Some Christmas cards I created this year for clients:
One of the few Christmas traditions it surprises me to keep is singing carols at a nearby hospital with Boy Scout Troop 328, the Troop our son and I belonged to (it retains me its rolls as Token Strange Guy from the Past).
Monday marked the 14th Christmas the Troop has serenaded patients (and probably making some sicker). Maybe the 15th. I've lost track.
When a new adult Scout leader with the Troop, someone I'd never met, asked me when our son earned his Eagle award, I suddenly realized it was (gasp!) eight long years go. So now I've been caroling with the Troop longer than when our son was in it and I was active as an adult leader.
Strange Old Guy from the Past. Who shows up for Eagle courts of honor and caroling, frightening the young Scouts with his weird sideburns. That's me.
The Troop is kind and invites me to sing along. They say it's because I'm the only one who can sing, but I know it's just their excuse.
Each year I recognize fewer and fewer Scouts. This year only one Scout knew me by name, and I by his, a Scout I've known all these years because his older brother moved up through the Troop and this year earned his Eagle. Now little brother is one of the Troop's senior Scouts.
Two dozen Santa-hatted, fully-uniformed (mostly) Scouts showed, along with parents, making a throng of about 40 roaming up and down the hospital's floors, led by the hospital public relations person. We're breaking in our second hospital flack, whose extra-hours duty right before Christmas is to put up with us. But we know the drill: Walk single file down the hallways, line up on both sides of the hall when we stop to sing, don't look into patients' rooms, only speak when a patient acknowledges you, etc.
As a Scoutmaster I used to know all the Scouts, used to know which Scouts liked to kid and be kidded, and which just wanted to say hello and stay quiet otherwise. I knew which ones needed reminding to act appropriately and which ones could influence appropriate behavior for others. I knew each Scout's interests and sports and ambitions, or their lack, and I could talk with them about their lives.
They had given me false hope I could be a teacher.
Now they're strangers. They're the same kids, it's easy to see. Some are wiry and full of energy, others are quiet and unsure. Older Scouts celebrate their bonds of going to the same high school or their long tenure in the Troop, and form cliques. Some younger Scouts, for whom no amount of activity will settle them or reminding will quite shush them, form their own cliques. Some are experimenting in social behavior, the Troop their laboratory.
Same kids, just different.
Descending a stairwell on our caroling journey Monday, a Scout accidentally stepped on the heel of my shoe.
"Sorry," he said. I turned around with a smile and said, "Yeah, I'll bet." By the passing storm on the Scout's face, I could tell he didn't know whether the Token Strange Guy was joking or denigrating.
Through hard work, demographic shifts and good fortune, Troop 328 is large again, with at least three Patrols. I'm jealous of the new patches, one for the Notorious 9 who came into the Troop together, another for the Raptors.
Their new Scoutmaster, whose curlicue mustache makes nonsense of my measly bristles, says he's thankful for all the Scouts and parent help. He hardly says a word to the Scouts, but he doesn't have to. The Senior Patrol Leader, the Scout the Troop has elected to lead them, really does lead them, making sure they follow the hospital guidelines.
The Troop carries on the tradition of singing "We Wish You a Merry Christmas," as we move from Point A to B. For some reason this year the flack diverted us from the pediatric wing, where the Scouts tend to put extra energy into "Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer," with louder "like a lightbulbs" and "like Columbuses," and "Frosty the Snowman." In fact, we never sang "Frosty" Monday.
The Scoutmaster is continuing to develop the Troop into one truly run by boys, as it should be. It's a never-ending process, more difficult than you might think, what with us parents wanting their children never to fail. But the Scoutmaster is serving as a presence, a go-to guy if the Senior Patrol Leader needs him this evening. The Senior Patrol Leader doesn't.
A young man, hearing us sing down the hall, requested that we sing to a specific patient, a parent or grandparent maybe. Almost all of us stuffed the room to overflowing one room and sang, a few of us left standing in the hallway.
We said our "Merry Chistmases" and goodbyes after, and I left Scouts to their post-sing tradition of scarfing sugar cookies and cocoa. The Scoutmaster kindly invited me back, for this or anything else in the Troop.
Good people came after me, I can see, much better equipped to develop leadership and self-government among the Scouts. The best thing I can do for the Troop is be Token Strange Guy, showing up now and then from the Past.
*Yes, I capitalize Troop and Scout and Patrol, and I know it's irksome. The habit latched onto me when I was corresponding to the Troop as Scoutmaster, mostly as a way of honoring the importance in which I held Scouting (see, there I go again). Sorry. Get used to it.