Our older son, Curt, and his 8-year-old son Casey have just returned from what I imagine was a challenging and inspiring Cub Scout camp-out at Emerald Bay, Catalina Island.
Under Scout rules, there had to be one adult for every three boys; my son was one of those adults.
When they got home he sent me, without comment, a letter of instructions and an equipment and clothing list issued to all Cub Scouts and adults attending the camp-out.
It seemed routine, except for one warning: "If you do not wish your child to participate in rifle activities, note this on the form. (Note: Our rifle range is under full supervision of a certified National Rifle Assn. rangemaster and strict safety regulations are followed.)"
I wondered if the precautions were as strict as they were on the rifle range in the Marine Corps when I was a boot. If you left the range with your rifle bolt closed (in a firing position) you had to open it with your nose. The bolts were very stiff, and had to be opened by shoving on a steel handle. You couldn't do it with your nose without losing your skin. On icy mornings this was very disagreeable.
The list of clothing and equipment recommended for the camp-out was extensive. It included Scout shirt and shorts or long pants for evening colors and dinner; jacket or sweater; pajamas, swim trunks, beach towel, tennis shoes, sleeping bag, ground cloth, duffel bag, flashlight, Scout knife, toothpaste and toothbrush, soap and shampoo, washcloths, deodorant, shaving gear (if needed), sunscreen, first-aid kit and insect repellent. Optional items included camera and film, clock, field glasses, fishing tackle, hat, hiking shoes, musical instruments, Scout handbook, spiritual reading, snorkel, swim fins and mask, watch and canteen.
I tried to imagine an 8-year-old Cub Scout loaded down with all that gear. I remembered the morning we pushed off from Maui for Iwo Jima. I thought I was overburdened by my pack as I trudged down the road toward the loading trucks. I didn't have half the stuff those Cub Scouts were expected to tote.
As I remember, all I had to carry was a poncho, a carbine and some cartridges, a mess kit and cup, a razor, a toothbrush, extra socks and underwear, a notebook and pen, a picture of my wife and a combination knife. The knife was not for killing the enemy, but for opening rations.
I didn't even have a bayonet, because bayonets weren't used with carbines. Considering my ineptitude in hand-to-hand combat, I had no intention of engaging the enemy hand-to-hand in any case. I also had to carry my portable Corona typewriter.
What alarmed me, though, was not the list of equipment recommended for the Scouts, but the list of contraband:
Under the heading "Leave the Following Items at Home" were firearms, ammunition, fireworks, large knives, sheath knives, switch blades, comic books, pornography, illegal substances, alcohol, fish spears and spear guns.
I wondered whether it was feared that those items would be brought along by Cub Scouts themselves, or by the adults.
One shudders to think of Cub Scouts packing switch blades, and it is even more chilling to think that their fathers would.
But there must have been some anxiety that such items would turn up in camp or they wouldn't have been proscribed.
If I had been one of the adults I might have been tempted to take along a jug of wine. I have an idea it can get pretty boring for an adult after taps in a Cub Scout camp.
In the Marine Corps only the officers were allowed to carry liquor. I don't know that they were actually allowed to; but I know they did. Once or twice one of them gave me a nip.
One can not but applaud the Scouts for encouraging boys to bring their Scout Handbooks and some spiritual reading--whatever that might be--while banning comic books.
Whether the rule against pornography was directed against the boys or their fathers I don't know. I imagine that sharing an outdoor experience with one's son is rather spiritual, and pulling a Playboy magazine from one's duffel bag around the campfire could strike the wrong note.
What troubles me about the list is the shadow it casts on our times. Would a father going to an outing with his small son really consider taking booze, illegal drugs and pornography?
It's depressing enough to think that he'd take a deodorant.