Derry, Northern Ireland

Derry, Northern Ireland
A book I'm working on is set in this town.

Saturday, February 14, 2015


Once upon a time, I was in the scouts. Started as a Webelo and graduated to regular scout when I was eleven. I joined a rag-tag troop at this Presbyterian church we'd attend, at the direction of my mother and step-father. I think they were afraid I was getting too lost in books and needed more interaction with other boys.

We met every Tuesday or maybe Thursday, and the minister was our scout master. He had an assistant who was in the Air Force, who'd usually handle the meetings. He was married. Had a baby on the way. Seemed very mature, even though I'm sure he wasn't even 21, yet.

We'd do campouts, which I never liked. I'm not the kind of guy who emjoys outdoor living and sleeping under the stars and shitting behind a bush and all that crap. I want a bed, a book, and either a cup of tea or a bottle of some soft drink; I was alternating between Big Red (AKA: Liquid Bubble Gum) and RC Cola, which had a nice bite to it. Of course, those were not allowed on the campouts; just canteens of water or drinking from a brook. Total roughing-it.

I liked the assistant, though I can't remember his name. Abernathy? Anderson? He was patient with me, even though I had two left thumbs and minimal willingness to remember how ropes are tied. Hell, I couldn't even do a square knot until I'd tied it wrong, first (I still have that habit). How I got that merit badge is beyond me.

After about a year, we went camping at Cypress Cove, outside New Braunfels, TX, where Canyon Lake now is. It was acres and acres of tall cypress trees around wide streams rushing over non-stop rocks or into cheerful eddies that tried to lull you into joining them. This trip, I started to enjoy. Not because of the woodsy stuff but because it was just plain beautiful. I hated the idea that there'd soon be a hundred feet of water covering it all.

There were about a dozen of us, and all the other boys went swimming in a pool at the end of a creek that was half rapids and all sun. The minister was down with them. I was sitting on some rocks up the creek, watching them goof around. I had on a pair of cutoffs and was using a bandana soaked in the cold water to keep my blinding white skin wet and cool, trying to cut down on sunburn and freckles, since I'd forgotten to bring sun-tan lotion.

I was really enjoying the solitude when the assistant jumped up onto a boulder across the creek. He had just put on a red Speedo, and for the first time I saw what he looked like, nearly undressed -- which was a lot like this guy, just clean-shaven and no hat. This was back before Speedos became identified with gay men, and his was more like what we'd call a square-cut, today.

Jesus the picture he made, standing on that rock -- his tan golden and his smile bright, like a young cougar surveying its domain. Without thinking, I blurted out, "Mr. Anderson, you're gorgeous." He grinned at me and said, "Thanks."

Suddenly, I had to sit myself in the cold clear water, because I was feeling something I'd never felt before in a place I'd never even thought of, till then, and it spooked me. I was afraid I'd hurt myself, somehow. I spent the rest of the day sneaking looks at him but afraid to say another word. And that night, I couldn't sleep. The next day, we went home, and I rode in the minister's car instead of the assistant's.

Not that my sudden silence or wariness mattered. In that space your voice carried, and my comment was heard by a couple of the other boys.  They mentioned it to the minister, and at the next meeting, he asked me to withdraw from the troop. It hurt...until I learned the Air Force was transferring the assistant to Germany, and we were about to live in El Paso for a year. Then I didn't care. I was only two badges short of gaining First Class Scout, but one of the badges was swimming, and I can't swim. Period. So I'd never have made it, anyway.

The memory reared up because the above image was posted on a friend's website -- Yummy of the Day (there's a link in the blogs I follow list, bottom right) -- and for a moment I couldn't breathe. It was like I'd suddenly shifted back to being 12 years-old and getting an honest taste of what my life would be like. Not my first brush with the harshness of the world, and nowhere near my last...just one of those pivotal moments.

Thing is...I still have a thing for red Speedos.


MAC said...

I'm happy to see my red hot post stirred up up some red hot memories for you. HAPPY VALENTINES DAY! XOXO

JamTheCat said...

The joy of Valentine's Day...