I’m always a bit sad this time of year. Scouting for the most part has ended for the term although a few camping trips may be scheduled. But as we all know it never really stops, it’s more of that deep breath we take before we leap off into another new Scouting year full of adventure. It was also the time of year that a Scouting role model of mine was called home.
I’m sure that I could easily fill a post about him. He lived both the law and the promise to the fullest and always thought of the “kids” first. I wrote this story for another of my blogs (non-scouting) and while I was thinking about Skip today I felt it was right to share it with the scouty (I like this word) folk that may happen to stop by.
Sun sets, curtain rises. The evening’s entertainment is about to begin!
It’s a beautiful night to have a fire. There is a bit of a chill in the air, and as a result the fire circle has pulled in a bit closer to be nearer the warmth. This is my favorite time of a Scouting event. Though tired from a long day, we have gathered around the flames to share a few laughs and stories before turning in. On the far side of the circle an older Scouter coughs. As the chatter stops and all eyes turn towards him, he stands. The storyteller has decided to take us on another adventure.
He stares at the fire for a moment, as if seeing a place far away and long ago. A smile comes to his face, he looks up and begins…
I want you the think back to a time when the world was healing from a war. The world was different then, for a boy growing up in a city in Britain. The subject of our story had been apprenticed to a trade and worked long hours learning the skills that he would need. He was a lad, just turned 16 and he always did his best and never complained about the time he spent toiling in labor. While other boys his age played football or cricket, he gladly went about his alloted tasks. He did this because he was also a Boy Scout. It was his duty to do his best.
In those days when a Troop would go camping, they didn’t have the luxury of going by car or bus. They would load their bicycles with all the gear needed and ride off into the countryside looking for a site to camp. Being an apprentice, our brave scout needed to work well into the evening, so he had not been able to leave for this particular camp with the rest of his Troop. It was decided that he would catch up, following a trail left by the others, when he finished his work for the day,
What had started off as a pleasant ride through an early summer evening soon became anything but. A very fine mist had developed after he left the boundaries of town, and by the time he had ridden a short way he was completely soaked through. Adding to his misery, was that he was soon forced to dismount his bicycle so he could see the trail markers made by his friends.
Several hours had passed and soon he was hopelessly lost in the gloom. Knowing there was no chance that he would reach camp that night , he started to search for a shelter where he might be able to dry out a bit and get some sleep. Soon a darkened outline started to form in the distance. As he made his way towards it, an old country churchyard lychgate took shape.
For those of you who don’t know the word, lychgate is a small shelter built over a gate into a graveyard. It served as stopping point for a funeral procession, before it actually entered the cemetery. The coffin or bier would be set down on a stone slab, while the priest would begin the burial service.
This was not his idea of a good shelter, the very thought of spending a foggy evening in such close proximity to a burial ground was enough to spook even the bravest man. But seeing that his options where nonexistent, he reluctantly stepped inside. After changing into dryer clothes, the young Scout laid his bedding on the only spot big enough. The stone slab. Pulling his covers up over his head and trying not to think about what he was lying on, he settled down for some much-needed sleep.
Some time later he was awakened by a noise. Careful not to move, he cast his eyes about looking for the source. The moon had come out since he had fallen asleep, and deep shadows surrounded him. Unfortunately the darkness did not show anything. He had almost convinced himself that it was just his imagination, when he heard it again. Something was out on the road. He pulled the cover tight trying to make himself invisible.
The minutes dragged by, but he dare not risk looking. Suddenly he felt a presence nearby, large and looming over him. There was a raspy breathing unlike anything he had ever heard before. Slowly, ever so slowly the wheezing drew closer to his head. He wanted to scream and flee but could not make himself move, the vision of a thousand nightmares playing through his mind. Frozen, he desperately willed whatever it was to leave, but the night visitor remained.
That was when he noticed the smell. It was a rank combination of ancient soil and old beer. The creäture was mere inches away from his face now, waiting, inspecting it latest victim. Over whelmed by the foul odor and deep rasping breath, the Scout resigned himself to his doom. Drawing from a strength deep down inside his being, he forced his eyes to open to face his assailant.
And the coarse tongue of the stray cow licked his face!
As he speaks the last line, the storyteller makes a small lunge toward one of his captivated audience. The tension breaks with laughter as the target topples backward off his stump. He just nods and returns to his seat. The story is told. Sadly this will be the last tale I will get to hear from him. A few short months from now he will be called to the fire circle in the sky.
This story is dedicated to “Skip”. Never have I met a storyteller that could command a fire circle like him. He never had to raise his voice or wait for it to quiet down. This was the last story that I ever heard him tell, and I am richer for having heard it. I have embellished a bit; most storytellers add a bit of themselves to a retold tale and I hope he would approve. It is also a true story! Skip was that young Scout lying on the lychgate slab who received a surprise bovine visitor. In parting I will just say this. “Skip, we miss you!”