When I was a lad, I was no Boy Scout. I don't mean that in the suggestive and figurative sense. I mean it literally: I was not a member of the Boy Scouts of America. It wasn't for lack of opportunity; in my neighborhood you couldn't swing a leather lanyard without hitting a kid in khaki. And it wasn't because I didn't like the things that Scouts did; I was all for hiking and pitching tents and exploring and poking things with sticks and seeing if they floated, or didn't, in the creek.
But for me there was something too codified about the whole Scout thing. Too many step-by-step instructions, too many rules to learn, too many oaths and mantras to memorize. I remember thumbing through my older brother's copy of the Boy Scout Handbook and being quite horrified at all the tests one had to take to advance through the ranks. Tests? Tests? No thanks. That's way too much like school for my tastes. If it's all the same to you, I'll stick with backyard Whiffle Ball and the swim team and Hardy Boys mysteries. If I feel like exploring in the woods, I'll just . . . go exploring in the woods. Don't need a badge, thanks.
Nobody told me, however, that there were Sea Scouts. Nobody told me there were Scouts who, instead of digging latrines and treating pretend snakebites, went boating. The latter, I think, would have appealed to me–even if there had been tests involved.
Hey kid, want to learn how to treat second-degree burns? Um, no thanks. I'm in the middle of a Whiffle Ball game. Hey kid, want to go sailing? Yes.
See the difference? Tragically, I'm only now learning about Sea Scouts, because they figure prominently in Jody Schroath's two-part story, "This Was, And Is, Potomac River," which begins in this issue. As a template for her own adventure on the Potomac, Jody follows the footsteps and waypoints of a dozen Sea Scouts who, for an entire month in the summer of 1931, explored the river top to bottom in a pair of 23-foot Navy-surplus catboats, Bobcat and Wildcat.
The result is a truly charming interfusion of her own experience on the river with that of 15-year-old Robert Hedges Jr., the keeper of the ship's log for the Scouts–a log that eventually became a chapter of Frederick Tilp's locally famous and beloved 1978 book, This Was Potomac River. Tilp himself was the Scout leader–the "skipper" that Hedges refers to throughout the log. And the excerpts from the log are made all the more poignant by the fact that Hedges didn't live to see his words in print; he was killed in action in Germany during World War II.
Jody gives us something truly special here, and I'm happy to say you'll be seeing more of her in the future; beginning with the next issue, she'll be on staff as a senior editor. Word on the street is that she is trustworthy, loyal and brave–and she doesn't need badges to prove it.