January 10, 2012

Brownies

This morning, outside the shower door, I found a brownie badge.  Immediately the fifty years disappeared.  I was a pixie; “Helping others when in fixies”.  All of our songs and promises came flooding back.  “We are known as Little People; Aims as high as any Steeple.” “ We are known as the Elves; Helping others not ourselves.”  “I promise to do my best, to do my duty to God, my Queen and my country and to help other people every day, especially those at home.”

On Fridays, the year I was eight, I proudly headed off to school wearing my glorious Brownie uniform.  My tam was rolled perfectly on my shoulder, my tie had it’s golden brownie pin on it and my  belt with it’s shiny brownie buckle had a tiny dangly pencil and a leather pouch containing a dime which was my fairy gold.  After school, we, Brownies, would head for the Kindergarten Room.  I loved everything about that room even though my Miss Dunbar was no longer there.  I loved the six blue wooden milk bottles that fit in a blue wooden milk bottle container, the minature tables and chairs and the rythymn instruments, tamboreens, triangles, bells  and  sticks.  I even loved the short white toilets in their two separate washrooms.  Our Kindergarten Room had a Brownie cupboard just for us.  In it we stored our giant toad stool and the grass it sat upon as well as the chest for the fairy gold.  We’d drag everything out and set it up and then form the lines of our sixes; waiting for our turn to dance and sing around the toad stool.  When I was eight, I longed to be as smart, as tall, as good as our sixer who headed the Pixie Six

In the spring, we went door to door taking orders for our brownie cookies.  I knew every multiple of fourty cents.  Wearing my uniform, I was thrilled to knock on doors and to look inside all of the houses on our street.  The first year I sold cookies, an older brownie sold the most cookies and she won a pink plastic comb, brush and mirror.  Once I knew it was a competition, I was determined to win the next year.  The next year, I sold cookies everywhere, not just on our street.  My mother bought a year’s supply of cookies. I won for best seller but my prize of a book about Lord Baden Powell was definitely a disappointment.

After my first year in Brownie’s as a Tweenie, I became a full fledged Brownie and I could start working on badges.  I was the oldest in my family, adored and perfect in the eyes of my parents and grandparents and so I went to my first badge testing with confidence.  My Dad had taught me how to light wooden matches and make a small fire in our driveway in the winter.  My Mom had taught me how to wash and peel and cook carrots.  At the exam,   I put my perfectly chopped carrots on to boil and then I went to do my fire badge.  My examiner gave me a book of paper matches and we were inside!  Try as I might, I couldn’t hold the end of a paper match and get it to light.  When I returned to my carrots, they were black and the room was filled with smoke.  I had managed to light a fire but not the right one.  I remember this day as my first failure in life.

When I was eleven, with my family proudly watching, I flew up to Girl Guides.  On Monday nights, I wore my blue uniform, I learned semifor,  never failed any more badges and in the summers I survived Guide Camp.  Two years later, my old Brown Owl, Mrs. Edwards, asked me if I’d like to become a Packy Owl and help her lead the Brownies.  I was thrilled to wear my blue uniform to school on Fridays and after school to head to the Kindergarten Room with all the little Brownies. Just before Christmas, Mrs. Edwards, called  my  home and said that she was ill and could I handle the Brownies on my own.  “Of course” I said.  I knew all the dances, songs and chants,  I was totally reliable and I was still the world’s best Brownie in my heart.  Our Brownie pack carried on.  I remember Mrs Edwards as being dour and square and having heavy fierce eyebrows.  If anything we had more fun without her.

Late the next spring, we had a surprise visit from the Commissioner.  “Where is your Brown Owl?”  she commanded.  “She is ill.”  I replied.

“Where is your Tawny Owl?  She demanded.  “We don’t have one.” I signed.  And just like that, with no thankyou for the splendid job I’d done all year, with no inspecition of my perfect happy little dancing Brownies, we were shut down until they could get a “real” leader.

My days of being a follower, or helping others, or wearing a uniform were ending.  The seeds of leadership, independent creative thinking and expressing opinions “but loudly” had been sown.