Monday, December 6, 2010

A Tribute to Lou

“G1!” “What is G1? I said. I was told it stood for Glenbrook 1, Troop 1 from Glenbrook (Stamford, Ct) of Alfred W. Dater Council that used to meet in Union Memorial church during the late sixties. Anything was better than old “Droopy Drawers,” our current scoutmaster who had us working on some sort of oscillator. I didn’t join scouts to build oscillators, whatever the hell they were. Actually I don’t even know why I joined but here we were in February of 1969, getting a new scoutmaster (thank God!).

But he was from Stamford! Mr. Lou Pape, curly hair on the fringes, balding in the front and sporting a chrome dome in the back, called the scouts of Troop 50 to attention. He wore black rimmed coke bottle type glasses. I, being only a 12 year old snob at the time, was wondering why someone from the neighboring ‘city’ of Stamford had to be imported to lead our Darien Troop. Mind you, Darien is a bedroom community of commuters to New York City, an island for the white and wealthy. Who was this character, I thought? It wasn’t after too long that one learned that Mr. Pape was no light weight, and you didn’t mess with him. After a few months, and a mass exodus of scouts, Troop 50 began to take to shape, a good shape. Finally, I began to realize why I joined scouts. Mr. Pape chucked the oscillators and begin to train us is in actual scouting skills, leadership and outdoor skills.

Mr. Pape was not a guy who looked hip by any means but he had a cool early 60’s Volkswagen van which he slept in on campouts when we weren’t backpacking. He switched over to sleeping in a tent because it was actually colder in his white VW van. Plus it didn’t do hills to well.

I remember one of our campouts that first year; it was a camp-o-ree in Woodland Park in Darien, sometime in 1969. We hiked from the Andrew Shaw Scout Cabin near Ring’s End Lumber Company to Woodland Park on the Stamford line. The camp-o-ree was made up of Alfred W. Dater council troops, all Darien and Stamford. Back in those days, when scouting was more popular, Darien had about 12 troops and Stamford, maybe 40 troops. Close to 25 troops were in attendance at this camp-o-ree. The scenario was that a nine year old girl was lost in Woodland Park and 25 troops had to find her. Zoomies were flying over lending suspense and credibility to the operation. 40 minutes into the operation, Mr. Pape had us comb an area a Stamford troop had jus finished searching. Our Assistant Senior Patrol Leader and captain of the Darien high School wrestling team, Doug Hanum spotted a large log buffered by leaves. He had us pull all the leaves away from under the log and low and behold, there was the girl. We followed our first aid training, built a stretcher from poles and our kerchiefs, and used our stretcher as a backboard to carry her out. Troop 50 one first place in the camp-o-ree that weekend because Mr. Pape’s training paid off. May this character from Stamford was alright. He sure knew his scouting stuff.

Early Campouts were a fiasco, so to speak, trying to whip the troop into shape from the slack days of old Droopy Drawers. On simple ten mile hike, after about hour you would here from the back of line; “Mr. Pape, how many miles?” He would casually reply: “Two more miles, Bubby.” This went on until we finished our 11 mile hike.

There is no age that seems to exhibit the epitome of thorough and unmitigated tomfoolery than that of the junior high school aged boy. His age, around eleven or twelve is precisely the age where he is allowed and even encouraged to sign up in the local scout troop. If it weren't for the older scouts who kept the silly tomfoolery of the younger ones to a manageable level through the use of the evil eye, cutting remarks, condescension, pranks and beatings, this age group would have their fathers pulling out their hair.

The Pound Ridge Reservation is a small State Park just inside the New York State border, not far from Southern Connecticut. If any place stirs up old memories of early scouting days, it is this place. Late March, in '69, perhaps twelve brand spanking new scouts, all dressed in their shiny new polyester scout uniforms, neckerchief slides and belt buckles gleaming sporting their wool checkered jackets or winter Parkas, occupied one of the three existing lean-tos that the illustrious troop 50 of Darien reserved for a weekend wilderness experience. Weekend warriors they were at best.

Earlier in that overcast and chilly spring day, our Scoutmaster Lou Pape had led us all on a ten mile hike around the park. There went the saddest looking bunch of scouts you might well have ever laid your eyes on. Joey B. had pots and pans haphazardly tied to his state-of- the- art Yucca pack, clanging and banging his away down the trail, looking more like an old prospector than a boy scout, scaring away any remote possibility of spotting any real wildlife. Even a crow would have been a welcome sight after a while. Then there was “Gills” Callahan who couldn't walk ten yards without hiking up his sagging drawers. Gills, was the lad who took too much abuse about his weight but always took it quite well and otherwise kept a low profile.

While Jim von K was complaining of chafing his tender thighs raw with his unchallenged, untried, brand spanking new polyester scout pants, "Saigon Elly", a derivative of his actual name (Dick Sagonelli) which resulted from Mr. Pape's intentional mispronunciation, brought up the rear - not to be confused with Callahan, who was continuing to bring up the rear quite literally.

Every now and then some tenderfoot would summon up enough courage to cry out; "Mr. many more miles"? The response never changed - "Two more miles, Bubby". That had always puzzled the best of us tenderfoots but since most of us were not Einstein types when it came to math, except for maybe the Toumey brothers, no one ever challenged Mr. Pape. But there were one or two of us who could put two and two together. For instance, if on a 10 mile hike we had been walking only an hour, and some loon asks the inevitable question and gets the standard, "Two more miles, Bubby" response, then it seemed to us that something wasn't adding up logically. But on the other hand, Scoutmasters never lie. This was a moral dilemma. And since scouts are encouraged to be honest and trustworthy, then we must assume our leader was the guru of trustworthiness. Thus, he would never lie. So, there we were, trapped between a rational rock and a moral hard place. It was only till we were able to read maps and notice trail signs that we had it figured but by then it was one of those nuggets of revelation you kept to yourself.

Stream crossings were always an event to look forward to, especially just after the ice thaws. The older scouts, most specifically a few who were on the High School wrestling squad would take bets on each tenderfoot who came up to take their turn crossing the brook. Gills Callahan lumbered up to ford the stream, hiking up his pants and shifting his pack around till he got comfortable. All bets were on. Gills got about a third of the way across the raging brook when he stepped on a slippery moss covered rock and down he went like a ton of bricks, face first into the stream. His pack had slipped up and was holding his head under the water. When the money was collected and the laughter died down to a dull roar, Assistant Senior Patrol leader, Michael Metzger grabbed the boy by the collar with one arm and pulled him up out of the brook in one swift motion.

There he was gasping for breath, soaked to the skin with his wet hair matted down on his head. Due only to his obesity was his pack and its contents able to remain up out of the water and somewhat dry. Gills immediately checked to see if the sweet tarts in his pants pocket were dry. So to accompany Joey's pots and pans a clanging, a 'squish, squish, squish' now beat out a new tempo to Joey's rhythm. In between the clanging and squishing was the sound of the occasional tenderfoot tripping over a root. It is just amazing where they put those things, right on the trail, no less. They called it, 'pulling a Smith'. Smith seemed to be able hone in on roots like he had radar. His name was personally etched on every root on the trail or so it seemed anyway. I must confess that I found my share in the early days, too.

Arriving back at the campsite, the tenderfoots of Coyote, Buffalo and the Cobra Patrol were indeed tender. Blisters, chaffed thighs, sore backs and aching shoulders where the straps cut into their tender skin under weight of their brand new gear, had this rag tag bunch lagging behind, limping, moaning, whining and complaining. They dropped their gear in the lean to, argued and fought briefly over which prime real estate they wanted and then sat on the nearest available object. The Toumey boys, Ken and Don, stood out amongst them like Mr. Clean on a linoleum kitchen floor. Not a hair out of place, or a speck of dirt or mud anywhere. How did they do it?

As the tired and sore bunch of wilderness novices took inventory of their personal causalities, the Senior Patrol Leader, Hawkins, came to remind us it was about time to rustle up some firewood to cook dinner. It began to drizzle at about 3 pm when we were putting our pea brains together to make a plan to cook up a complicated culinary delight - soup. Some rocket scientist noticed that in our lean to, unlike the others, lo and behold, there was a fire place built in the inside corner. Hey, great, we won't have to get wet! Tenderfoots, no longer in spotless shiny polyester but thorn torn, wet and mud stained, went out to select some choice firewood for a blazing inferno that would take the chill out of our bones on this cold, dank, drizzly late afternoon. Joey, Smith, Louie, Jim, Mark, Kern, Saigon Elli, Don, Ken and Gills Callahan went out to gather up some wood.

Tom Deppen otherwise known as “Bedpan,” and I stayed back to build the fire and brew up some soup. Louie offered us the use of his famous knife which had every attachment from a normal fork to a belly button lint remover. The scary thing was it had never been cleaned. Maybe it was a survival technique. He could have lived for a few days off the crumbs that were stuck between attachments and the green slime that was growing on the various implements that a wipe on a pant leg didn't totally do the trick. If you poured just hot water into his mess kit cup, you'd have a combination of instant Hot Chocolate, oatmeal and tang. So we declined his kind offer of using any of his mess implements. Three hours later and a quarter of cord of unburned green wood, we all settled down to some lukewarm soup. Smelling like we'd lived out our last five years in a hickory smoke house, we abandoned the idea of a roaring bonfire to dry us out. Who needed one anyway? When Mr. Pape came to check on us he took one whiff, and while looking around through the blue haze lingering in the lean-to, he spotted the green wood smoldering in the fire place. I vaguely remember him scratching his head and looking down at his boots, perhaps searching for the right words to say, and then giving us a short lecture on the undesirability and the drawbacks of using green wood vs. dry wood but one thing I do know is that the story of the "three hour soup" still lives in infamy to this day.

Shortly after, darkness fell and with it the rain poured down in buckets. We must have had 12 scouts jammed into that lean-to. Since it was raining so hard, our normal campfire program was canceled. We were all settled in our little jelly rolls, dodging cold drops of water that never seemed to spring up in the same place twice. It was only 7 pm and as the temperature dropped, occasional flashlight beams sliced through our warm breath which was clouding and rising in the cold night air.
Before everyone got settled into their little jelly rolls, there was a frenzy of rummaging going on.
"Shoot, gotta get my canteen and put it right here in case I get thirsty." And another;
"Let’s see, If I put my boots right here, I can get 'em if I hafta take a pee in the middle of the night."


"I should've brought a pillow", as someone wads together some T-shirts and underwear and stuffs them under his head. The back ground to all these comments or thoughts is someone blowing up an air mattress that inevitably will be flat before morning. One of the Toumey boys is donning a poncho, ready to head out into the down pour and brush his teeth. Someone rips a loud one and the lean-to erupts with laughter. Gills, in a panic is ripping apart his pack looking for some back up Twizlers or Nibs to tide him over for the night. "Hey where did my Pez go? Did anyone see my Pez"? It had been swallowed up in the mysterious darkness of the lean to. "Oh, shut up, Callahan, just wait until morning."

After three or four hours of unmitigated tomfoolery, laughing at dirty jokes, telling crude stories, the passing of wind at large decibels, guffawing, etc., some of the tuckered tenderfeet dozed off. Every now and then when our laughter got out of control, we'd hear Mr. Pape yell;
"Knock it off 'yuse guys, its lights out"!

Only when the beam of a flashlight began to shine in our direction did silence resound in our lean to. Funny, you could hear a pin drop-but not for too long!

All of us were stacked into the lean to like cord wood with our feet facing out toward the open face. Only Gills Callahan, because of his sheer obesity was lodged perpendicularly to us, closest to the outside. Rain was cascading down off the roof in sheets in front of us, creating quite a large puddle in front of the lean to. Bedpan, myself and perhaps another scout ascertained that Gills had fallen fast asleep, perhaps dreaming of Sweet tarts, Nibs, Necos or Fireballs. Whose idea it was, I can't remember, but with a slight nudge, we rolled poor unsuspecting Gills out into the depression that was caused by the rain cascading off the roof. Gills was thoroughly soaked before Mr. Pape had discovered him, a quite waterlogged, mostly disheveled lump of cotton, polyester and flesh on his final rounds before turning in. He must have kicked Gills back into to the lean to. Amazingly, Gills didn't wake up until the next morning. Or so it appeared. Mr. Pape assumed Gills had rolled out on his own after some tossing and turning. He should have known better.

One dilemma Mr. Pape hadn't quite solved and that was just exactly who it was in the corner of the lean to, body shivering, teeth chattering and wrapped in a pink blanket. No sleeping bag, just a pink blanket-pink, no less. First the Green wood-three hour soup, a disheveled lump sleeping in a puddle, and now a shivering body in a pink blanket. Did it get much better than that?

After a cold breakfast of whatever un-edible food we rustled up, we began to pack up our knap sacks. Mr. Pape had come by earlier to identify the shivering body in the pink blanket. Nobody had to tell him it was Joey. Mr. Bachman or Mr. Metzger or some other kind hearted parent had boiled enough water for the gaggling of tenderfoots to have a cup of hot chocolate. Forgetting that anything could get hot on a camp out, most of us singed our tongues down to the bone. It always took at least a week for my tongue to heal and for that burnt taste in my mouth to go away. My mouth always felt as though a group of tenderfoots had camped out in it for the weekend and used it as a latrine.

Mr. Pape was not God, and could not create something out of nothing, but he did his best.

I freely admit I was rather obnoxious as a pre-adolescent (probably adolescent as well) but Mr. Pape taught me and mentored me in scouting skills and gradually I emerged as a leader in our scout troop. Mr. Pape was my first mentor and coach who (other than my father) accepted me as I was, and worked with me. Many of my earlier experience with adults and people in authority were rather abusive. Mr. Pape helped me to believe in myself and taught me leadership and outdoor skills that are still with me today.

With the switchover to Mr. Pape, we now had campouts every month. Each campout had to do with at least a 10 mile hike. Tailgate camping was just not found in Mr. Pape’s book. Darien’s Troop 50 became quite competitive in the Alfred W. Dater council from 1969 to 1973. In 1971, my father became Mr. Pape’s assistant and we proceeded to grow in scouting skills.

Mr. Pape wanted to see me get my Eagle Scout badge and encouraged me from early on. He told me: “Son, one day you’re going to meet a monster, and she is called a ‘girl.’ When you meet her, the probability of any progress on your Eagle Badge will cease. Work hard now, so when you meet the monster, all your hard work won’t be lost.” His words were prophetic but I followed his advice and had most of the work done for my eagle badge at 14. I got my eagle when I was 15.

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