Joseph «Joe» Chrzanowski, «in memoriam» – I – Escritos de Joseph Chrzanowski – I [Ilustración de Ana María Vacas Rodríguez]

Joseph «Joe» Chrzanowski, «in memoriam» – I – Escritos de Joseph Chrzanowski – I [Ilustración de Ana María Vacas Rodríguez]

The Scoutmaster

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The Scoutmaster

“Hell no. Just remembering my name these days is practically impossible. Well, a little exaggeration, but peering into empty spaces when I try recall a name or why I went upstairs or into the garage is getting to be a bitch. Forget putting a name onto a face. You too?”


“There was no way that they would or could remember the year or the years, but it was all so real. To use the cliché, like yesterday.


“Hurry up, the meeting is starting. Shit.” With the lights lowered, the auditorium that during the day didn’t seem all that big, had now become immense, a leering monster ready to strike, grab what was real and turn it upside down.


“What’s he going to do now? This is kind of spooky.”


“Shut up.”


It really was eerie. Twenty or so of us, all grammar school kids who were just beginning to notice and appreciate the female body, ordered to form a circle and to put our arms over the shoulders of those who were to our right and to our left. Funny, you have to admit that it was comforting as the lights were dimmed even further, and the monster opened its mouth like that lion that came out at the beginning of movies, except it was bigger and more threatening. Strength in numbers? Or feeling, but not realizing, that touching and holding onto another human being was something special, even if it was just a boy standing next to you in the dark. Thinking back on it, it was spiritual, not therapeutic, like the shrinks say. Just a feeling that our connectedness to others was more than what we felt as we put our arms around the kids on either side of us. Not enough to make you a believer, but you felt to your core that the human family was real and that you were a part of it.


“Damn it’s dark in here,” some idiot whispered in the brief moment of silence that followed the lights being turned off completely. And then we started singing:


“Day is done,
Gone the sun,
From the lake, from the hills, from the sky.
All is well, safely rest,
God is nigh.”


And so it was that each meeting of Boy Scout Troup 44 began. And the journey that two, maybe three, generations of children in a small New England town, boys and girls, made under what for most of us was the caring guidance of our scoutmaster. A man, who for many, was a second father.


“If I let myself, I could get emotional remembering.”


“Yea, I remember too. He really was special, wasn’t he?”


“Talking about memories, I bet you remember Judy what’s her name who had that incredible body.”


“I think so,” I answered after a slight hesitation that had nothing to do with my ability to remember. How the hell can I not remember why I went out to the garage? I resisted sharing in the laugh because somehow it went against the respect for women that my father always talked about. But I laughed.


“Mom, can I go to the game?”


“What game?”


“Every year Ed takes a busload of kids to the Yale-Brown game in New Haven. It’s in two weeks.’


“Sure.”


I still hate the dark. Spooks me. The anthropologists and psychologists have their theories. I could care less about the theories. It’s the feelings that always get me.


“So what are we supposed to do?


“We meet at school after dark. It’s some kind of a mystery hike. The whole troop.”


“At night? Damn. I guess I’ll go if my parents let me.”


Why does that giant yellow school bus look and feel like a big animal hiding in the dark? [Too much thinking about monsters.] And all the windows covered in paper so no one could see in or out?


And there we stood wrapped in the blackness of night, some nervous, some giddy, many joking, waiting for everyone to arrive before we were able to board. Not even a hint of a moon. The bus didn’t look any less threatening as the minutes passed.


“The patrol leaders are supposed to sit together. Let’s grab that seat. Did you bring a compass and a flashlight, like he told us?”


“I did, but I can’t figure out what this is all about.”


As the bus slowly pulled away, most of us tried to guess what roads we were on. Several minutes straight ahead, then a turn to the right, followed by another quick one – was it to the right or the left?, more driving straight ahead, and before long it was impossible to have any idea where we were. As the bus slowed to a halt, the talking and joking suddenly stopped. We were the kids that we were, some curious, some scared out of our wits (we used to say it differently). No one was talking. The handle was pulled and the trap door sprung open. And there we stood on a narrow country road– no cars, no street lights, no moon. Only trees and more trees and the fireflies and the mosquitos. The only sound, the peepers. And not a clue as to where we were. Not as intimidating as entering a confessional for the first time, but close.


“OK. Listen up. Each of you patrol leaders gets one of these pages of instructions. They will tell you what directions to look for on your compass and how many paces to take before turning. You all can see how dark it is, so watch where your step. There could be rocks or logs on the ground, so don’t trip. You will not end up back where we are now. Patrol leaders, if you need help, talk to your friends. You are all in this together. Like being in the Army. Now come and get your instructions, and good luck. We’ll see you later.”


And into the woods we traipsed, in the clutches of yet another scary being. Some forty-five minutes later– or was it an hour and forty-five minutes? — one patrol after another slowly emerged out of what had become for us a menacing jungle, relieved and proud that we had accomplished our task. Somehow we sensed that we had taken an important step toward maturity, self-awareness and confidence, and the need to rely not just on ourselves, but on others. “Day is done….All is well.”


“Did you hear? Lots of people are talking about it. Ed is planning to clear the brush and cut back the trees along the stream that is down behind the Little League field. And I guess he wants to make a little beach area so that the kids in town can have a place to swim.”


“Wow. How neat!”


And the dream became a reality, and how appropriate that the town named the park after Ed.


“Were you on that camping trip when we got snowed in? I’ll never forget that one. We all took our sleeping bags and tents into the woods, and Ed showed us how to set up the tents, tie knots, prepare fires, and fend for ourselves. And then the freak snow storm hit. We woke up with like six inches of snow on the ground and no way to get of the park. Do you remember? That’s one that none of us could forget. We had to hunker down in a big cabin with an enormous fireplace until they could clear the roads and get us out of there. Boy, what experiences!


“I know. It’s all coming back. And did Ed ask you to join the Order of the Arrow too? That was another one. A whole day with a stick in your mouth because we weren’t supposed to say a word! Talk about discipline and self control. And when they rowed us across that lake in canoes in the dark with bonfires lighting up the sky on the other shore and the drums beating, you really felt special. Nothing threatening us that night. And I remember Ed sitting toward the front of the canoe, a far-away look on his face, like he was somewhere else.”


“Yea, I was there. Thanks again to Ed.”


There comes a time when talk slows and memories run their course. And in some cases, the unspoken can no longer be ignored or avoided. And so it was as we looked off into the distance for a few moments, and then at each other, and struggled with what puzzled and tormented us: the recent accusations against Ed, the possibility [perhaps worse, the probability] that there was another side to Ed, a very dark side that involved taking advantage of young boys. Accusations that surfaced long after he had died and after he had no opportunity to offer a defense, if he had one. Neither of us could bring ourselves to say anything, but it seemed that we both recognized, with sadness, that human weakness, like evil, and like monsters, can come in many forms. It is sometimes said that applying a term like “good” to a person who has done evil, is incongruous and worse, unjustifiable. Neither of us were willing to cast the first stone at a man who meant so much to so many. The truth will never be known, so a defense is equally incongruous and unjustifiable. As is often the case, truth is elusive and dependent on one’s experience. Without uttering a word, I believe that the two of us were resigned to focus on our own experiences, and that of so many of our peers, as well as on the good deeds that a man who was perhaps evil, or perhaps just sick, did. Or who knows? Maybe the accusations were false. What for many was so real, so precious, had been turned upside down. Few of us are left to remember those times, much less the name of that park.


Day is done. Gone is the sun.

Ana María Vacas Rodríguez – The Scoutmaster

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Joseph Chrzanowski

California State University, Los Angeles

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Pintura de Ana María Vacas Rodríguez

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