By Richard Mabey Jr.
Thorpe Hall, of Saint Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Lincoln Park, is where Boy Scout Troop 170 met every Friday night from 7:30 till 9:30, from 1958 until 1994. I joined Troop 170 when I was 11 years old, back in September of 1964. My Dad became Scoutmaster in September of 1965. The other scout leaders became my adopted uncles. Scouting was very near and dear to my heart and I stayed on to become an Assistant Scoutmaster from September of 1971 till June of 1994.
For part of my Eagle Scout project, I painted Thorpe Hall, during the Summer of 1969 at the age of 15 and having just completed my sophomore year at Boonton High School. What seemed on the surface. as a pretty straight forward job, was to become a psychological and spiritual turning point of my life.
A good month before I dipped a paintbrush into the paint can, I had met with the District Commissioner to review my plans for my Eagle Scout project with him. I had typed out a report and mailed it to the Eagle Scout Board of Review about a month before I met with the District Commissioner. There is a lot of red tape involved in getting the approval of an Eagle Scout project. The District Commissioner approved my plans and I was ready to go. My plan was to start painting Thorpe Hall as soon as my summer vacation began.
I don’t know why I remember this as clearly as I do. But it is etched in stone in my mind. That Sunday night in mid-June, just before the day I was going to begin painting Thorpe Hall, Dad gave me the key to Thorpe Hall. He stressed to me the responsibility that he entrusted to me. He told me that I needed to be ever mindful of the key and to definitely not lose it. I promised my father that I would keep the key in my wallet at all times.
So, that Monday morning I awoke early in the morning. I had already loaded the back of Dad’s pickup truck with tarps, paint cans, paint brushes and paint rollers. I had earned the money for all of these supplies by mowing lawns and raking leaves for folks in my neighborhood, the year before. I remember that the District Commissioner was quite impressed that I had planned out my project that far ahead.
Dad and I had breakfast together at the kitchen table of the old Mabey Homestead. It was about six in the morning. The plan was for Dad to drop me off on his way to work in Elmwood Park. Dad drove the mile ride down Main Street to Zeliff Place and made the right turn to the back parking lot of Thorpe Hall. I quickly unloaded the paint cans, paint brushes, rollers and tarps from the back of Dad’s truck. Dad and I carried the painting supplies up the back steps leading to Thorpe Hall.
I had my lunch in a brown paper bag atop the tarps. And, I had a thermos filled with lemonade, fixed tightly under my right arm. I unlocked the door to Thorpe Hall.
I remember how important I felt holding the key to Thorpe Hall and unlocking the door. I had been a scout in Troop 170, for four years now, but I never ever had the privilege of unlocking the door leading to the coveted scout hall.
Dad and I placed all the painting supplies in the middle of the big room. Those of you who have ever been in Thorpe Hall, know just how big it is. I would say that it is easily the size of one half of a high school gymnasium, maybe even a tad bigger. The hall was so quiet, almost eerie and haunting in just how quiet it was.
Dad wished me good luck and told me that he had to get going to work. I walked to the back door of Thorpe Hall with Dad. I stayed atop the balcony of the stairs as I watched Dad climb down the stairs and walk toward his Ford pickup truck.
Before Dad went into his truck, he turned to me and waved goodbye and wished me luck one more time. I waved goodbye to my father and wished for him to have a good day at work. I watched my Dad drive off and a dull, leaden sadness fell unto the chambers of my heart. I felt a certain feeling of loneliness.
I returned to the inside of Thorpe Hall. I closed the door and locked it. My mom had told me to make sure to lock the door while I was painting the big room. The quietness fell over me like a dark cloud. A thousand and one memories haunted me of fond memories of past scout meetings in this oversized clubhouse that was the home of the great 170.
I put my lunch in the refrigerator in the kitchen, in the little front room of the hall. Even though it was a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, three oatmeal cookies and an apple, I thought it would be best to put my brown bagged lunch in the refrigerator. If you’ve ever been in Thorpe Hall, you know that in the kitchen there is a long line of windows that look out to the side parking lot. Which, back in 1969, were surrounded by woods.
As I put my lunch in the refrigerator, I got a glass of water from the faucet and drank it. As I drank the water, I looked out to the morning sun glistening over the wooded lots. And, I yearned to be outside, just to walk in that little stretch of forest. To see the birds, the squirrels, the rabbits, that no doubt were running about free as could be. But, I had to remind myself that I had a job to do.
I’ve told very, very few people about this moment in time. But now, over 50 years later, I feel comfortable sharing this phenomenon with the world. As I stepped through the doorway, from the kitchen to the large all-purpose room of Thorpe Hall, I saw standing by the piano on my left-hand side, a kind of ghostly person. I saw myself as an 11-year-old boy, filled with enthusiasm, idealism, a zest, a vigor, endless energy and a certain innocence. At the most it was for about five seconds, then my younger, ghostly self, vanished.
As a very young boy, I was a very sensitive and imaginative child. And, many of those qualities had remained alive and well, during my teen age years. I offer no explanations of how it came to be that I was able to see my younger self, on that summer’s day back in 1969. But I know it shook me up quite a bit. And, got me to thinking, at the age of 15, about my former 11-year-old self.
That morning and afternoon, as I painted the walls of Thorpe Hall, from time to time for split seconds at a time, I was able to see a ghostly form of my younger, 11-year-old self. The day was still young. But before the sun set that day, my life would be changed forever.
To be continued next issue!
Richard Mabey Jr. is a freelance writer. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.