How To Change A Kid's Life In 20 Minutes
By An Eagle Scout • August 6, 2014
This story starts long ago in the dim ages, when bear and bison swarmed the forest and the prairie. Or about 2004, which ever you prefer. I was working at a sporting goods/automotive store at the time, at the customer service counter. A father and his son, who appeared to be about 11, came in and asked where the camping equipment was. I pointed them towards the two areas that held our camping merch, and was about to go about doing something else boring when the boy piped up, "I'm going on my first Boy Scout camp out!"
Now, if you've read my other stories, you'll know that I'm an Eagle Scout. I take this position very seriously, and will do everything in my power to encourage and help young scouts on their trail to Eagle. So I looked over at my boss, a nice lady who hired me because of my outdoor experience in scouting, and asked if I could go help these people personally. She smiled and said yes.
The father was COMPLETELY out of his element with camping gear. By his attitude and behavior I would guess that he had never gotten further out of the city limits than a highway in his life. Everything in the aisle perplexed him, but thankfully his son's troop had given them a list of what equipment they'd need. So for about 20 minutes or so I went through the list with them, point by point, explaining what each thing was, what it did, what version to use, and how Kybo Tape is the scout term for toilet paper. That got quite a bit of laughter.
During this time I also talked with the kid. He was very new to scouting, only having joined a couple months prior. He was enthusiastic about getting to go out into the wilderness and camp and make campfires and fish and all the other activities he'd heard about. I talked about my experiences in scouting, which was all of what he was talking about and so much more. Climbing Mt Hood, going to National Jamboree, touring military bases, rafting down the Deschutes, the kid was very impressed. I kept telling him, "this is only the start, you have no idea how awesome it can get."
So we finally have a cart filled with a small tent, sleeping bag, cooking equipment, small first aid kit, beginner backpack, rope, shovel, water bottle, etc. Quite a haul, but I'd done my best to get everything that the kid would need while still keeping things cheap. Well, cheap-ish.
The total was something like a bit over $200. Now, they say that a picture is worth a thousand words, but if I could have taken a picture of the dad's face when the total came up, it would be worth a MUCH longer essay. It was a shock/fear/resignation combination that said, "damn, I didn't expect it to be this much. But he's so excited, I can't tell him no, it would break his heart. Maybe if I just eat Ramen for the next couple weeks, I can afford this." As dad reached reluctantly for his wallet, I flashed him a smile, looked at my boss, and knocked 20% off the total. "A scout is helpful and kind," I quoted. The father thanked me profusely, as did the son. They left with a spring in their step and smiles on their faces. My boss said, "that was very nice, but don't ever do that again." I replied, "but boss, you do realized that, from now on, they are going to be in here on a regular basis to buy camping equipment, right? I know that kid's look, he's just like me at that age, and he's going to be spending a LOT of dad's money here." She laughed, agreed, and the deed was put out of my mind as other customers approached.
But the story isn't done yet, dear reader! For about a week later, look who comes running through the door, but our little first-time camper, with dad trailing along. This kid very specifically wanted to see ME, because he had pictures and he wanted to show them to me. Awwww, sweet! Sure, let's take a look...hey, I know this camp! I know exactly where you were! So we talked about being at that camp, and taking the hike down the hill to the old camp location, and how the fishing in the lake is, and the deer that just don't care that you are around, and how the chow hall seems to be made mostly of sieves given how drafty it is. We had a brag board up for the hunters who had trophy hunts, so I pinned a couple of the better pictures to the board. This kid beamed with pride, then ran off to use the bathroom.
This is when dad chimed in, and thanked me for a much more personal reason. He and the kid's mom had gone through a fairly nasty divorce, and she had majority custody. Scouting events were one of the few ways that dad could spend extended quality time with his son, and this camping trip had been very good for the both of them. He got a little choked up about it, as did I. I simply told him, "this is what scouting is all about. 'Help other people at all times.' This is just the tip of the iceberg."
Over the next year+, they became regulars of the store. I knew which troop they were with, a large and active one, so they were pretty consistently in need of various consumable camping supplies. More pictures got posted to the brag board. His first summer camp saw him earn four merit badges and the Mile Swim badge. I started to volunteer with his troop as a merit badge counselor, and had a great time.
However, real life gets in the way. School, and a couple of new jobs meant I couldn't devote the time I needed to to help his troop out. We basically drifted apart, and the other things going on in my life made me forget about him and his dad.
Until late in 2010. I get a phone call out of the blue. The voice on the other end is deeper, self confident. "Is _____ there?" "Yeah, that's me, who is this?" It's that young scout from the store, calling me up to invite me to his Eagle Court of Honor. I stood there in my kitchen in mute shock. All those memories of helping him out came flooding back. "You better believe I'll be there. I'll even try to fit into my old uniform."
And so I did. Though I eschewed the shorts and went for pants. This young boy, now turned into a young man, stood tall and proud as they pinned the Eagle Medal to his shirt, recited the Eagle Charge, and gave a short speech thanking people who'd made a difference in his life. He looked right at me as he gave the speech, pointed me out, and said, "this guy right here, he was the first adult to encourage me. His example as an Eagle was what I followed. I cannot thank him enough." Tears flowed.
Following the ceremony, I found his dad. Scouting had made both of them better people. He'd decided that being bitter towards his kid's mom wasn't what a scout leader (oh yeah, he was now an assistant scoutmaster, the bug bites very hard) should be doing. This had allowed their divorce to become more amicable, and they had successfully renegotiated custody some time earlier. He was a happier man, and was so proud of his son I was pretty sure his chest was going to burst. His son, now tall, strong, confident, and an obvious leader, was destined to go places. He would be graduating high school the next spring, and was looking at getting into college for a degree in psychology with a minor in criminal justice. He wanted to live his Oath and Law by being a police officer. My own chest felt like it was going to burst at this point.
I still keep in touch with him. He's now coming up on his 21st birthday, and is readying applications for various police departments around town. I've already told him that I'd gladly be his reference, because he's one of the guys we all want to become a cop, someone with a strong and steadfast sense of duty, honor, integrity, generosity, and kindness of spirit. He'll make a damn fine officer, and I can say that a little part of that, just a little part, is because of my willingness to help him choose tents one day several years ago.
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