This is the fourth of twelve installments in a story that follows a new Scoutmaster, Chuck Grant, attempting to use the patrol method in a troop that has forgotten how.
I’ve based this work of fiction on the stories shared by readers and listeners, questions they have asked, and the advice I commonly share in reply. Scoutmasters can expect to encounter challenges and setbacks along the way.
I’ve tried to avoid being unreasonable optimistic, or overly pessimistic about the progress we can make when we stick to the basics.
At the troop meeting three weeks before my first camping trip as Scoutmaster our patrols were meeting and discussing menus.
I corralled my assistant Scoutmasters, Wayne, George, and Dave, in one corner of the meeting room.
“As you heard our senior patrol leader announce a moment ago,” I began, “the patrols are working on some plans for the weekend.”
“Uh oh,” Wayne turned to George and quipped, “more new stuff!”
“After all he is the new guy,” George said.
“Yes, I am,” I smiled.
“Think they will actually be able to eat what they cook?” asked George.
“Nobody cooks a well as you do, George,” I replied patting George on the shoulder, “but they’ll figure things out, and that’s the point, right?”
George shook his head, “No, I’m serious; I don’t think we can expect much, most of these boys haven’t even been through cooking merit badge yet.”
“How did you learn to cook George?” I asked,
“I watched my dad, and he showed me a few things.” George replied.
“But at some point you had to actually put something in a pan ….” I said.
George laughed and broke in, “… and burn it to a crisp.”
“Yes, but the second time you knew better, right?” I asked.
“Well maybe after the third or fourth try,” George relied.
“But you get my point; I want the Scouts doing things we are used to doing for them.” I looked around at all three of my assistants, “I know that you guys are at least a little skeptical about this.”
“A little?” Wayne said.
“Let’s see how things go,” I said, “all I am asking is that you play along and follow my lead, okay?”
“I can’t remember a boy starving to death over a weekend.” Dave said.
“Was this your idea;” Wayne asked, “or did the Scouts come up with it?”
“I suggested the idea,” I replied, “and I pushed them a little.”
“But aren’t they supposed to be coming up with things by themselves?” Wayne asked “Isn’t that what ‘boy-led’ is all about?”
“Eventually, yes,” I replied, “the Scouts will begin to take the initiative on these things, but I am doing what I can to get them headed in the right direction.”
“I guess the trick is knowing when to make suggestions, when to give directions, and when to wait for them to sort things out.” Dave added.
“I think that says it, Dave,” I replied, “I doubt I’ll get everything right to begin with.”
“But so far so good,” Dave said, “At least as far as I can tell.”
“I hope so!” I replied.
I asked George to spend ten or fifteen minutes going over some cooking basics in the Scout Handbook later that evening.
It seemed like the Scouts were all talking at once, there was little visible order. Jake looked a little overwhelmed.
I walked over to Jake, “Looks like things are going pretty well, what do you think?”
“Everybody’s pretty excited about making up menus and stuff, they’re just a little loud,” he replied.
“Tell your patrol leaders that they have five more minutes,” I said, “and then get everybody back together, Mr. Hudson will take it from there while we have a quick huddle with the patrol leader’s council .”
I turned away from Jake just in time to see our committee chair come through the door.
“Hey John, how are you?” I asked as I shook his hand.
“I’m fine, thanks,” John surveyed the scene, he looked a little pale, “what’s going on?”
“The patrols are working on menus for their mountain climbing trip.” I replied.
“Awfully loud in here,” John mumbled as he fumbled through his briefcase.
“I have permission slips for your trip,” he said, “I only have time to hand them out, and then I have to get going.”
John started for the middle of the room. I knew what came next; he’d call for attention and talk about the permission slips for about ten minutes.
I stopped him, “Thanks John, let me take those and I’ll be sure the Scouts get them before they leave.”
“I can do this, it’s okay,” he replied, a little confused.
“Actually, John, I’d rather that you didn’t this time.” I said, “I promise I’ll take care of things, and the Scouts will have the slips back to you next week as usual.”
John smiled wryly, and looked down his nose at me, “okay, new guy, I’ll try it your way this time. Just be sure to remind them…”
“… To have their parent’s give us an emergency phone number.” I filled in. (I had heard John say this dozens of times).
“Exactly,” John said, “they always forget to do that,” he looked at his watch, “I do have to run, best of luck Mr. Scoutmaster.”
“Thanks again, John,” I replied.
While I was heading the committee chair off at the pass, Jake had assembled the troop, and was looking at me expectantly.
“What happens next?” I asked him.
“Oh yeah,” turning to the Scouts he said, “Mr. Hudson is going to do cooking now.”
“And …” I started.
“Oh, yeah,” Jake said, “I need patrol leaders over here.”
I led the patrol leader’s council outside to the picnic table.
“So how did menu planning go?” I asked.
I turned to one of the patrol leaders “Bob, what is your patrol having for breakfast on Saturday?”
Bob jumped a little, “uh, pancakes I think.”
“Sounds great, Bob, what do you need to make pancakes?”
Bob jumped again, “Pancake stuff?”
“So I get a box of pancake stuff, then what?” I asked
Bob jumped a third time, “Then you make pancakes.”
“What do I put in the pan before I make pancakes?”
Bob had no idea what I was driving at, “What?” he asked.
“Don’t you put butter or something in the pan first?” Jake asked.
“Now you are catching on!” I said, “Bob, I hope you don’t feel like I am picking on you, I am just trying to help you guys think this through. Did anybody write their menu down?”
Zach had some notes, but the other two were relying on their memory. We discussed things for a few more minutes. When we got up from the table, the patrol leaders had figured out that a menu in writing would help things along, and they’d need some idea of what they needed to cook the menu.
“One last thing,” I said, “how many of you can meet me at the grocery store one evening this week so we can go shopping?”
We spent a moment discussing arrangements for grocery shopping.
As they headed in the door, I handed Jake the permission slips, “These need to go home with every Scout tonight, can you be sure that happens?”
“No problem,” Jake said, “I’ll tell them.”
“Remember you have patrol leaders,” I said.
Jake looked at me quizzically, for a second, then he smiled, “you mean give these to the patrol leaders?”
“And they can give them to their Scouts.” I said, “It’s a small thing, but it’s important, form here on out everything happens by patrol.”
“Got it!” Jake replied.
“After you get done at the closing I have some things to say if that’s okay.” I asked.
“Sure,” Jake replied and started through the door.
“Oh, yeah,” I said, “I almost forgot; be sure to tell everybody to make sure their parents put…”
“…the emergency phone number on the permission slip,” Jake finished for me, “yeah, I know.”
Read the rest of the story in my new book: