Memories of a Scout Mom at the Great Northern Camporee

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Here I am 61. Another few years, and the big SS (Social Security). Gosh has time just flown by. It almost seems like yesterday.

Our local Boy Scout Troop 202, of Gorham NH and our Cub Scout Pack 204 were hosting the 1993 Great Northern District Spring Camporee. My husband Bob was the Cubmaster and Ed Gibson was Scoutmaster. As for myself, I’m Mary Gendron, and I was a Webelos Leader. Now, as any of you husband-and-wife teams in Scouting know, the men plan all the stuff and we women do a lot of the behind-the-scenes stuff. Planning a camporee is no small endeavor. Back then the adults did most of the planning with some input from the boys. These days the boys do most of the planning with guidance from the adults.

This all started way back in the fall with monthly meetings, then bi-weekly meetings, weekly meetings and finally just about every day, getting it all put together and finishing up. It’s not just planning the activities, it’s the logistics no one thinks about as to how this camporee comes about. First thing is where and when we could have it. We decided to have it the first weekend in May, at the base of Mount Washington in a large field. But first we had to get permission from the manager of the Mount Washington Auto Road, and hope no one else had reserved the field that same weekend. Another thing nobody thought about, would all the snow be melted and gone in time. Every day Bob or I would drive by the Auto Road and check out the snow conditions. We prayed and hoped it’d be melted by the first weekend in May.

Then we had to figure out where to have the campsite area, activity areas, parking logistics, an area set aside for the flag ceremonies, latrines. We had to make sure we had an adequate supply of those little blue houses, and where to put them. A fire permit. Now that was a tough one. The base of Mount Washington is located in Greens Grant, which is an unincorporated town, (No one lives there), which means there is no fire warden in that town. You can’t go to the town next door to get a fire permit because that’s not their territory. We had to have a fire permit so we could have the Saturday night bonfire and also for the individual troops to have a fire at their sites for cooking. We also had to find a location for the bonfire and we had to think of special guests, and activities that we would be having.

The parents of one of the boys in the Boy Scout Troop were members of a group of early American re-enactors. We spoke to them and they agreed to inform the membership, and see if any of them wanted to start their season early.

The Auto Road manager didn’t want a bunch of cars parked in the field, so we came up with a solution. One car at a time, per campsite would be allowed to go to the campsite, unload then go to the parking area near the main road, and then allow another vehicle to take its place. Another stipulation was that on Saturday night the gate to the Mount Washington Auto Road had to be closed and locked. The Auto Road was reopening for the season on that particular weekend and traffic was not allowed on the road after closing time. So we had to have a guard at the gate to allow Scouts to come and go.

Troops had to let us know in advance if they were coming and approximately how many of the scouts and adults would be there. We needed to know how many to prepare for. Information packets would be distributed to each Troop.

Friday night check in was orderly chaos. One adult would come to the registration building, register their troop and get their packets. In the packet was a parking permit and information of what was going on, and activities.

One of the areas in the camping section was cordoned off specifically for the re-enactors. That way they would have their own private village. On Saturday the boys could wander around the village and ask questions, watch demonstrations and look around.

Troops were allowed to pick their spots, unload their vehicles and set up their campsies. There were a lot of kids running around. Finally things started to settle down. I still had stuff to finish up at home and bring back. I lived only 8 miles down the road, so by 10PM things were settling down enough so I could go home. I had to finish making some neckerchiefs that I had sewn from bed sheets. I had spray dyed them and had to iron them to set the dye. These neckerchiefs would be used by the adults in charge of the camporee so anyone that had questions would know who to ask.

By the time I got done, and everything was in the car, it was after 1 a.m. I was exhausted and contemplated staying home and sleeping in my own bed. Then I realized I couldn’t contact my husband Bob and let him know
(this was before everyone had cell phones) So I figured I may as well go back.

Well, you’re not going to believe this. Not half a mile from the house and around the curve at Libby’s Pool, a doe hit my car. Yes, that’s right, a doe hit my car. I saw the doe in the road, and thought that I had missed it, but a thump from the back of my car told me she couldn’t stop her momentum and hit the left rear fender where my husband had put a CB antenna. It was one of those long whip like things like State Troopers have on their cars. Only thing is she broke it right off! Being a good scout, I turned around to go report the incident to the police. I was in luck; I had passed a cruiser parked on the other side of the curve, so I didn’t have far to go. They didn’t believe me that a deer hit me. I showed them the fender and the broken antennae socket with deer fur still glued to it. We searched the area but never found the deer or the antennae. So if anyone has seen a deer with an antennae sticking out of its side somewhere in the White Mountains, let my husband know. He wants his antennae back. I finally made it back to the campsite and sacked out.

Saturday morning came, a bit cool, but sunny. Bob and I got breakfast going for our Webelos den. (We are also Webelos den leaders). The adult scouts and the Boy Scouts finishedgetting their stuff ready before the bugle call to the flag ceremony. Bob had cut some aluminum poles into short pieces and pounded them into the ground at the flag ceremony area so Troops could post their Troop Flags there.

What a sight. About 350 Boy Scouts, Cub Scouts and adults, all in uniform with Troop flags, marching in double lines from all different directions, coming for the opening ceremony. Looking out over the crowd of Scouts you could see the various campsites and over on the left the early American reenactor’s campsite with canvas tents and teepees, and behind it all, snowcapped Mount Washington towering above all and a brilliant blue sky with a few white clouds scudding by. What a sight!

After the American flag was hoisted up the flag pole, the Pledges and Promises were said, the National Anthem sung, and the announcements made, each troop was called in order and brought their Troop flags up to the ceremonial area. There they posted them in the flag holders Bob had made. What a sight to see all those red and white flags flying in the breeze. The Troops were then dismissed to start their day full of activities.

The re-enactors allowed the boys to stroll through their village and explained things to them. There was one gentleman dressed as a Native American brave, in breech clout, moccasins, beaded breast plate, feathers and not much more. Now, this was the first weekend in May, northern New Hampshire, the snow had finally melted a few days before, and we were at the base of Mount Washington. This gentleman walked around scantily clad, he did not speak any English, grunted or spoke native, and had an entourage of young Cub Scouts following him around. This was a chilly day and I don’t envy this brave gentleman. I don’t know how he pulled it off, but my hat’s off to him.

We had a full lineup of activities for all ages and levels of Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts. We had archery, hatchet throwing, flintlock demonstration, obstacle course, and crafts, to name a few. (Let’s face it, I’m 61, I can’t remember everything we did.) We had Mr. Ramsey from Berlin NH. He came down with his ham radio and the scouts had a chance to try and communicate with other people around trhe world. That went over very well. We also had Don Andrews. He came with his rock collection. He’s a rock hound from the area, and explained to the boys about rock hounding. The boys seemed to enjoy that also.

Our crowning achievement was a 12 foot wall made from 3 sheets of plywood. The men built a catwalk at the top on the backside for adults and older Boy Scouts to stand on and help boys over the top. The boys had a choice of climbing up the wall using ropes or a metal chain ladder if they couldn’t handle using ropes. As it turned out, they all went up the ropes; no one wanted to use the ladder. Even my son Joe used the rope. It made me very proud of him because he was a bit heavy and had a weight problem. He used the rope, it took some doing, but he persevered and got up there. Once the boys reached the top, they were assisted by adults and older Boy Scouts to get over the top and on to the catwalk. Then they just climbed down the ladder in the back. There was a doctor stationed at the wall just in case we had a medical emergency. He was the father of one of our Boy Scouts. We didn’t tell anyone until after the camporee that Dr. McCalister was a Dentist! Nobody lost any teeth going up the wall, thank goodness. Funny thing was, there must’ve been several sets of twins and triplets there because there were a lot of boys going up that wall who looked alike (or maybe they just came back to climb the wall again and again.) So I guess they were all having a good time.

I was busy with behind the scenes stuff, so Bob and the boys cooked supper. My son Joe came and told me supper was ready. When I arrived at our campsite, Bob led me to a chair, then place a tray table in front of me. There was a tablecloth on it, my dinner and a candle. He said I had worked hard and deserved a quiet dinner alone. I got some raised eyebrows from a neighboring scout troop, but I enjoyed it immensely.

Later that evening, everyone convened at the bonfire for songs, skits, and jokes. A fitting end to a full day. And yes, it did rain that evening. It always rains when scouts go camping. After such a full day of fun and fresh air our boys all crashed early. By 9 p.m. it was fairly quiet. I sacked out soon after, alone. It seems Bob had volunteered for guard duty at the gate because the Auto Road was officially closed at that time of the evening to the public. The upper road to Mount Washington had been cleared of snow all the way to the top so the Auto Road was officially opened for the season, but the gate had to be kept closed and locked after hours so no one could go up the mountain. However the gate trapped everyone in the field for the night and the gate didn’t open until Sunday morning. Bob volunteered, so he set up a pup tent near the gate and posted signs that if anyone needed the gate unlocked, to scratch on his tent door and he would come out to unlock the gate for them. During the evening, Bob heard several scouts stop and read the sign. They questioned each other about why they had to scratch at the door. (How else are you going to knock on a tent?) He got some good chuckles about that.

Sunday morning arrived, a nice day again. Everyone was bustling about getting kids up, cooking breakfast over campfires and taking down their campsites.

The re-enactors were packing up also. I had told Rosaire Brault, one of the re-enactors, about Friday night and the deer. He said if I’d of hit it and killed it, I could have brought it their site and they could have used it as a demonstration. It would have made a great show and tell. I told him it was just as well we didn’t. The kids would have loved it but the parents might not have thought it was appropriate. He agreed with me.

We had our closing ceremony at the flag site. The boys retired their Troop flags. The boys were drooping a bit but they still had some get up and go. After retirering the flags, we were able to announce that between Scouts, and reenactors, guests, and adults, we had over 400 in attendance. The highest attendance at any Great Northen Camporee.

So now we get to say thank you to my husband Bob Gendron, and Ed Gibson for chairing a great camporee. To Henry Sanschagrin, he was finally able to track down the right person to get us the fire permit. Thanks also to Mr. Ramsey for bringing his ham radio. The Ross family, Rosaire Brault and all the re-enactors and a special thank you to our well chilled brave, (I noticed he was warmly dressed on Sunday and could speak English). To Dr. McCalister for doing a great job protecting the wall. To Jo Carpenter for being chairperson for the Cub Scout Pack, and all other behind the scenes personnel who helped make it a successful camporee. And last but not least, a great big Thank You to the Mount Washington Auto Road manager for allowing us to use their field.


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