Small World: Turning 12

Henry Precht

Henry Precht

By Henry Precht

BN Columnist

Bobby, a young friend of mine, turned 12 last week. That’s an important stage: the end of childhood and the cusp of the last stage before adulthood. Bobby is deep into sports, meaning in his case, baseball and basketball. Both are highly organized – Little League for baseball and its equivalent in basketball. He’s doing well — knows that you win some, lose some.

I remember when I crossed the 12 threshold. We were far less organized than Bobby’s teams. We played all sports – minus soccer — on a pickup basis. We certainly didn’t have uniforms and our gloves, bats and balls were personal property. A few basketballs belonging to the playground were kept in a locked wooden box.

Sometimes when we were (foolishly) feeling sure of ourselves, we would challenge the Irish kids who lived uptown around the gashouse. They were rough. I don’t recall a single win over them in any sport. But we didn’t give up — being the progeny of stubborn Georgia Crackers. When we reached high school, several of our gang became stars. The Irish Catholics were then no longer competitors; all of them went to Benedictine College, our great rival.

But I digress: The big payoff earned by becoming 12 was reaching the age for Boy Scouts. We had all been Cub Scouts, which was fun but meant our mothers drove us to nearby woods to grill hot dogs and tramp about a bit. The Scouts had higher purposes and made over-night camping trips. Our Scoutmaster, Mr. Eady, was an expert wood carver, who tried to teach us that and other skills.

Merit badges were awarded for various achievements. One test was the 14-mile hike, which I passed by walking out of town to Camp Stratham. Charlie, my best friend and the most creative and competitive of our bunch, passed his merit badge test by walking 14 times around Forsyth Park which was, he said, one mile in circumference.

Charlie repeatedly came to my aid with his imagination. In Mrs. Read’s class, I was assigned to build an “Eskimo summerhouse.” I had no idea what to do. Charlie to the rescue: we walked to a nearby lumberyard, bought three long 2x4s and tied them together at the top.  From somewhere, Charlie produced burlap sacks to drape over them. Mrs. Read gave me a good grade.

When we went on a weekend camp out in the woods along the Savannah River, Charlie again came to the rescue, constructing another teepee of saplings covered with palmetto branches. Unfortunately, it rained that night. Hard. The roof dripped. Mr. Eady decided it was time to evacuate. So, in the driving rain, we packed up and hiked out. Never have I been so thoroughly wet when we arrived at a log cabin fishing camp with roaring fire and scrambled eggs on the wood stove.

The Scouts were about more than adventures, however. There were rules and pledges for good conduct that we had to memorize. The experience strongly reinforced what we learned in school about citizenship. Bobby has never talked about signing up. I wonder if the Scouts still exist as an outlet for youthful energies.

Our troop soon faded as an interest for Charlie. When we got to junior high school, he joined the bunch of older boys who paid no attention to their studies and smoked while sitting on the wooden trash box. Their ranks produced the toughs who would, maybe twice a week, gather at the circle (built for a non-existent fountain) in the center of the adjoining park and go at each other with wild swings of great force. Plenty of blood flowed from busted noses.

Charlie was too slight to keep up with his new circle. Meanwhile, Ronald, another friend whom Charlie teased as “Smiley” because he was always up-beat, and I were picked for a special class of good students who would complete high school early. Charlie didn’t make the cut.

A week after school opened in September, Charlie got his father’s pistol and shot himself in the head. Some of us heard the sound while we were playing in the park. Charlie couldn’t take a loss, he had to find a way to set himself apart.

Charlie’s mother asked our troop in uniform to form two lines of honorary pallbearers as his body was carried from their apartment to the hearse that would take him to Ludovici for burial. That was my last involvement with the Boy Scouts.

Henry Precht is a retired Foreign Service Officer.

Please follow and like us: