Bluejean Cutoffs and Nylon Bikinis Don't Hold Water in Flatwoods
Responsibility has to be learned, and learning it is often hard. I learned responsibility slowly because I resisted having to be accountable for my actions. At an early age, I found I could stare responsibility right in the eye and bring it to its knees. I won every battle, and I almost won the war--until the terrible summer of 1974. My ongoing refusal to accept any responsibility was defeated by the only force for which I had no defense-- irresponsibility.
That summer I was finally living the life I enjoyed. I was an executive with the Boy Scouts, and I was the first director of the Greer Canoe Base on the Buffalo River in Middle Tennessee. The canoe base property was donated by Mister Dick Greer, an Elder in the Flatwoods Church of Christ. I grew up in the Church of Christ, so Mr. Greer liked me, but I knew I was on trial from the day I was appointed director of the base.
The most perplexing problem I faced in the beginning was that the base had not yet been built. A river ran by the site, of course, but grading a road into the rugged wilderness was the only improvement made before I arrived.
What a road! Mister Greer was a former state road commissioner, so when the canoe base needed its road paved, the crew paving the highway out by the entrance to the base took a wrong turn. They had paved the base road all the way to the river before I was able to stop them. Since the paving could not be taken back up, I gratefully decided to keep it, but I refrained from sending a thank you note to the state for its generosity.
Once the road was in place, I set out to make the canoe base more civilized. I dug a latrine. Or rather, I attempted to dig a latrine. My original plan was to fashion a deluxe slit trench latrine with branches lashed into a comfortable seat, but my digging efforts were thwarted by chert, a hard clay gravel only slightly harder to dig in than granite. I dug, picked, chipped, cursed, and scratched for half a day, but I barely broke the surface. Finally, I knew what I needed to build a proper latrine. I needed a staff.
The council had promised to send me a staff as soon as I was ready to build the tent platforms and set up the camp, but they had not sent me one. After giving up on the latrine, I drove up to the Flatwoods combination food store-post office-restaurant-gas station- feed store-clothing store-and all-around gathering place to use the phone. After several "howdies," I had my usual lunch of baloney, mayonnaise, and tobasco sauce on white bread washed down by a Brownie drink, and then I called the council office in Nashville and asked when I would get my staff.
"I ain't got a staff for you," Fred Grunion said.
He was the council program director, and I could almost see the inch of ash hanging off the cigarette in the corner of his mouth.
"Y'all go on over to Boxwell and get you two or three boys to work down there with you."
"Do I get to pick anybody I want?" I asked.
"Anybody they'll let you have," Ed laughed.
The next day I drove to our main Scout reservation at Boxwell and met with the camp directors of the three camps. I was not surprised to find that the directors did not want to lose any of their good staff members.
"I can let you have Danny and Scott from our waterfront," Skip said. "I think they want to work somewhere else anyway, so you might as well take them; I don't need them."
I went down to the waterfront and found the two sitting on the dock. They were college age, and they were wearing the most profane thin nylon bikini panty-looking swim suits I had ever seen.
"Naw, I don't want to go down there," Danny said, and Scott agreed.
"We like it here," Danny replied.
"Well," I said, "do you like working? If you don't come to the canoe base to work, you won't be working here either."
I got their attention. I told them to call their parents to get permission to work at the canoe base. As I was leaving, I told them to be ready to go the next day.
"Leave those swim trunks at home," I added as I walked away. "Flatwoods is a very conservative community, and I don't think the farmers and good ol' boys would approve of you two wearing those sissy clothes."
I had a staff, but I was not sure what kind of staff. However, since I had to have the canoe base open in a week, I didn't have time to shop around for anyone better. The next morning, I picked up two sleepy, hungover teenagers who complained all the way to the base that they should have been left alone to spend the rest of their summer at Boxwell.
I worked them hard all day. To my surprise, we dug a first class latrine by lunchtime, and in the afternoon we got the tent platforms built and the tents pitched. After supper, I explained the procedure for the base:
"Troops will come in and get an orientation the night before they start their trip down the river," I said. "Your job is to show each scout how to handle a canoe, make sure they all understand the safety procedures, and help them stow their gear properly. I'll take them to the put-in spot, and I'll pick them up at the end of their trip. Y'all are going to be on your own while I'm gone, so you have to make sure your work is done here so we can be ready for the next group."
They both nodded like they understood, and they worked hard the next several days to get the base ready, but they complained constantly about the camp uniforms I made them wear.
When the first troop arrived, we had a nice campsite, and a staff of three clad in white T-shirts, scout shorts, and knee-socks complete with garters and tassels. The troop had fifteen boys and several sets of parents. They were from a nearby county and all of the boys were excited about the trip.
After stories and songs around the campfire, and a fitful night's sleep listening to the incessant jabbering of fifteen excited boys and the equally incessant "Y'all shut up" that came from the scoutmaster most of the night, I took the scouts upriver the next morning to start their trip. The day went smoothly until I returned to the base.
Danny and Scott were missing. I looked everywhere and called for them, but they did not answer. I was just about to head for Flatwoods for help when I heard them walking up from the river singing a loud rendition of "Stout Hearted Men." I could not understand the words at first, but as they got closer I could hear them clearly:
"Give me some wimmin' who are buck nekkid' wimmin' and we'll screw those nekkid' wimmin' evermore."
At the same time I heard the words they were singing, I noticed Mister Dick Greer driving his tractor across the field from his place. When I looked back to the road, I saw that both of the boys were wearing their panties again.
"Shut up and get in your tent now," I yelled, "and change into a uniform."
I walked over to the fence and waved to Mister Greer, mainly to see if he was smiling or frowning. He smiled and waved back, and I saw that he was mowing and the noise kept him from hearing the nasty lyrics the two had been singing.
"What were you two thinking?" I demanded after they had dressed. "Do you see Mister Greer over there? What would he think if he heard you, and didn't I tell you two to leave those sissy-looking nylon things at home?"
Other than yelling, about all I could do was to give them more work to do.
The next two times I took troops upstream to launch their canoes were uneventful, and both Danny and Scott were working whenever I returned to the base. However, a week after the singing incident, a troop arrived from Memphis to float the river, and the events that followed the troop's arrival caused me to face up to my responsibility.
Quite a few moms and sisters had come along with the troop for the ride, and I was particularly impressed with the group because all the boys were well-behaved and the parents were the nicest we had hosted at the base. Each of the scouts was assigned a tent, and they had all finished eating their supper when I invited them to a campfire.
While I was telling the boys and their families about the history of the river, I saw Danny and Scott come out of their tent. Danny had on the proper camp uniform, but Scott was wearing a short pair of cutoff bluejeans and a sleeveless T-shirt. I continued my history as the two of them walked up to the fire ring and sat on a log. A short time later, in the middle of a ghost story, I heard some of the boys giggling behind me. I turned around, continuing my story, and saw that several of the scouts were laughing and sort of pointing across the fire ring. Before I could turn around, I saw one of the little sisters lean over and cup her hands around her mother's ear.
"Mommy, I can see his wee-wee," she whispered loudly.
Now I was afraid to turn around, but I continued the story as I looked across at Scott. He was sitting on a log, feet flat on the ground, and legs spread--and what he thought of as his manhood hung for all to see. I was horrified, and I quickly completed my story. I walked over to Scott and told him to follow me.
"What is the hell are you trying to do?" I seethed when I was far enough away to feel that I would not be heard.
"What do you mean?" he mumbled as he stared at me.
"What's the idea of wearing those cutoffs out here and showing yourself for all those people to see," I demanded. "What kind of a pervert are you?"
"Oh," he said, "that just happens sometimes."
"Go to your tent and change into a proper uniform," I said. "We'll talk about your stupid pranks in the morning."
I could not send him home right then. The canoe base was miles from any of the surrounding towns, and he lived nearly one-hundred miles away. I figured I could get the troop on the river the next morning and deal with him later.
As I was driving back down the base road the next morning after taking the Memphis group to their starting place, I saw Danny and Scott walking up from the river, again wearing their nylon swim suits. I nearly jack-knifed the canoe trailer skidding to a stop in front of them.
"That's it," I yelled. "You're both fired. Pack your stuff and get out of here."
I was glad I had finally allowed Danny to bring his car to the base because I was not sure I could stand taking the two of them back to Nashville, and I was surely not prepared to let them stay long enough to have a parent drive down to pick them up.
While they packed, I leaned against the chopping block and watched to make sure they left in a hurry. They came out of the tent and walked over to me.
"You can't fire us, you damned son-of -a-bitch!" Danny snarled.
Scott collected his courage and I thought he was going to say something profound like "Yeah," but he spit right in my face. All the strength in my body focused on that pathetic college kid, and my hand found its way behind me to the ax imbedded in the top of the chopping block. I gripped the handle of the ax and pulled it free, swinging it around and catching the upper part of the handle in my other hand.
"That might just be the last thing you'll ever do," I said, surprising myself with the calmness and quietness of my voice.
I took a step toward Scott and pulled the ax into swinging position.
"You'd better leave now while you can," I said.
To my relief, they backed away. They threw all their belongings into Danny's car and slid and squealed their way up the road.
Alone, I looked around and wondered what I would do if they came back. I was scared. Hoping I wouldn't see them again, I went into my tent and got my rifle. Fifteen minutes later I heard a car coming down the road. I moved the rifle out of sight, but kept it close just in case.
To my relief, the car belonged to John, a friend of mine from Nashville. He and four other friends piled out of the car.
"Hey, we came to visit you," John said. "What's the matter? You look white as a sheet."
I told them what happened and they were not surprised. They had all gone to high school with Danny and Scott, and they didn't like either one. Just as I was about to show them around the base, another car came down the road. It was Danny and Scott. When they pulled up, they saw there were five other guys there.
"You son-of-a-bitch," Scott yelled.
Danny drove back out the road toward the highway, and John started laughing. The rest of us were soon laughing too, but I was laughing out of pure relief. I knew Danny and Scott would not return.
If adversity builds character, then I suppose the Greer Canoe Base built mine. When I returned to work in the council office at the end of the season, the Scout Executive passed me in the hall.
"Roy," he said as he turned and put his arm around my shoulder, "you're doing a hell-of-a-job."
Even though I had known him all my life and I had worked for him for nearly four years, he had never called me by my first name. Howard Rickards was a man who cared a great deal about the Boy Scouts, but he was a relentless boss. His use of my first name let me know he approved of my handling of the canoe base.
Roger Akins, the council's Deputy Scout Executive, told me later that Danny and Scott did not fare well when they returned home. Akins was a friend of both of the boy's fathers, and he explained that Danny's dad told the boy that anybody who could not keep a job at a Boy Scout camp needed to go out and get a "real" job, so he got him a job as a laborer at a construction company. Scott's dad met him at the door when he returned home. Scott was wearing the cut-off jeans and the sleeveless T-shirt. According to Akins, Scott's dad wrestled him to the floor, stripped every stitch of clothing off of him, and took the clothes out into the front yard and burned them. He forced Scott to work in the maintenance department at his plant where he made sure the boy got most of the really dirty jobs for the next few weeks.
I never realized the need for responsibility before I had to take the responsibility for the building, operation, and public relations at the Greer Canoe Base. When faced with irresponsible behavior, I had no choice but to become responsible not only for myself, but for all those who passed through the canoe base. Growing is sometimes painful, and my first real taste of responsibility was a difficult transition.
Roy Kenneth Pace, III