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Lessons learned from my time in the Boy Scouts

It never fails.

I take the first bite of an “oats and honey” crunchy granola bar and I am transported back to seventh grade. I’m wearing my khaki uniform and adjusting my neckerchief slide for the millionth time.

My fellow Boy Scouts and I are taking a break from hiking, or setting up camp or just trying to stave off hunger until the coals are hot enough to cook over.

Both are unique experiences — scouting and munching thin bricks of grains and mortar.

I was never really that great at camping. I always felt a little out of my element.

But I could pitch a tent, start and take care of a fire, tie all the right knots and navigate anywhere with a map and compass. I learned how to cook over a fire, or with a tin foil-ensconced hobo pack of meat and potatoes buried in the coals.

Scouting is where I learned to plan a meal, purchase the necessary ingredients and prep for a weekend of camping. I learned the proper way to fold and store a United States flag. I learned sign language finger spelling.

I was taught how to play mumbly peg, how to roll a sleeping bag so tight it somehow defied physics and became smaller than the sum of its parts, how to tell the difference between venomous and non-venomous snakes and which scouts had the prettiest sisters.

I learned the importance of clear communication.

Once, my dad dropped me off at the scout master’s home on our regular troop meeting night and left as I ran around back to the kitchen entrance we always used. I stepped in to find the scout master, his wife and three or 12 kids (I forget how many) all in their pajamas, sitting around the kitchen table eating soup and sniffling.

We all stared at each other for a minute before the scout master asked, “Did nobody call you to tell you we weren’t meeting tonight? We’re all sick.”

So I borrowed their phone, stood by the door and was ignored until my dad made it home, found out from my mother that scouts had been cancelled, then turned around and came back across town to pick me up. This was the 70s. We still had rotary phones, but only had to dial five numbers.

I missed a few activities while under that same scout master, usually followed by, “Did nobody call you?”

I also learned the value of mercy.

Just before an awards ceremony one year, I had one final opportunity to qualify for any merit badges I was working on. The only thing I lacked for my camping badge was proving I could start a fire with flint and sticks.

I knew how to do this and was eager to demonstrate my pyromaniacal prowess. But the Monday I was to give my demo, it rained. All day. It was still raining when the troop met that evening. Two Eagle Scouts took me out under a tree where we were moderately dry and handed me the flint. I had gathered tinder and kindling, but it was all very damp.

It’s a long process when everything you’re trying to burn is soaked through, but I kept at it. So did the rain.

Finally the Eagles had enough.

“Look,” one said, producing a box of wooden matches from his shirt pocket. “We all know you can do this. Everything’s just wet.”

“The rules just say you have to start the fire with sticks. This,” he said, extending a wooden matchstick to me, “is a stick. Start this fire already and let’s go inside!”

I did and we did.

Mercy.

I am grateful for the time I had as a member of the Boy Scouts of America. I still know how to do many of the things I learned in scouting, just as I have forgotten others. Though I don’t always do it well, I still appreciate good communication. And I have never forgotten the immense value of extending a little mercy.

Certain sights, sounds, smells and tastes bring back the memories of hard work, fun times, injuries from which I still have scars, and great appreciation for the older men and boys who worked hard to make sure we learned to do the same, to have respect for others and our country, to know what it means to love the great outdoors.

So as I enjoy my mid-morning snack of paver stone nostalgia, I remember those people, those experiences and the lessons learned — and I try to forget the powdered eggs we took with us on that one camping trip.

Now that’s when we needed mercy.

Brett Campbell can be reached at brett.campbell@dailyleader.com or 601-265-5307.