Monday, January 2, 2012

The Brownies

Riddle me this: why the dour expression?  This 1960's era girl, whoever she was, had the Brownie Scout shoes, purse, gloves, tie, little coin purse peeking out from one elbow, and the perky brown beanie.  Her Brownie regalia included socks embroidered with the Brownie emblem, and that's a Brownie tie tack she's sporting.  With all that going for her, you'd expect a smile ... unless, of course, she'd just gotten kicked out of the Brownies.  It happens.

Me, I was a more basic Brownie.  Having all those accessories would have been as strange to me as my Mom serving chimichangas instead of pork chops for dinner.  I'm not sure where my uniform came from, but at least one of my sisters or neighbors wore it first.  I had the beanie, maybe the tie.  I didn't care.  On Brownie meeting days I wore them to school proudly and with, I thought, a certain style.
At first my Brownie troop had a mystical quality. We had pins that we wore upside down until we helped at home; then our Moms turned them right side up to show our lives were going in a better direction.  We had a dramatic ceremony with a mirror on the floor representing a pond, and took turns  twirling around in front of it three times, declaring, "Twist me and turn me and show me the elf; I looked in the water and saw myself!"  This meant we had joined a magical band of real Brownies, the kind that danced and sang in the woods.  But while the elfin creatures I'd read about were mischievious, we held up two fingers and pledged, "I promise to do my best, to love God and my country, to help other people every day, especially those at home." 

Sadly, after that my troop wasn't too exciting.  We did a hike downtown that for some reason involved a penny.  We made "sit upons," plastic mats sewn together with yarn.  In my heart I was all Brownie,  but on meeting days I missed running around the neighborhood with kids after school.  Also, I wasn't helping out that much at home.  That worried me.  It became easier and easier to skip meetings and then stop attending at all.

After that I didn't give the Brownies much thought until I had my own little girl.  It seemed like a good idea to expose her to some new friends, and reluctantly she agreed to go to a few meetings.  They were held in a room tucked in the back of the public library, and the Brownies' squeals and shouts could be heard as soon as the library's glass doors slid open.  When I poked my head in the room to pick her up, inside the girls were running around a table, chasing each other.  The Brownie Leader, one of the most gentle and soft-spoken women in our town, looked relieved to see another adult.  Afterwards I asked my daughter what the Brownies did.  She said, "Ate some cookies.  Nothing."  As long as she was a Brownie, she never mentioned helping out at home or anything else about the Brownies except, "I hate it."  Still, she continued to attend meetings, on and off.  Maybe it was the cookies.

One day about this time I was in the kitchen and not coping well.  Dinner was about to burn, dogs were barking to go outside, and the washer still had clothes needing to go to the dryer. I had just politely sent two Mormon boys on their way and "discussed" my recent Dillards expenditure with my husband on the phone.  I looked at my daughter prone on the couch, watching cartoons, and asked her to help out.  "No!  I'm watching my show," she said.  "Just a minute," she said.  "Okay, okay, hold on," she said. 

I worked at the stove with one eye on the dogs.  My daughter remained sprawled on the couch.  Suddenly my heart pumped Mean Mom blood.  'You are not a good Brownie,' I thought.  Pretending to make a call,   I picked up the phone and said, "Hello, Brownie Leader?  I'd like to report an unhelpful Brownie."  I paused, relishing my daughter's dropped jaw and horrified, full attention.  My Mean Mom heart beat harder. "Oh, she's kicked out?   Okay, I'll tell her.  Thanks.  Bye."

Well.  There were two generations of bad Brownies in the house that day.  Had we been wearing our  pins, they would have turned upside down and spun wildly.  Traumatized, my daughter sobbed until she finally understood I hadn't really called.  It took many hugs and kisses to calm her down.  "I'm telling grandma," she cried.  For several years she brought up the day I pretended to call the Brownie Leader, and it was a definite black spot on my record as an otherwise nice Mom.  I felt terrible that she'd gotten so upset ... but the little girl in me who had twirled before the mirror thought, 'Tough luck, kid.  Next time hop to it.'

Not surprisingly, neither one of us ever made it to Girl Scouts.


  1. I vaguely remember my sister being in 'Camp Fire Girls'.'

    What I remember the most, was falling into some 'pricker bushes.'

    Those always seemed unfriendly and useless to me after that.

    I also remember they sang 'the wheels on the bus go round and round... All around the town.'

    Good times... I guess.

  2. I still want to be a Camp Fire Girl, though of course would avoid pricker bushes and probably that song, too.