We boys called it the "Freezeree." Officially, it was the first annual Lawrence County Boy Scout Winter Camperee, but as I said, we boys simply called it the "Freezeree." Since it was an inaugural event, the organizers decided to do it up right. In addition to the usual awards, they were granting presidential citations.
Upon receiving an invitation to the Camperee, the boys in our troop decided to go after one of those special awards. We packed all the necessary equipment and materials. When we arrived at camp, we were interested in only one thing--who else might be competing for one of the presidential citations. We evaluated ourselves compared to the other troops.
We were working-class city kids with smarts, toughness, and determination; everything needed to take home one of the awards. We checked out the other working class city kids. They were tough, but lacked either the smarts or determination to win the award. We figured there wouldn't be any competition from those quarters.
Then we looked at the rich city kids. Mostly, they sat around the campfire, moaning about how their mommies hadn't packed them warm enough clothing for the occasion. We decided to pay them no mind.
Then we took a look at the country boys. Oh, they were smart enough all right. And they were certainly tough enough, but about all those boys were concerned with was shooting, tracking, and skating. For the most part, they were content to spend their days down on the frozen lake playing ice hockey.
We then sized up the suburban boys. They were a bunch of wimps, with one exception: the troop of boys that "Moneybags" had put together. Moneybags was a scoutmaster who had secured all kinds of donations and then went out and got himself a troop of the best suburban boys that money could buy.
He brought them to camp outfitted with all the finest equipment. While the rest of us had to go down to the creek with pots and pans to carry water, ol' Moneybags' boys came into camp with a 10-gallon, vinyl-lined, spigoted, tripodded water pack. While the rest of us had to dig holes in the ground for latrines, ol' Moneybags' boys came equipped with a toilet-seated, chemically treated portable potty. Heck, they even had bottoms already sewn in their tents. As one might imagine, we held ol' Moneybags and his boys in TOTAL contempt. We also knew that they were the only competition.
I don't know which we wanted more: to take one of those presidential citations or to see to it that Moneybags' boys didn't! On that very first day we went to work on the requirements for that award and sure enough, when we came to the last day, there were only two troops within shouting distance of the special award--Moneybags' boys and us. It came down to a single event for each of us to qualify.
The Camperee organizers had offered two alternatives for the last event. Each troop could either start a fire from scratch or bring to camp a live critter, kill it, clean it, and cook it. We, being who we were had brought to camp a piece of flint, a metal bar and a bit of kindling to start a fire from scratch. On the other hand, Moneybags' boys, being who they were, had brought into camp a strutting chicken that walked about as pridefully as did those boys themselves! They planned on preparing that chicken for that night's supper as the grand finale.
I was responsible for building our fire from scratch. I figured if primitive man could strike a few sparks and start a fire, a modern Boy Scout like myself could do the same thing with ease. After nearly an hour, I found out I was mistaken. I had been scraping and sparking for so long that my hands had gone cold and numb. I decided to take a break, warm my hands, and talk with the fellas. The boys in my troop wanted to know how the fire starting was going.
While I was explaining the difficulties, we noticed that some of Moneybags' boys were listening in on our conversation. That's why I shouted, "The only reason that Moneybags' boys haven't gone out and killed that chicken is 'cause they're yellow-bellied cowards! If they weren't such sissies they would take that chicken out into the woods and chop its head off."
If there is on thing that young boys just can't tolerate, it's a challenge to their manhood. Those boys grabbed the ax and paraded off with that chicken. The last we saw, they were headed for a clearing in the woods.
In the meantime, I went back to striking that flint and blowing on that kindling. With a lot of work and a good bit of luck, I was eventually able to get myself a spark, then a flame and finally a fire. Two things resulted from that fire-starting experience. We qualified for a presidential citation; and I started every fire from that day on, with a match or lighter.
Meanwhile, we heard a blood-chilling scream escape from the woods, followed by the whole troop of Moneybags' boys. Those boys ran out of the woods with bloodstains on their clothes and on their bodies. As it turned out, those boys had taken that chicken into the woods, placed its head on a log and chopped it part way off. That's when the chicken stopped cooperating. It got up and ran around, spewing blood all over those boys. They were in such a state of shock that they not only didn't cook that chicken, they didn't even bother to go back and find it. Of course, they didn't qualify for a presidential citation.
One thing that I've never told anybody was that I had spent a day in my momma's cousin Benny's poultry shop, watching him butcher chickens. He would tie up the feet of the chicken, chop off its head, and then immediately stick what remained into one of these upside down funnels, letting the blood run off into the floor drain.
At the time I had asked Cousin Benny why he did that. He just looked at me, shaking his head. "Boy, don't you know nothin'? Ain't you ever heard the expression, 'runnin' around like a chicken with its head cut off'? If we was to leave these chickens upright, they'd be running all over the place, just spewing blood all over everything and everybody."
Yeah, I guess it may not have been very "scouting" of me to trick ol' Moneybags' boys like that. But one thing I know is that every time I think about it, it just brings the broadest smile to my face!