Stories were passed on down to us that more often than not, piqued our interest. Vague names became legends in our minds. A station wagon would pull up in front of a neighbor's house and out would pop somebody's father who would take an overstuffed canvas knapsack from the back of a red faced boy struggling under its weight and toss it into the back of a vehicle. Off they would go for the weekend. Well, whether you knew it or not, we were in the background, watching un-noticed.
Those on the outside looking in could never understand it. In junior high, some kids judged it to be for pansies or for those who weren't cool. But they would never know exactly what it was for their preconceptions had prohibited them from considering such a possibility. We, who knew, let them rail on with their indictments, calling us pansies or wimps- and all the while it never bothered us. It never bothered us because we knew they were all wrong! We were simply having a lot more fun than they were - clean fun!
There wasn't much transition from Webelos to Scouting. A number of us from my sixth grade class were making this 'jump', which is what it really was. My sixth grade friends and I were coming out of parochial school into a troop that was really quite a mixed bag. There were kids from Catholic school, two or three different public schools, two different Junior Highs and one High school. This troop had kids whose parents' boasted salaries in the seven figures to other kids whose parents were divorced and living in subsidized housing. In any group of adolescents where there is wide range of ages, there will always be some who see the situation as their personal responsibility to terrorize those of who are younger and greener. At the time I entered scouting in late 68, I was a little on the chunky side and sure enough, began to experience my share of being the target of harassment. On one campout, my patrol leader even suggested that the patrol throw me in a large kettle of hot water to boil off my fat. Even today my brother loves to remind me that I had to wear Huskies when I was in grade school. Of course I remind him about the time he wet his pants when he was in first grade because he was too frightened to raise his hand and ask the Sister Mary Elephant for permission to go to the restroom.
During my first scout meeting I was assigned to the Coyote Patrol. My best friend Louie and I were split up and he joined the Buffalo Patrol. Believe it or not, even though our troop was made up of totally different types of kids, each patrol ended up having a very a distinct personality. Louie and I somehow fit very much into the patrols we were assigned to. Louie was a guy who liked to take it slow. He had one pace and you really couldn't push him. He wasn't exactly your Marine Core Poster type scout but he was great at knots and had other impressive skills. Once he lashed together a tall signal tower at Camp Toquam when he was teaching Pioneering Merit Badge. In the early days he was referred to as 'Gooey', as more often than not, he was sticky from things he had eaten in meals past. The Buffalo Patrol seemed to be a perfect fit for Louie.
My friend Bill also joined the Buffalo patrol. Bill was extremely overweight, slow moving and lacked coordination for a boy of his age. He took endless ribbing for his weight problem. Instead of Bill, they called him "Gills" because the layers of fat around his neck gave him the appearance a large Grouper. At summer camp, our scoutmaster, Mr. Pape, wanted to award him with the 'Trading Post' merit badge. If you couldn't find Bill at any point in the day, the easiest thing to do was to go to the trading post and there he'd be. His two front teeth were rather large and he looked like a giant chipmunk, especially when he had a mouth full of 'Sweet Tarts', his favorite candy.
Then there was Joey from our Catholic school group. He was yet another perfect fit for the Buffalo Patrol. Joe too, was overweight. He was rather undisciplined and pretty much clueless during his two years in the Boy Scouts. He never caught on and if he did, he hid it well. The last time, I heard of Joey, he was dealing in quite questionable practices where certain illegal substances were involved. It was the Buffalo patrol that could be heard from miles away as their pots and pans, which were hastily thrown in their packs clanked and banged together. The Buffalo patrol looked a herd of pack mules on their way their way across the prairies during the Gold Rush as they draped over pieces of equipment and tied various camping apparatus haphazardly to their packs. We never saw much wild life with the Buffalo patrol in tow. They had an excellent patrol leader during 68-69, future Captain of the Darien High School wrestling team. But even he could not transform the character of the illustrious Buffalo patrol. After two years of trying, he left the troop and was never heard from again. I heard a rumor that he eventually graduated from Annapolis. Even in the Buffalo patrol's social and psychological evolution over the years it hung onto that 'F-Troop' type reputation. I don't think they ever passed, let alone won an inspection from 1969-1975. Doug Hanum, Mike Metzger, Louis Nastasi, Rick McIntyre, Louie Canto, Bill Callahan, Joe Bonfiglio, Richard Sagnelli, and Dave Depreta, were some of those early Pioneers who called themselves, "The Buffalo patrol". "Ahhhhhhhhhhhh-mooooooooooooooo-aahhhhhhhh" was their call sign.
Then there were the Toumey Boys who migrated with us over from the Catholic School. Ken was my age and his brother Don was a few years older. They were dumped into the Cobra Patrol which later became the 'Flaming Arrow' patrol. Of course we had another name for that patrol but it is better left unmentioned. The Toumey boys stuck out a little because they were spared the rough and tumble experience that most of us had, growing on in neighborhood full of working class people trying to manage their out of control kids as the sixties hit with a vengeance. Put it this way, they were not Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer. The Toumey brothers lived in what some likened to an old southern plantation house that sat next to the Catholic Church. Both appeared rather reserved but Ken liked to be one of the boys from time to time. Ken and I would come to be fairly good friends through our years in scouts. Don was quite straight arrow and in his free time he liked to read the dictionary. He almost ruined his reputation for hating fun by putting a frog in my sleeping bag at Camp Toquam during the summer of '73.
Scores of priceless memories (and some not so priceless memories) began the night I joined Troop 50 in late September, 1968. Besides the games and the constant persecution from my patrol leader, Ted, and his equally sadistic assistant, Bob, there really wasn't much to scouting under the leadership of old Mr. "H". We mustered for our pledges, inspection, and then played a game or two. For the remainder of the evening he had us building some sort of an oscillator for three months. What it did and what is was for, I could not tell you, even today mine did not end up oscillating. Mr. "H" worked in electronics and he said this is what scouts should be doing, so thats what we did. Mr. "H" was quite a case study in himself; short, paunchy and balding, he stopped every few minutes to hitch up his trousers. His head was shaped like an egg placed on a plastic football tee. He was a gun fanatic and he even made his own ammunition in his basement. He was also a racist, which wasn't a good combination. Guns and racists should never go together.
As I look back on those first four or five months in scouts, I could say that there was only one redeemable event during that whole time. It was my introduction to Camp Toquam. Toquam was the Boy Scout Summer camp for the Darien and Stamford Alfred W. Dater Council. It was located in the Northwest corner of Connecticut on Dog pond in the town of Goshen. (Who else but someone from a town named Goshen would name a pond, "Dog"?) Now, Goshen was classic. Even today, upon entering Goshen you might find yourself imagining that you were entering a small New England town of fifty to one hundred years ago. Goshen boasted a timeless general store that sold Coca Cola in a bottle for 15 cents, a quaint post-office, cornfields and old rusting farm equipment littering the country-side. A place where the smell of cow manure lingers in the air while the twisting, winding highways make their way through the maples, hemlock & pines of the foothills of the Berkshires.
In mid December of 1968, the Coyote patrol loaded up Mr. Bachman's woody station wagon and headed north on route 7 for normally a two hour drive to Camp Toquam. Since we left right after school, darkness came quickly and it began to flurry just before we left Fairfield County. We were excited to see the snow get deeper and cover more area as each mile brought us closer to Camp Toquam. Those flurries shortly turned into a full-fledged blizzard. Three and a half hours later, after plowing through at least a foot of snow on the main roads, we drove into to Goshen. We had difficulty entering the access road to Toquam because of the deep snowdrifts caused by the high winds whipping across the many acred empty cornfields on the east side of the access road. A sand truck with a snowplow had to blast the way through for us. Even then we had to get out push at times.
We just barely made it across the unplowed snow covered parking lot at Camp Toquam, unpacked our gear and waded through waste deep snow across the Athletic field to the Nature Lodge where we would be staying. Bobbing flash lights illuminated our path as scouts checked out various buildings and the flashlight beams probed into the woods hoping, maybe to catch a pair of green eyes of some unidentifiable animal, or whatever our imaginations could conjure up in this winterized wilderness setting. Other than the hollow glow of the dining halls lone floodlight up on the hill above the A-field, there was little to illuminate the winters darkness as the swirling winds continued to lay down sheet upon sheet of endless snow.
Once inside the Nature Lodge, you could hear the wind howling outside. The temperature inside the cabin actually seemed colder than temperature outside. We had just enough firewood for that first night with out having to go scrounge up dry wood in a blizzard in the middle of the night(always leave what you have used up and then some for the next guy). Of course a fire in the fireplace wouldn't make a whole lot of difference in that big room unless you stood a few feet away but it did make for a cozy atmosphere. The cabin carried the aroma of at least one fall and half a winter season of fires made and kept going with wet, green wood collected by tenderfoots. Our clothes would testify of our weekend habitat. After awhile we stopped noticing the blatant assault on our noses.
On that frosty winter night, the fathers whipped up some steaming hot chocolate. I immediately singed the life out of my tongue on the first sip, rendering it incapable of diagnosing the condition of any food thereafter. I then removed some sorry little snacks from my sorry little backpack as Louie pulled out 5 or 6 pieces of pizza wrapped in tin foil. Louie tossed his prize on the fire and without me even asking, Louie secretly offered me a share of his coveted possession. Pizza, who would have thought? At times Louie was a genius! I imagined it was quite delicious, having just seared my tongue with the hot chocolate.
1968 was pre-goose down and even pre-parka so everyone was wearing those old Woolrich hunting jackets or a pea coat of some type. High green rubber boots with gray wool socks with red rings around the tops were the rage for outdoor foot wear and an assorted array of different colored wool caps decorated the heads of thirty boy scouts. Most hats were pulled low around the forehead and ears to keep the endless falling snow out.
That weekend it started snowing on Friday night and never really stopped. There was no agenda for us on Saturday morning or for that matter, the whole weekend. From the time we got there till the time we left, everyone just took off and did what they wanted to do. I'm not sure if old Bill H brought an oscillator with him to tinker with but he never got too far from the woodstove in the Nature Lodge. Everyone went out to explore the winter wilderness. The athletic field was covered with a blanket of two foot deep snow giving one the appearance of the tundra and the drifts were waist deep. The woods were a white jungle. During the night, a considerable drift had been deposited on the cabins front door entrance and it was no easy feat to gain our freedom early that next morning.
Most of us ended up descending from the upper area of Athletic field via the water front access road (a really steep trail that only tractors could negotiate) down to Dog pond down below. When we arrived at the pond, we found that wind that blown much of the snow off the ice so we all ventured on out onto the ice. The wind was fierce and biting. Some brave soul opened up his jacket, catching a frozen gust of wind which was blowing across the lake. It sent him sailing along the lake backwards for a couple hundred feet. We followed suit for some interesting fun and found ourselves blown over toward the northern part of Dog pond near an inlet to a beaver swamp. Wandering down the meandering inlet with its snow covered alders and red maples; we entered into the snow covered beaver swamp. It was a exiting experience as the blizzard gave one the feeling of being in touch with true wilderness. I plucked some authentically chewed beaver sticks that were poking out of a beaver hut to remind me of my great wilderness experience. I had great plans for these beaver sticks. I imagined them hanging bronzed on the wall of my bedroom back home to forever remind me of this winter adventure. I tucked them safely into my inside coat pocket.
We trudged back up the steep access road through the new snow that covered our old tracks to reach the Nature Lodge at the edge of the athletic field. What a day it had been. I shook the snow off my boots, entered the lodge through the ever present build up of a snow drift, and put my prize beaver sticks on my bunk. Mr. H and some of the Dads had a healthy fire stoked up. I went over to the fire to dry out a little before changing my clothes. That was my first mistake. A scout who was to soon be the assistant patrol leader of my patrol had snatched my beaver sticks and, while he stood in front of the fire, waved them in the air so I could see them. He let me get about 3 feet away when he simply tossed them into the fiery inferno. I was devastated. I'll never forget the look of sheer sadistic delight on his face at having hit the mark. His eyes were dancing in pure satisfaction, as he perceived the depth of my disappointment. Robert was to be a thorn in my side for the next two years to come. How I lasted for two more years with him as the assistant patrol leader and then patrol leader, I'll never know. Finally, the grace of God intervened and he moved away. I often stayed awake at night devising suitable methods of payback if and when the opportunity ever arose.
We prepared to depart Camp Toquam along with our burnt tongues, numb toes and clothes that reeked like a smokehouse ham, at about noon that Sunday. Old Bill "H" was muttering to himself as he bent over to lock the hubs on his '54 Willy's Jeep. A pair of pale, sickly, white moons was the last thing most of us remember seeing, as Old Bill "H" bent over to lock the last hub. He jumped into the 4-wheel drive Jeep with his son Terry and didn't slow down until he reached Darien. We heard him yell out; The heck with 'em if they ain't smart enough to own a jeep like me! Hooo Weeee, I'm outta here"! Snow was still coming down as Mr. "H" disappeared across the parking lot in plume of snow and exhaust. Most of our cars had to be dug out and we had problems getting out of the parking lot. Sure could have used some help from a four wheel drive! Mr. Bachman, taking his red & black-checkered wool hunting cap off now and then to scratch his head was straining to see through the onslaught of the snowy blizzard. The entire way home he anxiously rotated a soggy cigar from one corner of his mouth to the other. He didn't say much on the way home; the cigar did most of the talking. We arrived home in darkness after making his station wagon our home for the six hour drive in what they now refer to as the Blizzard of 1968. It was one of the most memorable experiences of my life.
Why does that particular experience, though fraught with un-pleasantries of adolescence, stick into my mind with such flavor? What was so special about it? Once again I am drawn back to the answer, "Mystique". Toquam had it. The deep snow, the possibility of being stuck for there for days, hours and miles from the safety of our comfortable homes with other scouts such as Chip Kaminsky, Ted Bachman, Bob Dance Jeff Light, Steve Geruso, John Hawkins, Mike Metzger, Doug Hanum, Bob Jones, Louie Canto, Rick McIntyre, Lou Nastasi, Terry Hamernick, Tom Gavin, Tom Dalstrand, Jeff Ivory, Jack Falvey, John Bohannan, Marcel Brinn and others this in addition to the wilderness aspect of it all which gave it an air of mystique. There was another aspect of the experience that added to the air of mystique and that was the camaraderie of this winter camping trip. Perhaps most alluring was that we were living during a time of our lives which still held many mysteries. When the unpredictability of nature in the form of blizzards transformed the outdoors into a something wild, which couldn't be tamed like our everyday day to day existence at home, school or in the neighborhood-we were in awe. It felt like we were really experiencing a part of life that made us feel so undeniably alive.
Sometimes I look back longingly on those days when life was still filled with wonder, mysteries and mystique. In this new millennium, we have found that we have bowed down to the god of science, a god who has explained everything away, leaving little or no room for mystery or mystique. Oh, to live on Sugar Mountain..
"I want two volunteers", boomed a voice from the Scoutmaster's tent. "Two volunteers on the double"!
"Jim", I said, "this will be a great opportunity to get on Mr. Pape's good side."
(Mr. Pape came over from Troop G-1 in Stamford when our previous Scoutmaster left just after the Toquam 68 Blizzard experience).
"I don't know about that", said Jim. "They say never volunteerand does Mr. Pape have a good side?"
"I don't know, but what harm can it do? Let's go", I said quite enthusiastically. Being our first year at summer camp, I wanted to make sure we got off to a good start.
"Hey, Mr. Pape, how can we help you"?
"Good, good, good," he said, rubbing his hands together with an evil grin on his face. "Yuse two want to volunteer, huh? Didn't anyone ever tell you......oh, never mind. Ok. When 'yuse two guys hear a trumpet blow, sounds like the horse races, know whadda I mean? - head up to the dining hall and tell 'em you're from troop 50."
"Ok, sure, Mr. Pape, but what for"?
"Yuse two guys are gonna be waiters. You'll see. Just head up at about 4:30 pm when you hear the trumpet sound off. And don't be late."
My first day at Camp Toquam was getting off to a rough start already as I found out that I would be bunking with my patrol leader who was a sadistic bully. It could be a long week, indeed. After orientation at the waterfront, we climbed the long dirt road, only passable by foot and tractor, back up the hill to Tokeneke, our troop's favorite campsite. Not soon after I got myself squared away and dressed in full dress uniform for dinner, the trumpet sounded. It might well have been the trumpet signaling the gathering of the elect from the four winds, for all the good it ended up bringing us. Leaving my tent, I hollered for Jim who appeared some seconds later.
"Let's go Jim. Don't wanna be late." Folding his cap into his belt and then adjusting the garter tab on his knee sock, he was ready to go.
"Just one quick stop, he said, and disappeared into the latrine. While I was waiting for Jim to answer the rather pressing call of nature, I just happened to spy a patch of Stinging Nettles. What possessed me, I'll never know, but I reached down and pulled a clump up by the roots, holding it low where the nettles are tender and unable to do any harm. I hid behind the exit to the latrine and when Jim came out I gave a good firm whack on the back of the calf with the Nettles. He initially wondered why I was bothering to whack him in the leg with a clump of weeds until the nettles began to sting and itch. Big red welts appeared on his calf as he chased me across the athletic field toward the dining hall, cursing all the way, calling me every name in the book that a sheltered boy from the rich suburb of Darien knew; "why you long eared galloot, ya durn fool, you no good, low down crumb, *7$$*%#@x@*"! I was laughing so hard that I had to concentrate on not wetting my pants. Jim was slow and uncoordinated so I could easily dodge him or out run him. He was big for his age but his body wasn't quite yet under his control.
We reached the dining hall panting, winded and sweaty. Jim's anger had waned but he kept scratching the red welts on his itching calf as we walked into the 'tribulation'. Other dumbfounded and cautious looking scouts were milling about, wondering why they were snagged for this dubious distinction. None dreamed that 'volunteers' like us had surreptitiously slipped into the flock of conscripts. At the front steps Jim barely paused to contrive more elaborate plans of pay back before a screaming voice echoed through out the dining hall.
"WAITERS, stand by your tables", shouted the dining hall steward who was about 18 going on 40, and not too kind, courteous, or cheerful looking either. There was a scurrying of novice scouts who had made the simple mistake of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, as Jim and I tried to find our tables. There were four tables for troop 50.
Jim was glaring at me for not only the stinging nettles but for talking him into volunteering for serving as a 'waiter'. That's what I liked about Jim; I could always talk him into something. Our number would have come up anyway so maybe it was a good thing to get it over with- maybe he would see it that way and come to thank me someday. I don't think he will ever thank me for the nettles though.
The steward continued to scream at us as we stood at attention. He really didn't need the microphone. This was my first exposure to 'scream therapy' on such a prolonged basis. Mom and Dad practiced it on occasion but this guy had much more intensity and endurance.
After the steward lectured us on the system, how and when to pick up what food or beverage, the art of setting the tables and putting out the various condiments, we spotted scouts in their dress uniforms coming toward the dining hall like ants heading for a picnic. They all lined up by the troop until the dining hall steward gave them the go ahead, affording them permission to enter and find their tables. It was wall to wall knee socks, brass and Khaki until they all were seated by the kind invitation of the dining hall steward. Then a most amazing transformation happened and that formerly crusty dining hall steward led us in a reverent word of prayer for the meal. After he finished his humble prayer, before the 'amen' was even off his tongue, he reverted back to his old self, bellowing out like a referee at a track race, "Runners, take your place at the starting blocks."
In reality he screamed, "Waiters, pick up your serving trays", and off we went toward the kitchen. In empty, out full. Food, bug juice, seconds, bug juice, thirds, desert and bug juice again. We were constantly in motion.
"Waiters, bring in your serving bowls. Waiters, bring in this, bring in that....." Say, were out of milk, can you just....."
We were constantly being barked at and given orders by both the scouts and our illustrious dining hall steward.
The cook was an older black man named Rufus who had an enormous pot belly and the salt and pepper whiskers look of a couple of days of beard growth. Even though Jim and I dubbed his cooking; "Rufus Dalectae", the food was really quite good. After each meal, 200 scouts would shout in cult like admiration:
"We want the cook, we want the cook, we want the cook......" until Rufus showed up to take a bow for a standing ovation.
After dessert we sang a few songs like, "I don't want no more of Toquam life," I Love to Go a Wandering, Eating Goober Peas, and troops challenged each other to various competitions. Doug, or Dennis Wilson, the senior patrol leader of Darien troop 53 stood up that evening and said;
"Troop 53 challenges troop 50 to a softball game at the athletic field after retreat". Before, anyone could blink, I said;
"Jim, stand up and tell 'em we accept". Immediately Jim stands and shouts; "Troop 50 accepts".
Mr. Pape went livid. Veins were popping out on his already receding forehead and his short cropped curly black hair was ready to stand on end. He whipped around and looked Jim straight in the eye and he pointed to John Hawkins and said;
"He's your senior patrol leader, booby. He makes the decisions around here. Now stand up and tell them we already have a conservation party planned to go out after retreat."
Poor Jim, embarrassed, voice quivering and with knees knocking made the announcement as the entire dining hall lit up in laughter. I, myself, was close to busting a gut. If there ever was payback, it would be a son of gun for me.
Throngs of scouts, after being dismissed, then filed out the door and headed down the hill on the road to the athletic field for retreat.
"Finally", I sighed, "The end of this abuse is in sight"! Not so. Jim and I were made to scrub our tables 3 or 4 times. The steward would come and run his finger down our tables and say something like;
"AAAhhhhh for crying out loud, too much grit, do it again."
This was really getting monotonous, especially when we wanted to get back to the campsite or hit the trading post before it closed. Then we were cruelly made to sweep the dining hall floor until we memorized every divot in that concrete floor. Jim and I were the last ones out, thoroughly humiliated and exhausted. We walked through those doors to freedom thinking only of how soon it will before we have to reappear once again at the dining hall - 6:45 a.m. the next morning. The trading post was closed, too. We were sold up the river for three long, unbearable meals. It was then that both of us learned to never, ever volunteer.
The next evening was glorious as we sat in the dinning hall making kind suggestions to our waiters like;
"Say old boy, we seem to be out of meatloaf. Would you mind getting us. or, "Hey, were getting a little low on bug juice here. Could you rustle us up another pitcher?
Jim was able to keep quiet as challenges were given back and forth. Even upon my urging him to get in the fray and take control, he restrained himself. I guess you can't fool some of the people, all of the time.
Leaving the confines of the dinning hall (to call it a mess hall was a grievous offense) and heading down toward the "A" field, our Senior Patrol leader led the troop over a nest of Yellow jackets. I just happened to be in the front and after we unwittingly and unknowingly stomped over their nest and stirred them all up, we began to hear a ruckus in the back of line. Spinning around swiftly, there was the whole back of our parade hooting, yelling and jumping up and down.
Most of us up front were clue less until one hapless scout who was being stung had the foresight to yell;
Instantly, the troop split up and fled in ever direction of the compass. Both Jim and I sustained injuries, single bee bites to the calf or knee. Mr. Pape, still up at the dinning hall chatting with his cronies was able to observe this comedy of errors from a safe distance. Mr. Pape somehow had a knack for avoiding such debacles. He still talks about that episode from time to time and always sporting a knowing grin when he does.
Minutes later, nursing our wounds, we assembled by troop for retreat on the "A" field, just below the dining hall. Camp Director, Mr. Leon Javins, the Great White Owl as they liked to call him (because of his snow white hair and chin beard}, called us to attention;
Then Senior Patrol leaders would report;
"Tokeneke, all present and accounted for, Sir."
"Ponus, all present and accounted for, Sir."
"Shippan, all present and accounted for, Sir."
"Foresters, all present and accounted for, Sir."
"Pequot, all present and accounted for, Sir."
"Rangers, all present and accounted for, Sir."
"Minanus, all present and accounted for, Sir."
"Rippowam, all present and accounted for, Sir."
"Staff, all present and accounted for, Sir."
"Ahh, right face", resonated the deep baritone voice of Leon Javins as we faced the American Flag, saluting at attention. Javin's voiced boomed out across the field;
"Bugler, sound off." Complete silence.
"Bugler, sound off." Silence.
"Bugler, sound off." Complete silence once again.
In a roar that could be heard at the Jewish camp across the Dog Pond, Javins shouted;
"I saaaaaaaid, Bugler....sound..... off!."
Finally, whoever was in the HQ woke up with a start and we heard over the PA a phonograph needle being raked across the grooves of a record, then scratchy static through the loud speaker (crackle, crackle, crackle..} and then finally, the long awaited for taps. We stood erect at rapt attention, saluting the flag until taps was played out and we heard the needle being removed from the record - "ZZZZZZZZZIIIIIIIIPPPPPPPPPPP."
As soon as the PA system in HQ was shut down, before commandant Javins could utter another word, the voice of that evening's dining clean up supervisor, Papa John, shattered the reverential moment of taps as 200 scouts heard him curse out the waiters at the top of his lungs who were cleaning up in the dining hall. He apparently forgot to turn off the sound system in the dining hall and his choice of profanity would have made a sailor blush.
"Why you no good, *%&**$#@!! low down, &&*%%#$!!. Don't you even know how to *&^%%$#*!! etc, etc, etc.
Camp Director Leon Javins quickly whispered to the assistant camp director, Jay Burkhart, who whispered to Dave Kennedy, who quickly disappeared up the hill. Twenty seconds later the deluge of profanity stopped as abruptly as it started. The two hundred scouts who were suppressing intense bottled up laughter took one look at Leon Javins, the great stone faced and bearded wonder, and then continued to hold it in.
"Dismissed", he bellowed, and the whole camp just fell apart in laughter.
Such was the nature of Toquam life during the summer of '70.
Gee Mom, I Wanna Go Home!
Toquam campsites were named after local Indian tribes, and since the camp was for both Darien and Stamford Troops, Darien was given one campsite named after their own Indian Tribe, Tokeneke. It was a great campsite and we chose it as it let others know we a Darien Troop. It was right near the Nature Lodge, close to the waterfront trail, just out of the way where unwanted campers wouldnt stumble into our campsite unawares. Of course, Vic Shelburne, Nature Director, had rights to ingress and egress our privy at will (not because he chose to but because it was the closest. There was a short, obscure trail connecting us with the Nature trail that let down to Hermits landing which was a small clearing where you could land your canoe if came into the swamp via the inlet. The clearing was large enough to sleep about 30 scouts. Legend had it, that years back (how many, I dont know) a man named Hank the Hermit went crazy and axed people to death in nearby Goshen. He was never caught and local legends say he took refuge in swamp area of Dog Pond and every once in a while they would find divots in the silt from Hank dragging his canoe up on the landing to stash it while he roamed the woods at night. They say Hanks ghost still haunted the area and was seen by scouts from time to time.
My first summer camp week at Toquam was during the summer of 1970. Mr. Pape had commandeered the first tent on left at you came into the campsite, and set up his H.Q. He took out of his bag of tricks and electrical out box and a short cable. He stuck this in the ground outside of his tent. He likes telling the story how early the next morning Don Toumey appeared with his electric toothbrush and was asking permission to plug into Mr. Papes electricity source. I think everyone either suspected a ruse or were afraid to ask permission. I didnt bring any electrical appliances to camp so I had little need of electricity, thereby avoiding the problem altogether. I did wonder why he used the Coleman lantern during the evenings instead of plugging in an electric light, though. I couldve talked Jim into asking but he was already mad about becoming a waiter and was still scratching the stinging nettle welts. I knew when enough was enough. I waited until the following year to urinate on his leg outside of the archery range.
Cant Get Enough of That Toquam Life!
My first provisional experience at Toquam was in 1971, when Jim von Kreuter and I shared a tent in Rangers campsite. I might have been 13 years old, and Jim, maybe a year younger. We were situated in the Southwest corner of the camp which was quite a nice location. It was the same year a band of hippies lived secretly on the camp, stealing from campers surreptitiously over the whole summer. I lost a ten spot which I had kept in a spare uniform shirt. It was also a time that Jim von Kreuter wont forget as I obnoxiously peed on his leg as we stopped to answer the call of nature near the archery range on the way into the campsite one morning. Not only adding insult to injury, I had hired some young African-American kids from a South Field Village troop to pick the lock on his foot locker so I could get into his home made cookies. With friends like me, who needed enemies? He ended up dripping hot melted nylon rope on my hand, calling it even. I remember that summer was filled with songs like, Alice Coopers Schools Out for Summer; How Can you Mend a Broken Heart; Alone Again, Naturally, and some others that perhaps you can think of. Tom Metayer, also from Darien, was in Rangers as well, doing penance for something or another. His Troop, 54 boasted the Decker brothers who, as far as Jim and I were concerned, were to be avoided at all costs. Metayer, certainly a salty fellow, proved to be jolly enough and made good company during the week.
In 1972, when some of us stayed past our regular week of summer camp at Camp Toquam for a week of provisional camp and the staff selected Don Toumey to be the Senior Patrol Leader of 'Rangers.' Don was the Assistant Senior Patrol Leader in our troop at that time. For no reason other than for the benefit of my own depraved amusement, I sprayed OFF (bug spray) on the inside of the ceiling in his tent over his bunk. This immediately takes the water proofing out of the canvas. That night it rained cats and dogs and Don got soaked. He instinctively knew that I was the culprit. Later the next day, he spied me coming down the path into our campsite. He ran after me and chased me through wood and over dale for at least a mile until I finally gave up. He should have gone out for the cross-country team at Fairfield Prep where he attended. With both of our chests heaving from being out of breath he shook his finger in my face gave me a stern lecture about damaging camp property and let me go- he didnt even mention the getting soaked in the middle of the night part. If he thought that he saw the last of my practical jokes, he was wrong. But, he who has the last laugh often has the best laugh, and in 1973, when we both worked in the nature lodge under the infamous Vic Shelburne, Don locked me out of the lodge while I had pranced off naked to the showers that were about 100 meters across the athletic field, and through a short stretch of woods. I banged on the door pleading for mercy until he was duly satisfied, thereby letting me enter. I knew now that Don was a patient man. He waited a year for pay back.
One mid-morning, Jim and I were walking down the slope behind Rangers campsite through a mature stand of Northern Central Hardwood, down toward the Dog Pond and we came upon 6 provisional campers strung up in trees the way American soldiers strung up VC during interrogations during the Vietnam War. These were provisional scouts (Rangers) which we knew from Stamford, some of the more unruly ones, but none the less decent chaps. They were in pain and exhausted and we offered to cut them down but they told us to leave quickly before we would share their same fate. The provisional Scoutmaster had just finished one or two tours in Nam before he took the job running provisional for the summer. Whose idea it was to hire him, Ill probably never know. It was an extremely strange thing to find them tied together, arms in the air, tied to a singular line. The severity of it didnt make much sense to us at that time. Jim and I, for someone unremembered reason, were bush whacking to some unremembered destination and by coincidence we came up upon these scouts, obviously physically abused. Did we report it? No? Why? To this day I often wonder why we didnt say anything about it. The world in the early 1970's seemed to have had no ethical moorings, and all most all issues were in some kind of moral in flux, but it seemed exciting. If it feels good, do it. What we learned in church was basically there, but could not seem to stand up to the onslaught of the sixties and the rock n roll culture of those times. Some of us were truly lost and floundering in search for sort of ethical moorings but they had broken loose and were set out to drift beyond our grasp during those turbulent times. In spite of the dysfunctional aspects of some parts of scouting on a council wide scale, scouting was largely a very positive thing for me on the troop level as it provided some moral moorings. There was little abuse of any sort on any level, maybe some hazing on a peer level but I am greatful for the friendships we made and adult role models we had; Mr. Pape, Mr. Bachman, Mr. Metzger, Mr. Rusha, Mr. Moffa, and of course my own father. All of us in our early teens, in one way or the other, had to go through some of that wilderness, not untouched by any means, but rather bruised, scratched, thirsty and hungry, sometimes coming out wiser and richer, yet for others, deeply scarred.
The very early 70s was really part of the sixties and civil rights issues, race riots, New Haven, Watts, Chicago, and Attica, were still fresh in the minds of African-Americans and since Darien did not have any ethnic minorities to boast of, this was our first experience of being exposed to African Americans. In reality, it wasnt that long ago that on June 21, 1964, three civil rights workers disappeared in Philadelphia, Miss. Their bodies were found buried in an earthen dam six weeks later. Eight members of the Ku Klux Klan went to prison on federal conspiracy charges; none served more than six years. Not much clued into all that was happening concerning contemporary racial tensions, one morning Jim and I crossed the athletic field and began to descent the on the trail leading down the mountain to the water front. One of us came up with the brilliant idea to see who would dare to shout racial epitaphs the loudest. After a few shouts, rounding the corner came a whole group of black scouts who had heard ever word we said. I remember my knees getting a little weak and we just stopped at they approached us. One member of their group did the speaking and he told us, quite graciously, that the sort of thing we were doing wasnt really a nice thing to do and if it were anyone else but them who had come along at the time we were hurling out racial slurs, someone mightve been hurt badly. Jim and I, feeling like fools, from that day on, never again repeated that scenario. Today, I still am touched by the kindness and gentleness of that one mature African-American scout who gave us some darned good advice about life and being around long enough to enjoy it.
Still Cant Get Enough: Toquam Staff
From 1970 to 1974, I spent sometimes, one week, two to three weeks, or even a whole summer at Toquam depending on the situation. There was the memorable week of Junior Leaders Training Course in late June of 71 in Foresters Campsite when we really got up close with the Stamford guys. I bunked with some guy named Jeff McConnell from troop 38 who kept me up late each night trying to impress me with what an eighth grade super stud he was. I think Louie Canto and I were the only ones who represented Troop 50 during that week, but there were other Darien Troops there as well. Jeff Simpson, Dave Paddock, and Bill Cook represented Troop 53. Karl Heinritz, Ricky Ames, and Tim Saunders represented troop 61. The following week, Troop 50 would arrive. Louie and I would have two weeks of camp back to back, and then do a week at provisional.
For course requirements in JLTC, you had to survive the Friday night campfire, which was fine, business as usual until during an extremely quiet moment at the tail end of the campfire. We heard something thrashing through the woods, then hysterical screaming, followed by the sight of some person or apparition in white running wildly through the woods with an axe, hurling out threats. The Scoutmasters and trainers got up and ran after him but could not seem to find him (surprise!). It shook us up for a few minutes till we all realized it was staged but what shook us up more was our next order: Alright, go back to your tents and saddle up. Were all camping out on Hermits landing tonight. Now that was a different story, even though we knew the man running through the woods was a mock up. We all hiked through the deep dark woods, down eastern slope toward Dog Pond via the nature trail in the pitch of night. One leader with a flashlight led the way and we were not allowed to bring ours. When all 35 or so of us arrived, maybe it was about 10 p.m. by then, a fire was built, and we were left until morning. It was a long night, especially after the fire burned out. I was ordered to camp right on the ramp of the inlet, and if there was a Hank the Hermit still lurking around murdering people with an axe, I would be the first one to go. There was some whimpering and to be sure, most of us were scared stiff in our bags, myself no exception. Some how, we made it through the sleepless night, our imaginations running on high, fueled by pure adrenalin, and conjuring up wild scenarios of Hank the Hermit running rampant through our campsite. Each scout was hoping and praying that he would be the one Hank skipped over during his fit of murderous rage. We all got our badges and certificates during the next mornings breakfast at the dinning hall.
Then as you know, there was provisional camp for scouts who wanted to stay longer than their troops one week commitment to do extra work on merit badges. Or if their own troop did not have enough scouts to go as a whole troop, they would send individuals to provisional camp. The summer before the five of us from troop 50 worked on staff, a number of us stayed for our own troops summer camp week, then stayed at provisional or Rangers as they called it as well, for a few weeks to work on merit badges.
During summer camp at Toquam, Darien troops were naturally in the minority among Stamford troops in the Alfred W. Dater Council, and so this was really the first time people like Jim, Louie, Ken and I were exposed to city folk. There were so many rich characters: Ross Gelb, a scoutmaster whose name when said fast, sounded like raw scalp. There was Charlie Krom, and his son, who were always old standbys at Toquam, and other dubious characters like Mr. Alan Parrady, with his rather stout and grim son Alton, the locksmith, who worked in the kitchen, and Wally Ackerman, who later met up with the law. And who could forget scoutmasters like Joe Polka, or Charlie Weaver? Other faces and names that remain with me from during those early years; Dave Grimaldi, the Smalls, Mike Wise, Bud Greby, Ted Swiatowitz, Vic Cassone, Tom Cingari, Rich Bennevelli, Tom Matsuda, Frank Brown, and Frank Pokorny.
I remember some of the staff back in 1970 very vividly, especially the waterfront staff; Mark Sileo, with that foghorn voice, Peter Johnson and Kent Siladi. You didnt step out of line with these guys. They put the fear of God in me. If memory serves me right, Mark Hughes, who was dating the camp nurse (Bonnie Williams) that summer of troop 54 (Darien) might even have been dining hall steward that year. Two pudgy twins from Dariens troop 55, the Carpenters were on staff but as what role they had, memory escapes me.
Then there were Carlson brothers with Bjarne being the oldest, who served on staff for a number of years along with various other brothers, including the youngest and perhaps most volatile, Storm. They were some tough ones, coming out of South Field Village Troop 36. There were the Dolan twins, Ronnie and Donnie from some Stamford troop, Scott Webber and a fellow they called Goober-Jeff Thompson might be his real name although I cant be all that sure. Others of early vintage were Fritz Boehm (Darien), and Frank Matsuda, and the lone females during my first year (1970); were Bonnie Williams, and her mother who served as nurses. Too many scouts came up with too many lame excuses to make trips to the infirmary, and it wasnt to get a chance to see Bonnies mother. Nurse Valeria Bligh replaced Bonnie in the years to follow.
It was strange to have brief encounters my first year with brothers Nick and Richard Gagliardi, who would soon move to Darien. Rich worked in the Scout Craft area and I cant remember where Nick worked but they certainly did not continue as boy scouts when they hit Darien. They came from troop 21, the same troop as soft spoken and mild mannered Dave Kennedy. Dave, I think worked in the Admin building that year and Jay Burkhart, a clean cut version of David Crosby, was back for the summer from UCONN and served as assistant to Leon Javins. Papa John Galassi was running provisional as he did for some years after.
And, one did not forget old Leon Javins, close cropped white hair, sixtyish, and sporting a white goatee. In 72, Peter Johnson wrote a song about him. The chorus went; Camp director, tramp protector, great stone face, and bearded wonder, Mr. Leon Javins was his name. I remember a few lines, one being; Vic was a guy at the nature lodge quite able, but when he saw a mouse, you would find him on the table, Camp Director, tramp protector, great stone face, and bearded wonder, Mr. Leon Javins was his name. Vic ran the Nature Lodge with a lanky blond haired fellow named Peter Wiley the year before Don Toumey and I worked as Vics assistants in the Nature Lodge.
Im not quite sure why he was dubbed tramp protector. It could have been because there was a 15 year old fellow named Charle Dereaux who escaped from Toquam three times in one week, trying to walk home to Stamford. It was perplexing. Who would ever want to escape from Toquam in the first place? Secondly, who would want to escape to Stamford? Anyway, he was caught in Torrrington on route 84 repeatedly, trying to walk or hitch home. Whether it was Javins or Prouse, I cant be exactly sure but one of them would frequently verbalize the pithy little saying: Charlie Dereaux, where are you, as they tried to second guess his possible escape routes home on a daily basis.
In 73, the first and only year I was on Toquam staff, they had an outpost camp across the swamp. I was in charge in leading a group of provisional campers to the camp via hiking the road out of Toquam and down route 4. Jim von Kreuter happened to being doing provisional camp for three weeks to rack up some merit badges so he could get his eagle badge. His dad said, No Eagle badge, no license. So, Jim working on his camping merit badge was assigned to my contingent along with Tom Deppen (Nicknamed Bed Pan). Jim and I were using my old Morsan tent (still lives today, albeit with a lot of holes in it). We camped for a few days letting campers get their cooking and camping merit badges. Jim bunked with me rather than in those pre-explorer tents Toquam staff doled out to us. Jim told me about his new girl, Laurie or Laura who loved horses. I, at the time was in love with and going out with a girl named Donna, so we traded love stories. Deppen, who was asthmatic, forgot to bring his medicine, so that late afternoon Jim and I, instead of trekking back down route 4, cut across the swamp and came out right at hermits landing and walked the trail up to the infirmary to get Deppens medicine. Vic Shelburne, who was ultimately my boss, as luck would have it, happened to run into us near the nature lodge and gave us the first degree and a reaming on top of that. He reamed us out for cutting through the swamp rather than hiking the 5 miles along road. He thought the swamp was too dangerous. I would finish the summer of 1973 at Camp Toquam, having the best experience of my life, but the swamp incident would come back to haunt me. I already knew Vic didnt like me, but I didnt realize how far this incident and dislike of me would go.
Jim von Kreuter remembers: Vic Shelburne hated me second to Brian. When Brian and I were carrying a canoe at the waterfront, I dropped my end of the canoe on my big toe. Vic, and his girlfriend at the time, Nurse Valerie Bligh, had to take me to the hospital in Torrington for X-rays. After that, I went with them to a drive in to see the movie, Blazing Saddles. I was in the backseat of his Volkswagen Bug like a fly on the wall. I was clearly a third wheel on Vic's only night off and he wasnt happy about me being a part of his date. The following year I heard him comment to somebody, Ive never seen anything as asinine since Jim von Kreuter dropped that canoe on his foot.
During that year of staff in 73, I remember taking a Darien kid from provisional. I think he was from Troop 60 out of Holmes school. He was a smart red-headed kid, who I had once taking Red Cross Swimming lessons with at Pear Tree Point Beech. He was a year behind me and his last name was Tom Graham. It was early in the summer and he was one of the few in my nature merit badge class. I was the teacher and I spent a lot of personal time with him teaching him various species of the local trees and shrubs. One day we were following the nature trail behind the nature lodge, and we followed the trail that led to Hermits Landing on Dog Pond. We hit a junction in the trail that was closed off by a pile of branches. We assumed the trail was discontinued for some inane reason but being sojourners on mission of nature, we decided to walk down the closed trial. We ended up behind the rifle range and when we saw this big mass of soil that had been bulldozed into a large berm, bullets started to fly. Branches were snapping left and right and I yelled to Graham to hit the deck. We both ate dirt until we heard that command to cease far and collect the targets. At that point, Graham and I high tailed it back down that trail until we were well out of the range of the .22 caliber slugs. Mistakenly, I had shared our brush with near death with Vic Shelburne. Vic gave me a stern reminder of my stupidity and filed yet another one of my offenses away in his memory.
My first week didnt go that well so I went to find my friend Ken (straight arrow Ken). He lived in Leland Lodge for the summer. I found him on the second floor carving his favorite groups name into the wall of Leland Lodge- Chicago was almost etched into the western most wall of Leland Lodge by Kenneth Drury Toumey. I couldnt believe it. Ken was defacing camp property with a scout issued boy scout knife. It was really still the 60s so I shrugged it off, inside quite impressed that my pro-establishment friend was bucking the system, and after telling him about my week, we listened to some tunes coming over airwaves like; Frankenstein, The Pope Smokes Dope, Shaft, Diamond Girl (Seals and Croft), Time in a Bottle, Nights in White Satin, Smoke on the Water, Youve Got a Friend, etc., and went on my way. Other musicians or groups that bring me back to the summer of 73 at Toquam were Loggins and Messina; Emerson, Lake and Palmer; Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young; Steeley Dan; Pink Floyd; Rolling Stones; Yes, and Rod Stewart.
The next year Vic was on the committee to interview potential staff for the following summer, and when Jim and I applied for staff, Vic interviewed us. Could be the swamp and rifle range incidents were still fresh in Vics mind and it was obvious he remembered Jims short stint at being a chaperone on his date night. Both of us didnt make it. I was heart broken because I loved Toquam and I knew if during the summer of 74, I had been there, it would have kept me (and perhaps Jim) out of a whole lot of trouble. I look back at that time and am saddened because being there would have been so positive for me. 74 was a turning point for me that lead me into a fog of alcohol and drugs that could have been avoided had I been given a positive outlet for my searching. What added insult to injury that when our troop went to Toquam in 74, they asked me to work that week teaching sports and athletics merit badge, which I did happily.
Meanwhile, Elvis Vickers, another member of the illustrious troop 50 was living with some Stamford staff in Carpenter Lodge just across from Leland Lodge. Elviss father was a professional Scouter, and Elvis himself was working in the kitchen as a dishwasher. He bunked with an Afro-American (term from the 70s) named Darren (Skip) Dix. All I can remember about Elvis that summer was that he was quite impressed with Skip and had many a story to tell about him. A few other colorful characters in Leland and Carpenter Lodge were Alton Parady and Alan Alcott.
Every once in a while a senior staff person would let us catch a rid with them into Torrington so we could catch a movie and then catch a meal at Burger King. I remember watching, The Legend of Bogie Creek, about the Sasquatch, and being scared to death for the next few days, especially at night when I had to use the latrine that was about 50 yards into the woods from the Nature Lodge.
Glenbrook Scouts Joe Pokorny and Peter Wiley (perhaps G-1?) also served on staff. Wiley was Vics assistant in 72 and Joe was in Scout Craft in 72. Louie Canto ran into him in the Stamford Post Office last year (03).
Ken Toumey remembers an old woman, There was this old woman named Mrs. Gale, from down the street with the really, really greasy hair, bad teeth, and who was also challenged hygienically. She gave us beers and fed beers to her dog? Remember, she was the wife of the ranger.
One of the reasons I did love Toquam was because it provided a time away from peer pressure and the party scene. I didnt need to escape from such a pleasant reality that Toquam provided.
Ken adds; I also remember Vic used to always sing...
I love to go a wandering
Along the mountain trail
And as I go, I love to sing, with my knapsack on my back.
Val a rie, Val a ra (and because of her everyone said VALERIE really loud? Val a rie, Val a ra ha ha ha ha ha, Val a rie with my knapsack on my back....
and also singing; Peas, peas, peas, peas, eating Goober peas.....goodness how delicious, eating Goobers peas.