I remember the day as though it were yesterday. It was Oct. 12, 1960. Nikita Khrushchev banged his shoe like a tyrant while addressing the United Nations as he proclaimed that Russia would dominate America.
At the time I was a member of Boy Scout Troop 136, had just made First Class, and was promoted to lead the Wolverine patrol. That evening during our scout meeting, Mr. Donahue, our scoutmaster, gathered the boys together and spoke of the day’s events relative to the Russian premier’s proclamations.
Keep in mind that I was a child of the cold war and all the men I knew had fought in World War ll.
Mr. Donahue warned of a pending war with Russia. He asked, “Boys, who will defend New York when the Russians invade?”
We hadn’t a clue! He paused and said, “The Boy Scouts of America!”
That was my call to action; instinctively I knew what to do. I organized the Wolverines and we prepared to defend the Bronx against the pending invasion. We carried rocks and sticks to the rooftops of buildings and made detailed maps of the sewers, as they would be our ingress and regress when we attacked the Soviets. Since the Russians would curtail the food supply, I insisted that we get used to eating dog food. It really didn’t taste that bad.
The scout motto was “Be Prepared” and we thought we were.
Saint Frances of Rome church also sponsored a Girl Scout troop, #118. The girls reacted in kind to the trepidation of the cold war. They formed a consortium of like-minded Girl Scout troops and promoted civil defense, emphasized disaster preparedness, and established and collected provisions for bomb shelters throughout the Bronx. I recall many of the neighborhood boys trivializing their efforts.
“Girls should stay home; we’ll defend the Bronx,” the boys said.
At the time I believed that girls had cooties, except for Amia Divia. She was the prettiest girl in the Bronx. She was outspoken, a true leader, and a consummate Girl Scout. Her idol wasn’t John Kennedy; it was Juliette Gordon Low, the founder of the Girl Scouts of America.
Amia took a hazing from the boys. But she gave as much as she got. I remember one of her witty remarks: “Stupid boys! Do you really think that eating dog food is going to help the neighborhood?” At the time I did, but hindsight is 20/20 and I can appreciate the pragmatic rationale of women and their genetic predisposition to make a difference.
Recently I had an enlightening conversation with Christie Crahan regarding Juliette Gordon Low. Ms. Crahan dresses in the character of Low as she promotes Girl Scouting.
Learning about Low, one understands how the power of one individual can shape a social movement. “The Girl Scouts are a circle of friends united by ideals,” she said.
Lord Baden Powell, a hero of the Boar War, established the Boy Scouts in 1910. His vision was to teach young men skills and readiness to enhance their survival in war.
Low established the Girl Scouts in 1912; she sold her pearls for $2,800 as an initial investment. Her vision was to promote self-improvement, enhance honor and dignity, service and help the country. She promoted self-reliance, courage and the rationale that life and adventure can be found outside the home.
This is the 100th year of Girl Scouting and it is fitting that Low would be awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom. She was a visionary whose legacy lives on in the 59 million American women who have been members of the organization.
In 1960, the Russians never came. The Girl Scouts’ efforts were visionary. Amia was awarded a medal at the mayor’s house, Gracie Mansion. I admit, Amia was right. It was stupid to eat dog food.
JOE PUGLIA is a practicing counselor, a professor of education at Glendale Community College and a former officer in the Marines. He also leads a La Cañada Girl Scout troop. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.