The Way It Was
By Dante E. Guazzo
For a boy growing up in the 1920’s, Scouting provided exciting and rewarding experiences, but he longed to own an official Scout uniform, in order to feel like ‘a real Boy Scout.’
It happened 80 years ago, but I remember it as if it were yesterday.
I joined the Boy Scouts on my 12th birthday in September 1927. I loved the out-of-doors activities, the camping, and the singing around the campfire at night.
But, like most boys in my troop, I did not have an official Boy Scout uniform. Instead, because the early BSA uniforms closely resembled the U.S. Army uniform worn by “doughboys” in the recent Great War (World War I), most Scouts in my troop went to the local Army-Navy store and purchased used Army clothes.
The Scoutmaster said that was O.K., as long as we also wore the official troop neckerchief.
When our next-door neighbor, Mr. McGreevy, heard that I had joined the Scouts and didn’t have a uniform, he offered me his old World War I uniform, complete with wraparound leggings.
I appreciated that so much and, even though it was a bit large, I wore the uniform to every troop meeting. With my official neckerchief, I now felt like a real Boy Scout.
In the window
But every week when I went shopping with my mother, we passed a haberdashery store on Main Street that had a full display of official Boy Scout clothing in the window. My mother stood patiently by as I studied the mannequin wearing a complete Boy Scout uniform. I never said anything to her, because I knew we couldn’t afford to buy the uniform.
Then, a few weeks before Christmas, my mother got two part-time day jobs, doing housecleaning, which would provide some extra income for us.
On Christmas Eve, I sang with the choir for the midnight Mass at All Saints Episcopal Church.
One of the kind ladies in the congregation, Mrs. Wood, always prepared hot cocoa for us boys because she was afraid we might pass out from standing so much during the long service. Afterward, she also gave each one of us a small box of chocolate candy as we prepared to leave.
‘See what Santa Claus brought’
I started for home, walking in the light, powdery snow that was falling. I went into our house, which had turned cold because the kitchen stove had long gone out, and headed for my bed, which had a lot of heavy, warm covers.
My mother surprised me, however, when she said: “Merry Christmas! Look on the chair and see what Santa Claus brought you!”
We did not have a Christmas tree, but on the chair, neatly wrapped, were three packages. They contained an official Boy Scout shirt, pants, and stockings. I screamed and I cried as I rushed over to kiss my mother.
I had never asked that she buy these things for me, and therefore I never expected to get them. And she never said it, but I knew that it took all the money that she got for her two days’ housecleaning work to buy them for me.
I have a lot of other memories of past Christmases. Some are sad, and some are happy. One year, after starting a job search after graduating from college in June, I did not find a job until five day before Christmas. And during World War II, after serving as a private for almost two years, I graduated from Officer Candidate School six days before another Christmas.
Topping those, however, was the birth of our first child—our daughter was born on Christmas Eve.
You can’t ask for anything more than that in life.
But although I have lots of vivid Christmas memories, the one that keeps coming back is that cold house with no Christmas tree and those three packages my mother gave me with the love that was always present in our home.
Dante E. Guazzo, who joined the Boy Scouts in 1927 in Orange, N.J., currently lives in Charlotte, N.C.
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