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Acting Our Age

The drizzle wetted the metal cables causing them to glisten, the ropes swell, and knots tighten. I was near the end of a suspension bridge that was part of a high ropes coarse, and had halted momentarily to squeegee the rain out of my eyes, which caused the bridge to sway under foot. I needed to unscrew a carabiner, remove it, and reattach it on the next section, effectively bypassing the cable support. This had to be done twice as there were two pieces of webbing attached to my harness for safety.  Just as I removed the first carabiner, I lost traction on the moisture-oiled cable. As I fell, I began to swing, a motion called a pendulum, which is rarely done on purpose. I dangled  35 ft. above the earth, but my young imagination had interpreted thousands. Panic took hold.  There were rumors later that I had screamed like a little girl, but only rumors.

While I kept a white-knuckled grip on my still-attached safety line, wet and scared, one of the Scoutmasters overseeing the coarse consoled and eventually coaxed me back up. Once secured and calmed, I fussed with the second carabiner. It had jammed when bearing my weighted fall and would not disengage. Some of my fellow scouts started teasing me. The Scoutmaster called us all by our mother’s first names and instructed us to stop bickering. He then tossed up a multi-tool to aid with leverage and said to get the job done. I would soon realize that he always had the right tool at hand, leading by and living by the Scout Motto, “Be Prepared.” That was the first camp out my Desloge Troop shared with the Park Hills Troop at S-F Scout Ranch and during my high wire act, my official introduction to Barney Simms. That night, my friends and I were put off by Barney and wondered how the rest of the weekend would pan out. 

We awoke the following morning to the smell of food being fried. We watched in amazement as Barney methodically ran a small kitchen off the tailgate of his black truck which was respectfully, but often through gritted teeth, called numerous foul nicknames. He would carefully open canned biscuits, poke a hole in the center with his thumb and drop them in a boiling pot of oil. We hadn’t had biscuits prepared in this fashion before. Only when he pulled them out, and generously tossed each one in powdered sugar, did we understand they were doughnuts! Sizzling in a giant wok on the fire were sausages, bacon, eggs and hash browns. The knowledge of cholesterol from Health Merit Badge would come later.  Barney had a passionate personality, and to some it rubbed off as being abrasive. But we who knew him best came to accept and welcome his “get the job done “ mentality. Any harbored ill feelings from the day before were swallowed with the sugary, nutrition-less goodies.  Without realizing it, we scouts were experiencing some of the best times of our lives, what some refer to as “The Good Ol‘ Days.” I fool myself in thinking I am still young enough to say a “ few years ago.” 

The best and most essential part of Scouting is the Outing, the doing. From float trips, hiking and camping, to rank advancement and Scouting For Food, there were always Scoutmasters donating their vacation time, gasoline and a few grey hairs to the Scouting cause.  Barney Simms, Donny Jones, Steve Bible, Lloyd Sutton and my father, John Helbig were the core adults supporting and molding our impressionable lives. hey not only provided means of transportation, one of which was as refurbished school bus entitled Yellow Submarine after a questionable river crossing, not the Beatles song; but also the kind of support that accompanies a young scout’s first attempt at cooking. With a smile on their face, they would consume the often marginally edible after effect, requesting only “a little Tabasco sauce next time.” We learned as we went, and when the day’s tasks were completed, we were allowed to act our ages, without the obligation to grow up prematurely.  

I flourished in scouts until it was finally time for my Eagle Project, which is a pre-approved community service project. Part of this task is to enroll volunteers for the labor. I had settled on a basketball court in Desloge City Park.  he usual crew of scouts and leaders were helping out, Barney included, who cleverly rigged up tarps on the Yellow Submarine to impede leaves from blowing onto the wet concrete. Also lending some elbow grease on the project was a non-scouter and a friend from school who was eager to help out. Michael Deason, a basketball fanatic, would often roll up in his off-white Ford ranger and ask “is it ready to be slam dunked yet?” He helped me paint the court stripes, hang the backboard, and hang the net. He saw my signing of initials in the drying cement as a moment closer to breaking in the new equipment. We eventually lost touch as most school friends will. Ten years later, upon returning home from Alaska for my ten year high school reunion, I heard about Mike’s passing.  Recently, his family refurbished the neglected court in his honor. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

A few years later, Barney and his wife traveled to Alaska on a cruise. We met up one night for dinner, and reminisced about different scout trips. He was pleased to see that, as a Glacier Guide, I always carry a Leatherman multitooI and laughed when I said  “for quick a MacGyver.”  I didn’t know it then, but that would be the last time I saw him, licking our fingers over Alaskan halibut fish n’ chips.  As fruitless as regrets are, I have a few: one for missing an opportunity to get my butt kicked in a game of HORSE by an old friend on a new court; the other, for not shaking hands with the man one more time for everything he had done for me, and thank him for not referring to me by my mother’s name as I got older, or ever asking me to act my age.

As we celebrate the 100th anniversary of Scouting, let us salute the individuals responsible and make it a 100 more.

Yours in Scouting,

Jason Helbig

Share your stories by contacting Sherry Greminger at or at 573-431-2010, ext. 115.

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