Kevin V. Hunt
Scouting Historian, Author, Scouting Veteran, Camp Director
Another Scouting adventure I recall is my acceptance of my first Cubmaster job. I had been in Cub Scouting for a number of years but there was something special about being installed as a Cubmaster. Since I accepted that first Cubmaster position, I’ve since served in that position for over seven years. Now it is no longer at the “adventure” stage. It has now reached the “fun” stage. It’s great fun to go to the monthly pack meetings. I feel comfortable with who and what I am, so I can go to those meetings to have a fun time. And singing has always been a part of that pack meeting fun.
It’s been fun over the years, as I have served as Cubmaster, getting up in front of the Cub Scouts and families and making a complete fool of myself through the crazy games, songs, and cheers. It’s even more fun, however, to observe the shocked look on the faces of some of the parents as I get them involved in some of those crazy things also. When first exposed to my uninhibited nature, some folks immediately go into a state of shock.
I’ve always told parents at my Cub Scout pack meetings, that if they don’t sit in the audience and PARTICIPATE in songs, claps and such things, then they’ll soon be up front leading them (and making a fool of themselves right along with me).
Parents quickly learn that I’m very serious about their participation and after the first couple of pack meetings, they loosen up a bit. From then on, they all love our craziness as much as the rest of us who have been at it for a while.
I would class songs and campfire programs as part of the “fun” of Scouting and perhaps they also fit with “romance”. Though I’ve heard the same songs and have seen the same lousy skits more than I’d care to say, they’re still fun each time I experience them again. It may be that these programs are so traditional that much of our Scouting Spirit is derived from them. For some unexplainable reason, the programs are still fun and they probably always will be.
I remember the special thrill of some other programs that were particularly fun. Our “Gong Show” while in New Jersey at NEI (BSA’s National Executive Institute training for new professionals) is one of those special memories. We were all rolling in the aisles laughing over that one. Jack did his “Radio Act” and Charlie did “Jaberwocky”. I started to lead a song but got “gonged”. Our cottage had a goofy band and sang “Camp Town Races”. I played the belt, someone else the spoons, jug, metal sign, etc. Rob did his “Donald Duck routine” of the song “Hello, Dolly!”
I recall with pleasure, Paul and John doing the “Snake Catcher” skit at Bartlett, and a couple of crazy Del Webb staffers doing “The King, the Queen, and the Gate”. I remember well, Wayne’s rendition of dumb “Ernie”. I can still see him in those out-of-focus glasses and ear muffs. He held us all spellbound. And how could one ever forget “Mahonri” doing his infamous “Yellow Bandana”? Those were all great times.
I had a couple of favorites that I liked to do at campfire programs. One was a song about a peg-legged man (with three legs). This song was “Jake the Peg”. I had heard my aunt and uncle sing this song on numerous occasions and had them send me a copy of it. I wore a top coat and an old hat that was flatter than a pancake as I performed.
I also made an extra “leg” of wood and foam rubber. It was the same size as my own leg, so it really looked authentic when I covered it with some old Scout pants. One pocket of my coat was cut out completely so I could stick my hand down through it to manipulate “Jake”. Some people said they could not even tell which leg was the peg leg as I danced around with it.
It has been great fun through the years to take “Jake” with me to Scouting events and program. And he has gone with me to many a Halloween costume party. I still chuckle every time that I think back to a comment made by a lady at one of these parties as she looked down and saw my third leg. She said, “That is more man than I can handle!”
Another of my old favorites was a carry-over from my own days as a Gnubie at Camp Geronimo. I can still see one of the staffers of twenty years ago putting us through the simpleton motions of “Little house in the middle of the woods … Little old man by the window stood. … Saw a rabbit hopping by, … a knocking at his door. ‘Help me! Help me! Help me!’, he cried … ‘Before the hunter shoots me dead.’ … ‘Come little rabbit, come with me … Oh! How happy we will be.'”
As we did this at our campfire programs, we changed it slightly. I’d come out on “stage” and would start singing and going through the juvenile motions at the same time. I’d act like it was the greatest song ever to hit the campfire program circuit.
The staff would let me get only about half way through the song before several of them would come and run me off stage. “Get out of here, old-timer! You’re too old fashioned. Things have changed…!”
After they got me off, they’d do their own “modern” version of the song. They would sing: “In a pad in a forest green, …bubbbup … Crazy Herman was surveying the scene. … bubbbupp … Saw a hare-man hopping by, … a rappin’ at his door … ‘Like help! Like help!’ Came the plea … Before the hunter exterminates me. …bubbbup …. ‘Crazy hare-man, jump and shout … Come in and we’ll hang out!'”
It was always fun to see the boys’ reactions as we did the little episode. They especially liked it when staff would “rock out” on their version.
Another of my old camp favorites was one that I think was made famous by Gunner Berg, A Scouting enigma known throughout the entire Boy Scouts of America. This was “Three Wood Pigeons”. Again, however, our camp had its own uninspired version. We changed the song to read, “Three … Turkey … Buzzards …!” We had three “buzzards” on staff that really played their part to the ultimate.
Songs were always my favorite part of campfire programs. I enjoyed leading the songs whenever I had a chance. And as I think of singing around a campfire, I think of another of my heroes. I don’t know that he was ever a Scout, but his words aptly describe our efforts at music making.
Ralph Moody, a noted American writer (and one of my favorites), once wrote of his days growing up in the old West. He was the boss of a job and from the way he describes his job and that of the workers, it sounds like his job was about like being a Scoutmaster or a Camp Director. Often he and his guys would do a little singing, and as he described it …, “We didn’t sing either the words or the tunes the way they were supposed to be sung, but we were loud enough to make up for whatever we lacked in pitch or pronunciation.” (The Dry Divide, by Ralph Moody).
And just a side note: My wife and I raised our nine children without a television. I spent hours reading to the group of kids every night. One of the great book series we read together was Ralph Moody’s “Little Britches”. I first learned about Ralph’s books when I was the age of a Scout. And my clan of children enjoyed the eight books as much as I did. I highly recommend them as a great read-aloud book for you to enjoy together.
Ralph Moody hit the nail on the head with me. I always note that “they asked me not sing in the church choir” … but now that I am comfortable with my own singing attempts and desires to sing, I am afraid that I do make up for it in volume. That’s about the way we were at Scout camps – and in singing too. We as a staff may not have been really great singers but we had a lot of fun, and enjoyed doing it also.
I have fond memories of singing around the campfires with Scouts and Staffers. I remember too, that some of my favorite songs at camp were our staff songs. It was fun whenever we sang them at Camp Bartlett and other camps where I have worked through the years. Even now, I can still hear the words of a couple of those. They were all “catchy little tunes” that kind of stuck with you for a while after hearing them. I guess that is why I keep teaching those same songs in all of the camps where I work. And I recently had fun leading songs at our “Scouting Commemoration Event” which I staged in my backyard cabin for the Scouts of my own troop. Scout singing – at whatever level of quality – is one of the really fun elements of Scouting.
Best wishes along your Scouting Trails … Kevin
Excerpt taken from his “Scouting Trails” Book: “MR. SCOUTMASTER!” AT Scoutingtrails Connect with Kevin and read his article: “A Hundred Years of Scouting and What it Has Made Me” and other of his blog articles in The Scouting Trail