In the deep recesses of my mind, tucked away in a well-protected crevasse is Heartland. Memories of my boyhood reside there. It is a place where a boy’s picturesque view of his world makes time stand still. I do not often go there, but when I do a warm memory always welcomes me. Let’s go there now. A memory of my boyhood is waiting for us.
The 24th of November 1962 is unseasonably warm as Boy Scout Troop #177 assembles on the town square. Backpacks—each crammed full with clothes, food, tent, and sleeping bag—rest on the courthouse steps. Scouts in their drab brown uniforms accented by red and gold neckerchiefs mill about. Canteens, compasses, hatchets, and Swiss army knives of every type imaginable weigh down their belts. Excitement fills the air, confidence abounds, an adventure is nigh.
At precisely noon, “Whee, wheeeeee, wheee,” patrol leader Patrick’s whistle beckons my fellow 22 scouts and I. As the courthouse clock gongs twelve times, we hoist our backpacks and then fall in line. After which, standing at attention, we recite the scout oath, salute the colors, and pledge our allegiance.
Off to the side, Dennis pushes reveille out his bugle. Two rows of eleven, snakelike we depart the town square, Patrick at the head, flag bearer on the right front. With our moms and dads waving, erect we stand, the hale and hearty members of Boy Scout Troop #177. A gentle tail wind pushes us onward. The bright rays of the sun lift our spirits and lighten our loads. Hi ho, Hi ho, a camping we do go!
Our destination is a heavily wooded area southeast of Corydon. The way there goes through town, past the Corydon Country Club, and by McMurray’s dairy farm. There we follow a hedgerow separating a cornfield and pasture. At the far end, a creek flows southward, a woods is on its other side. Tonight, 8-3/4 miles from home, we camp there.
A hearty campfire dinner and a few s’mores follow a sun-drenched afternoon of camaraderie fostering reconnoitering in the woods. Heading off to bed, my awaiting sleeping bag sits atop a pile of leaves. A full-stomach, in sync with nature, a clear night – I need no tent.
A decision I regret when, around midnight, a howling wind arrives, bringing with it sleet, that turns to ice, then snow. Soon my campfire is no more and never will be again. In its place is a snowdrift. Clothes wet, feet cold, daylight where are you?
Now too windy to put up my tent, God in heaven I hope to survive. Into my backpack everything goes except the four eggs, bacon, bread, and butter I leave out for breakfast. Soon, Nature—a gracious host 7 hours ago—freezes the eggs, turns the bread to mush, and makes the bacon, well, I cannot describe its state, other than to say it is disgusting. A lone stick of butter, safe in a plastic container, is all that avoids Nature’s wrath. Putting the container in my parka pocket, I move around the best I can to stay avoid getting colder.
Sleep-deprived and miles away from home, tears well up in my eyes. I want to cry, but fight back. A man, a scout no less, does not cry.
The trees heaving to and fro in the darkness are no competition for the malevolent winds. Whack, a limb snaps. Bam it hits the ground. Frightened, tears flow freely. I miss my mom. Her gentle touch would feel so good. A warm piece of her cornbread, covered in honey, is what I crave. I long for the comfort of my warm, dry, and quilt covered bed. As the jagged, blowing snow peppers my face, “I want to go home now,” screams in my head.
Finally, one small, sad ray of sunlight peeks over the horizon. The moment it hits our camp, patrol leader Patrick’s half frozen “Whee, wheeeeee, wheee,” calls us together. We form a discombobulated mass of humanity and gear. Across the creek we go. Along the hedgerow and by McMurray’s Dairy Farm we trudge. Weary, wet, cold, and hungry I unwrap the stick of butter—breakfast!
As we slop by the Country Club and through the town, no cheers, bugle blows, or proud “that there’s my boy” greet us. Our flag, hangs low. At the town square, we exchange no words. Disheartened we disband, to our homes we do go.
On this trip to my Heartland, I am reminded how on a night 54-years ago the winds of manhood left me with an undying appreciation of home. Now, as then, I long for a place of shelter, nourishment, and comfort when the winds blow. I seek an emotional safe-place, a wellspring of love and support to survive life’s storms. Heartland is that place, it is my home of homes.
Like me, every child faces challenges, some real, others imagined, many self-inflicted. Fortunately, a Heartland awaits each child. Helping a child find her or his own Heartland is the greatest gift we as parents and teachers can possibly give. I know, because that night I found my Heartland, and countless times since, its magnetic pull gets me through.
Note: This is the eighth post in the Heartland Series. Please click the follow button on the right side of the blog page to be notified of future posts.