he enjoyed doing -- Scouting.
"Yeah, I've been doing the Committee thing for a few years, and the new people just don't know how to use me, they said. I was 'stuck in my ways' -- hell, I just want to do Scouts the way I remembered it, not all of this fancy stuff with the skill badges and the kids earning merits at 12 or 13... maybe I'm just getting too old for all of this."
I told him that Millie was making overtures also about my Scouting. Back then, I was a Commissioner, board member, and Exploring chair. Scoutmaster of the other Troop in town, and co-parent (when the Army kept me in town and Scouting wasn't going on) to a baby and "one in the oven." A lot of stuff for a young Army junior officer.
"You can't," Chuck said to me, handing my bag of second-hand things to me.
"You can't. For every person who says, "you should stop," there are four others out there wanting you to keep going." He moved from behind the counter, and after seeing if anyone needed help, he walked me out the door and into the parking area.
"It's a test. See, if you all of a sudden hold your hands up and say, "I quit," everyone who was watching you will say "YEAH, We KNEW he couldn't do it!" Better you get fired than you quit. Better they toss you out than you quit. Better they have to compete to find your replacement -- and I don't know much about you, but I bet you'd be hard to replace -- than for you to just up and run away."
"You just said YOU'RE gonna quit, Chuck!" I said, placing my purchases in the front passenger seat of the car and closing it.
"I'm gonna quit being a committee person! But I'm NOT quitting Scouting altogether. There are other things I bet I can do that nobody else wants to do, and that'll be what I'll end up doing. I'll learn some new terms. Meet some different people. Who knows -- I may end up over at YOUR Troop. But don't let someone or something influence you in quitting. There's a lot more you can do... you just have to figure it out, do it and do it the best you can."
That was the last time I saw Chuck. They closed the Thrift Shop and moved it to another Kaserne down in Kornwestheim, hiring people from Army Community Services to work it.
So as I sat there, remembering that time and conversation a short period back, I got up, grabbed my coffee cup, and walked to where Millie was seated at in the living room, sorting clothes.
"No, I'll find something else in Scouting to do, Mil, " I told her. "I will find a way to continue to do what I do best -- write, talk and influence others. I may have to learn how to do it wearing a coat and tie. I might even apply again to become a professional."
I then took a drink of coffee and said, "Besides, when is it a good time to quit? To me, once I raised my hand in the Scout sign, I was hooked for life. I guess you'll have to break my arm or something..."
When I said, "...Scout sign", my little almost three years old raised her right hand and arm, holding two separated fingers up in the air. The Cub Scout sign. She's been a tagalong with me to WEBELOS Den meetings each Saturday morning.
"I think you'll have to someday make her quit too...good luck with that!"