When Oliver Jensen Was Trustworthy, Loyal, Helpful, Friendly, Courteous, Kind, Obedient, Cheerful, Thrifty, Brave, Clean, And Reverent


“From his observations Grootboom worked out his deductions: It was evident that women had been carrying beer from the place where the tree grew (the Matabele stop up the mouths of their beer pots with leaves) and had passed this way at four in the morning (a breeze had blown at that time strong enough to carry the leaf for several yards). This would have brought the women into the Matopos about five o’clock. The men would have drunk the fresh beer before it turned sour and would, by this time, be Very comfortable if not half-stupid.’” On this slender evidence and thoughtful reasoning, Baden-Powell and Grootboom followed the women’s tracks, found the large impi in its kopje , and raced back with their information.

It was rather a step down from this kind of adventure to the exercises we conducted at Troop 3’s meetings in the church basement in New London. We tied bowlines and clove hitches, and we moved heavy objects around in slings. I still have a board in the cellar with mounted samples of knots, the end of each rope whipped. First aid was a high priority, with someone playing the victim of a broken bone or a near drowning. There was map making, in which you learned all manner of symbols for different kinds of terrain and other features, not to mention the fact that the symbol for our Scout badges was merely the fleur-de-lis that marks north, borrowed by Baden-Powell. We learned to box the compass, and a great deal of time was spent in sending and reading our juvenile messages by semaphore flags.

Out in the town we occasionally marched in civic events, quite far back from the open touring cars that carried the ancient veterans of the Civil War. Another town activity for Scouts was a game called Noticing. You had a minute each to study four busy shop windows and then turn away and recite as many of the objects in them as you could memorize. The real fun, however, was woodcraft. In the woods not far from where I lived, we went out observing and noting down birds, plants, and various species of tree. You were supposed to find six wild animals—which took awhile in domesticated Connecticut. My friend Smitty and 1, fulfilling a requirement for first-class Scout, went on a fourteen-mile hike along the back roads to Niantic, a nearby town, making a rather sketchy map as we went. It rained lightly most of the way, with poor effect on the map, but we finished. We practiced cooking outdoors, eating out of mess kits, but the blessed censor blots out the memory of what we produced, or possibly actually ate.

Then there was astronomy. Quite a lot, I recall, was made of learning certain major constellations and important stars, which I had mainly forgotten when, fifteen years later in the Navy, I had to learn them all over again. Since I have forgotten them a second time, I try not to get lost in the woods after dark, although I do remember that the moss on tree trunks grows mostly on the north side, which gets no sun. And if I can find the Big Dipper, I can locate Polaris, the North Star.

We were to find six wild animals— which took awhile in domesticated Connecticut.

The lore of the wild was all well and good, but what was really drilled into us was the necessity of doing “a good turn” at least every day, with running errands for one’s mother excluded. Two likely deeds of benevolence were suggested in my Handbook : helping old ladies across the street and giving up one’s seat on the streetcar to the aged and infirm. The old ladies of New London were annoyingly spry, even when you practically lay in wait for them, and would be halfway across the intersection, waving their gloves imperiously at cowering motorists, before I could catch up with them. The streetcars that took me some five miles each way from home to the Second Congregational Church in the evenings were lightly patronized, facing extinction with plenty of empty seats.