THE DEN MOTHER

Mrs. V was our Cub Scout den mother during my early years of grade school. We’d go to her house on Monday nights and make birdhouses or tie-dye T-shirts, everything we needed to do to earn our badges.  

She said the pledge with us before every meeting. We promised to to do our duty to God and country, to help other people, to obey the law of the pack. Then we said the Cub Scout motto together. Do your best.

Once, before Halloween, she had a party and we all dressed up in costumes and bobbed for apples. When each of us came up with an apple in our mouth, she was there with a towel to dry our hair. Nice job, she said. You got one. She dried the water of our foreheads.

We made caramel apples and then ate them out in the cold October air. They always tasted good because you had done it yourself.

On Mondays, we wore our Cub Scout shirts to school. Navy blue, with our pack number on the chest and the gold epaulettes on the shoulders. It was a break from the monotony of uniforms in the Catholic school all eight of us pack members attended. The pack was all the boys in the class except one.  

She helped us put on our merit badges. They were named after animals: Bobcat, Tiger, Wolf, Bear. You were awarded for different skills: “Know Your Community” and “Take Care of Your Planet.”  

She made a big ceremony every time somebody got one. She wore her Sunday best, had the awardee stand in front of everyone as she gave it to them. It felt like getting the Congressional Medal of Honor. Mrs. V put her hands on your shoulders and presented you to the pack. We all clapped. It wasn’t just anyone who could have done what you did.

She lived on a house in the foothills above the city. You could see the whole valley, the Owyhee Mountains off in the distance. There was the world in front of you.

I was good friends with her son. We’d get in fights and then the dads made us shake hands. He’d spend the night at our house and I’d spend it at his. She drove me home afterwards with my friend and me in the back seat. You’re going into fourth grade, she said to us as she drove me home one day in late August. Wow, you’re getting big.

We got too old for the Cub Scouts. Maybe one or two went on to Boy Scouts but the rest of the pack broke up. We were in grade school together and then went our separate ways in high school and beyond. Most of us didn’t keep in touch. You can be together for eight years with the same people and then never see or hear from them again.

I went away to college and then other places for work. Eventualy, Mrs. V and her husband moved away too. I probably didn’t see her for 25 years or more. I didn’t keep in touch with her or her son.

Earlier this week, I was looking through a newsletter and there was the news. Mrs. V had died. I felt a punch to my stomach. News like that should have come from the police at the front door, with hats in their hands, instead of in Times Roman on my computer screen. But is there ever a good way?

I wondered about the other members of our pack.  

It’s not always obvious at the time, but everything we do for kids can make a difference. You never know what sticks with them.