Saturday, February 5, 2011

Mr. Alspaugh

About a month ago I heard the sad news that Mr. Alspaugh, my old scoutmaster, had died. I had not seen him for a long time.

I was one of those who was really into scouting, going to the camporees every spring and fall, summer camp for a week every year at Camp De Soto over near El Dorado, most of the weekend hikes/camping out the Burnt Bridge Road, even one Survival. And of course there were the occasional bigger trips: up to Little Rock for the Quapaw Line Trail [?1970], over to Vicksburg [1971], and even once to Shiloh [1972]. And of course all the way up to the Jamboree in Moraine State Park in Pennsylvania [1973]. I made it all the way to Eagle Scout, plus a sashful of merit badges (from Public Safety to Indian Lore), two palms, and the God and Country Award.

When I first joined Troop 32 -- which must have been around the end of 1969, when I wd have left Webelos, where the scoutmaster had been Mr. Jean* -- it was a large troop, but its numbers dwindled over the years --largely I think because the Powers That Be within Scouting tried to reconfigure and reinvent the Boy Scouts during that era to shift the emphasis from camping and hiking in the countryside (which we enjoyed doing) to doing good works in large cities. I think I joined Troop 32, over at the Methodist Church, rather than the troop over at my own Presbyterian Church because I'd already been in Webelos (the Methodists being the only group which had a Webelos program). I think Mr. Alspaugh's older son, Bill, had already left the troop by that time, but I certainly knew his younger son, Wally (whose nickname, for reasons never made apparent, was Worm).

Too many memories for one post: the Monday night meetings at the scout hut, where we might be called on to recite out our daily Good Deeds for the week. Getting to meet Danny Thomas and, what impressed me much more, Col. Sanders at the Jamboree (Nixon didn't show up, the first time a president had blown off the Scouts' big once-in-four-years-event since FDR). Doing the Mile Swim at camp, and discovering wild huckleberries. Biking around a good deal of Columbia County with Mason Cozart and Jim Polk.** Working on Astronomy and Space Exploration merit badges with Mr. McGee at the college, one of my favorite absent-minded professors. Discovering genealogy through work on another merit badge (for a time I was the youngest member of the So-We-Ar, or Southern Arkansas Genealogical society, of which Mrs. Alspaugh was a member). Carrying along a copy of THE HOBBIT to re-read at summer camp.

Mr. Alspaugh himself remains one of my chief icons for stern-but-fair. I think we often exasperated him, but he never yelled and I only once saw him lose his temper (when some people were horsing around during a flag-lowering ceremony). In daily life he worked at the post office; I remember learning quite by chance once that he was a World War II vet, having served in the Pacific. He was also a man of many talents: years later, when I'd found my grandfather's old Seth Thomas clock and was trying to get it running again, I discovered that he'd once been a clockmaker and he volunteered to undertake the task of cleaning it up (it turned out it'd just wound down when Dr. Smith died nearly thirty years earlier).

One particular memory involved the Order of the Arrow. I got inducted into this, and later reached the middle rank of Brotherhood. Mr A. (as we called him) went all the way to Vigil, and to commemorate the occasion I gave him an Eisenhower silver dollar. Twenty years later, when I saw him for the last time after having been out-of-touch for years (having moved away to graduate school and he having retired from the post office), he pulled out of his pocket a large silvery disk, worn almost smooth, which I cd just recognize as the same 1971 silver dollar; apparently he'd carried it as a good-luck piece ever since (just as I carry a 100-mon coin with me every day).

I'm sorry to hear he's gone, but glad that at 87 years he had a good long life. I wish I'd kept in touch more, but I'm glad I got to see him that last time. I'm glad to have known him, and hope he knew that he meant a lot to a lot of us.

Rest in peace, Mr. A.

--John R.
*whose son, Lane Jean, was with me in scouts and more recently has been Magnolia's mayor.
**now Rev. Polk

1 comment:

Unknown said...

John, would you e-mail me privately?

Kathy Alspaugh