It’s happening again today.
My wife has once again found herself in charge — responsible for 25 volunteers who’ll spend a few days taking care of 180 high school students at band camp. Undoubtedly, she’ll see some old familiar faces.
It’s hardly her first time directing a corps of do-gooders. Between the two of us, we’ve been president, vice president, treasurer, coach, assistant coach, den leader, Cubmaster, committee chair — you name it. We asked for none of those positions, and attempted to shy away from most.
Our unintentional service to others began more than 10 years ago when our son wanted to sign up for Tiger Cubs, the youngest group in Cub Scouts.
‘I’m taking Chris to the school after dinner,’ I told my wife. ‘And I’ll be damned if they convince me to be a leader.’
‘Just tell them no,’ she responded, as if it were that easy.
‘Damn right I’ll tell them no,’ I retorted. ‘I’m trying to run a business and I just don’t have the time to lead a group of someone else’s kids.’
And off we went to the cafeteria at Pine Tree Primary School, where at least 100 boys and their parents gathered to sign up for a childhood of adventures.
‘If you’ll just fill out this paperwork — here’s a pen — we’ll take care of the rest,’ the polite lady said to me. ‘We’re really excited that you chose Pack 211.’
After peeling dried ketchup from the cafeteria table, I sat on an undersized seat and began to fill out the membership form. It was a five-minute task — name, birth date, contact information and a brief questionnaire regarding the parent’s previous Scouting experience.
My ego got the best of me.
‘Oh! I see you are an Eagle Scout,’ the woman said cheerfully, as she glanced over the completed form.
‘Yes,’ I responded with pride. ‘Class of 1987. I have President Reagan’s signature on my certificate.’
‘You are exactly who we’ve been looking for to lead our youngest group of boys,’ she announced.
The guilt immediately began to creep in. So many people, including my father, had volunteered to lead my own childhood adventures. He worked two jobs during much of that time. Am I that much of a loser that I cannot give back? But I also became frustrated that, in an attempt to show some swagger, I signed my life away.
‘I’m glad you brought that up,’ I responded to the woman, ‘because I’ve been looking for an opportunity to put the ol’ uniform back on.’
Truth be told, my wife did 90 percent of the work that I’d rooked myself into. And that was just during the first year. By the time the boys graduated to Bear (or Wolf – I can’t recall), I’d somehow agreed to take over as the Cubmaster of the entire pack while Catherine signed on officially to lead a den.
In the mean time, she also became a Girl Scout leader for our youngest daughter, hawking thousands of dollars in cookies outside the local Wal-Mart during 100-degree weather in between trips to nursing homes and Build-a-Bear.
Somewhere in there, Catherine was also a baseball team mom who took care of providing sunscreen, first aid and post-game drinks for the boys. She did it because one of the coaches — yours truly — asked for her help. I’d registered as a coach for two reasons: I wanted to be able to schedule practices around Scout meetings; and I wanted to make sure that some Tom Seaver-wannabe dad didn’t try to live vicariously through our children.
Though we both were on the constant lookout for our volunteer replacements, we gradually found ourselves to be more immersed and committed to our children’s activities. Before our son ever earned his Arrow of Light (the highest award in Cub Scouts), we’d already led a couple of Mom & Me (overnight camping) events for several area towns and put together two weeklong day camps. Not to mention, Alexandra was playing soccer by then.
Through it all, there were a few constants.
At any meeting of coaches, Scout leaders or PTA officers, the faces were always familiar. Like us, they didn’t likely hear very many ‘thank yous’ from parents who dropped off their children and drove away. And, like us, they probably heard more armchair quarterbacking than kind remarks. Still, our tickets had been punched and we were along for the ride.
That ride has included many drive-thru dinners, missed TV shows, late-night homework sessions and countless shipments from Oriental Trading Company. And plenty of exhaustion. Mental and physical.
Another constant that I’m most certain reared its head to my wife over the past month or so: apathy. Need a list of excuses to help you steer clear of … helping? We’ve heard it all — from working 40 (yes, 40) hours per week, to being allergic to sunshine. There are also those who tell you that they’ll pray about it and get back with you. Or they’ll tell you that they need to talk to the better half. Either way, that always means ‘no.’
In little more than a year, our grandson will be receiving a flyer at his elementary school. It’ll feature photos of Pinewood Derby cars, campfires and probably a wild animal, or two. He’ll want to sign up and I’ll gladly take him to the Bramlette Elementary School cafeteria, just as I did his uncle years ago.
This time, however, I’ll make sure that I leave that Scouting experience? line blank. Then again, maybe I’ll just let them know that I’ll help, but I’ll have to pray about being a den leader.
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I’m proud to say that Generation X, according to the Corporation for National and Community Service, has the highest rate of volunteerism of any age group. Many of us older Xers also have the misfortune of being sent to grade school with that nasty pimento cheese spread that is typically enjoyed by geriatric patients. Thus is why it took me so long to give real pimento cheese a chance.
It was several years ago when my younger sister brought a homemade version to a family function. If memory serves me correctly, her recipe came from Southern Living magazine. I’ve tinkered with my own recipe through the years. It’s basic and addictive on its own, with numerous add-in possibilities.
Classic Southern Pimento Cheese
- 1½ cups – Mayonnaise
- 4 oz jar – Chopped Pimento, drained
- 1 TB – Onion powder
- 2 tsp – Garlic powder
- 1 tsp – Ground Mustard
- 1 tsp – Paprika
- ½ tsp – Cayenne Pepper
- Few drops – Louisiana-style Hot Sauce
- 1 lb – *Sharp Cheddar, shredded
- Combine first six ingredients (and any mix-ins).
- Add cheese and stir.
- Refrigerate at least an hour before serving.
1/2 cup - Chopped Pecans
1/2 cup - Green olives, chopped
1/2 cup - Cooked Bacon, chopped
1-2 - Jalapeno peppers, diced
1/4 cup - Chopped dill pickles
1/4 cup - Chopped Green onions (instead of onion powder)