By Richard Mabey Jr.
This is a true story of one Boy Scout’s journey to find his place in the sun. If truth be told, it could be the story of any one of us, as we walk life’s path and sometimes struggle to find our hidden gifts and talents.
Johnny Wilkerson (I changed his name) was a Second Class Scout of Boy Scout Troop 170 back in January of 1985. Johnny was 12 years old and was having a hard time in scouting. He was not good at pioneering skills. Whenever Johnny tied the lashings for a tripod, or a camporee gateway, or a bridge for a stream, his frappings would come undone.
Johnny also did not excel at knot tying, map and compass, first-aid skills, or semaphore flag signaling. At the time, my dad was Scoutmaster of Boy Scout Troop 170, and I was Assistant Scoutmaster. It was in the middle of December of 1984 that Johnny told my dad that he was going to drop out of scouting. My father asked Johnny to stay on board for just a little while longer, that he would find something in scouting that would click for him.
The idea came to my father, one evening after supper while he was reading the newspaper. Dad immediately told me of his idea and asked me what I thought of it. Dad told me that he was going to put Johnny in charge of coordinating the entire Boy Scout window display for Boy Scout Week. I remember telling Dad that I thought it was a great idea.
So, the next Friday night, at the scout meeting, Dad talked to Johnny alone. Dad asked Johnny if he wanted to take on the big job of being in charge of the entire Boy Scout window display. I remember Dad telling me later that at first Johnny was very hesitant to take on the big responsibility. But my dad encouraged Johnny by telling him that he believed in him.
Well, Johnny took the bull by the horns. It was a funny kind of thing. It was actually quite heartwarming. At the next Friday night scout meeting, Johnny came to the meeting with a shoebox. Johnny showed my father what was inside the shoebox.
When Johnny opened his shoebox, my dad later told me that he was all so surprised. Johnny had made up about a half-dozen pipe cleaner figures. Johnny told my dad that each pipe cleaner was going to represent one of his fellow scouts.
But that wasn’t all that was inside Johnny’s shoebox. Johnny then showed my father a miniature signaling tower that he had made up of tree branches. Johnny had used lashings to build this little tower. I remember Dad told me that he was quite impressed with Johnny’s imaginative handicraft skills.
Boy Scout Week is traditionally in the first full week of February. It begins with the first Sunday of the month and ends on the following Saturday. Back in 1985, Boy Scout Week began on Sunday, February third and ended on Saturday, February ninth. Well, it was on the first Saturday morning of February, that the scouts of Boy Scout Troop 170 met at Belle Fleur Flower Shoppe.
Dad had asked me to be the scout leader to watch over the scouts as they built their scout window display. Dad also told me that he wanted Johnny to be totally in charge of leading the other scouts, while they were creating the scout window display.
I was the only scout leader to watch over this small miracle. Johnny simply took charge of the day. There was no doubt this was Johnny’s moment to shine in the sunlight. And, something very special happened that morning. The other scouts quickly developed a new respect for Johnny. For this was no longer Johnny, the scout who could not tie lashings. No, this was Johnny, the scout who had a vision of how he wanted the scout window display to look. There was no doubt about it, Johnny was completely in charge.
Well, long story short, Johnny’s scout window display won First Prize, of all the scout troops in the entire Boonton District! This was quite an honor. For at that time, there were at least a dozen neighboring towns that made up the Boonton District of the Morris-Sussex Area Boy Scout Council. And, the truth of the matter was that Boy Scout Troop 170 owed it all to Johnny Wilkerson.
Johnny was never to be the same in his scouting journey. A new inner confidence was awoken in Johnny. Johnny began growing in his scouting skills. He actually became one of Troop 170’s best semaphore signalers. He had taken the time and effort to learn the fine art of sending messages through using two flags, to send semaphore communications to another scout, a considerable distance away.
I have no idea where Johnny is now. In 1994, we had a big Boy Scout Troop 170 Reunion Dinner. Sadly, Johnny did not attend it. Even though I’ve changed Johnny’s name in this story, it’s my hope that he just may recognize that I have honored him, 37 years later.
Richard Mabey Jr. is a freelance writer. He can be reached at email@example.com. Please put on the subject line: Scout Window Story.
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#2 The Scouting Journal was the official newspaper of Boy Scout Troop 170. Here is the front-page story of the first-place prize earned by Troop 170, for their scout window display. I distinctly remembered that Johnny did not want to be recognized in the article.