Girl Scouting taught me that I was smart and capable, whether I was putting up a heavy canvas tent in a rainstorm or hanging my ass so far over the edge of a speeding sailboat that my hair got wet. The latter was something I learned to do in The Ship forty years ago, a wonderful mariner-oriented Senior troop based in Mesa, Arizona. Even more important than teaching me to sail, it’s one of the reasons why music is such an important part of my life. I was in The Ship when I first picked up one of Dad’s guitars and taught myself a G chord. The simple folk songs I’d sung in Girl Scouts were perfect for this fledgling musician and in The Ship we did a lot of singing. On March 15, 2014, The Ship had a reunion. We may not have recalled everyone’s names, but we remembered those songs. Here we are, singing “Rose.”
The words are from a woman who assures a man, “I will marry at thy will, sire, at thy will.” Strange words for a group of intelligent women, right? We laughed at that and at other songs like “Suitors,” where a father tries to get a daughter to marry and she tells him in no uncertain terms that she’ll honor his wishes only if rivers ran uphill and it was the day before she dies. In the end, though, she acquiesces because “tomorrow I must die.” None of us lived our lives by those words. Instead, we were remembering the times we’d sat around a beach campfire under a starry sky, adding harmony upon harmony, feeling the warmth of each other and not just that fire. Suddenly, forty years didn’t seem like such a long time ago.
The day also included a slide show of photos, many of them of the “big” trips we took. Every other year the troop planned a huge event. One year, they crewed on a sailboat and sailed to Catalina Island off the coast of California. In 1973, during my first year in the troop, we journeyed up the west coast all the way to Vancouver, BC in a school bus. We raised all of the money ourselves, with a spaghetti dinner, cookies (of course) and more. We researched places to visit and set up housing in churches, camps and even a naval base. When it was discovered that we couldn’t rent a bus for a trip that long, two of our advisers bought a bus, using their home as collateral. (We sold the bus back at the end of the trip.) I can’t convey to you how exciting a trip like this was to a 15 year old like me. Here we are, looking at a slide from that trip and remembering who everyone was. Thank God we figured out who the cute brunette was.
We had name tags. Since The Ship spanned several years and Senior scouting only lasts for three, we weren’t all in the troop at the same time. (That’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it.) There were several faces I didn’t recognize at first (even if we shared the same years) but as soon as they opened their mouths, I knew who they were. We may have gotten grayer and rounder, however, our voices hadn’t changed.
One of the people I would’ve known in a crowd of thousands was Lois. Not only did she have that same joyous laugh, but there was that thousand-kilowatt smile. Here she is, standing next to a slide of her younger self. Doncha just want to pinch those cheeks?
We laughed over the stories, like the time The Ship trounced the Sea Scouts (Boy Scouts) at a regatta. The adults decided to give first place to the boys anyway because the poor dears would be mortified to be beat by a bunch of girls. No one in The Ship agreed with that, including our adviser, a former Navy guy who made sure every girl knew all the knots, nautical terms and more.
The Ship didn’t just do regattas and those big trips. We camped, helped out non-profits, and learned to sail, canoe and row. I know, a mariner troop in the middle of the desert doesn’t make sense. No one told us we couldn’t do it. We borrowed the Girl Scout council’s canoes and sailboats from parents. Two of our advisers saved their Kool cigarette packages so we could get our own sailboat. The body was Styrofoam, it had a little striped triangular sail and two girls could squeeze into it if they liked each other a lot. That thing could sail on the mere mention of a breeze. Later on, we were able to buy our own boat, a real one big enough for four girls. On one camping trip, we sailed and canoed our gear across a lake to camp on a remote shore for the weekend. (I remember this as Saguaro Lake, not far from Phoenix. I could be wrong. Have I mentioned the name tags?) On the day we were to return, the sky had darkened and whitecap waves tossed the boats. That didn’t deter Karen, though. She cinched up the mainsail tight and put it in her teeth, gripped the tiller in both hands, and made us skim along, the sail at an angle so close to the water I was sure we’d dump over. The only way to prevent that was to get on the opposite side, hook our feet in the heeling straps along the bottom of the hull and hike our bodies over the edge in a counter-balance. We raced another one of our boats. It felt like flying.
We lost Karen to cancer a couple of years ago. Donna died in an accident in 2009. Some others we simply lost track of. But we never lost the songs. Singing together with my Girl Scout sisters was the highlight of my life and even when I’m 90, I’ll remember the ridiculous words to “Do Your Ears Hang Low?” I’d post a video of us singing it but some of us changed it to “Do Your Boobs Hang Low” and I promised not to share it. Girl Scouts never go back on a promise.
You can read more about The Ship in my book Drive All Night, on Bella Books, due for release on May 13, 2014. There’s also a chapter about my Ship experiences in On My Honor. (It’s out of print but you can find used copies on line.)