One summer camp was enough
My Boy Scout career was brief.
You might think my father Fabian, the professional woodsman, made me a Boy Scout but it was my mother who shipped me off to the Lost Lake camp near Fairbanks. Mary Carey, ever the idealist, thought I would benefit from the scouts' hardy camaraderie and the virtuous example scoutmasters set. She probably also was weary of a 13-year-old hanging around the house, whining, "There's nothing to do."
She was right about the scoutmasters. They were energetic, enthusiastic and good-tempered. In 1958, the perving scoutmaster of Lost Lake, recently unmasked by the release of long-suppressed Scout misconduct files, had yet to arrive in Alaska. But my scoutmasters had a blind spot -- they trusted the wrong kids.
There weren't enough adults to supervise the scouts closely, so some of the 16-year-olds and 17-year-olds were given responsibility for the younger guys. I was in a cabin with a half-dozen 13-year-olds and two senior scouts.
The older boys abused the scoutmasters' admonition to run a tight ship. They treated their charges like prisoners, especially in the evening and at night when the adults were in a distant part of the camp. Shut up and do what you are told. Or else.
It was a rainy summer and rained most of the nights we were in the cabin. One evening a kid my age named Jimmy offended one of the senior scouts and the older boys made him pay. They wired him to a tree -- baling wire -- and left him in the rain for much of the night. Jimmy howled like a wild animal and wept like a baby, then fell silent. The silence, punctuated by rain dripping from the cabin and gusts of wind, terrified me as I lay huddled in my sleeping bag.
I knew Jimmy from school, a gangly kid. Not a good student, unable to win friends. Ignored by his classmates except during PE, when his lack of athleticism provoked derision.
For the rest of my stay, I tried to make myself invisible. I didn't want to be the next guy wired to a tree. But as the son of an idealistic mother, I recognized I had a moral problem. How could I let Jimmy's suffering go unreported? How could I, like the other kids, retreat into silence?
The afternoon I arrived home, my mother, hoping for the answer she wanted to hear, asked if I enjoyed camp. I frowned and trudged upstairs to my room.
I was ashamed of what I had seen, heard and done. When I saw Jimmy at school after that, my mind went back to the rainy cabin and I was ashamed all over again. I never returned to Boy Scout camp. I was relieved when Jimmy moved away
-- Michael Carey