We were a rag tag group of second graders, lingering outcasts of the mainstream brought together for social structure. Oak Park has seven public grade schools and five Catholic schools. Cub Scouts isn’t a tremendous association, but back in the Eighties, there were ten ‘Dens’ in the Oak Park Cub Scout ‘Pack’. Longfellow school was Den 4 and our Pack was 23. When the former Den leader for our age group moved on with her own kid to Boy Scouts, a scramble ensued for her replacement. Most of our moms flat out refused to be in charge of twelve eight year olds. It was decided that my father and my best pal Pats’ dad, would be our Den Mothers and the remaining fathers would rotate each week and be in charge of snacks and an activity. The only exempt father was Danny D.’s, he was an old navy guy and gunning for pack leader after a gruesome divorce with his wife. Danny D. and his sister lived with his mother and her new husband, an evangelical preacher.
My Dad and Pats’ dad, Dave Br___ were over in Nam about the same time. They had something in common besides kids and though they were men of different ideals and background, their respect for one another was a secretive and strong bond. Pat and I always joked later in life that our fathers only told the other of us their war stories. Now that I’m an adult, I realize that you don’t talk about war in front of your own children. Pat and I discovered a lot about their experience of war later in life and we were both floored by the emotion and candor our fathers used with us. They both saw serious action. As Den Mothers they were fair and laid back.
We did the usual tying knots and building birdhouses, we ran around the gym and played games. Our shirts were covered in merit stripes and beads, the Cub Scout activity book was open to interpretation and our creative minds flew through activities that took honest kids years to accomplish. We were the envy of the rest of the pack. We were elected to represent the pack at the statewide banquet.
That summer the banquet was in Wheaton which was just West of us, so Dave and my dad decided to take us to the war museum at Cantigny Park. They have a The Big Red One museum there and my dad was in the First Infantry Division. We were kids so we dug all the guns and tanks and stuff, but Dave and my Dad were eerily quiet, Dave was showing Pat the medals he got in ‘Nam and I remember my Dad pulling him away and whispering something to him. By the time they realized we were late for the banquet, the twelve of us were sweaty, sunburned and worn out hungry. They shuffled us into their cars and rushed us to dinner. We walked in late to a hall full room of prissy folks in neat uniforms. When we registered as Den 4 of Pack 23 the woman in a drab suit asked my Dad where our Den Mother was.
“We’re the Den Fathers.” Mr. Br___ said, leaning into the fold out table.
Dave was an imposing presence, before he was in the service; he was a starting offensive guard for the University of Illinois football team. He had added about 50 pounds of marriage to that.
”Well, where are your uniforms?” She asked.
Half of us were in wrinkled, sweaty, untucked shirts and our Den Fathers were in their casual Saturday wear. My father stepped in with reason.
”Look, we don’t have uniforms and the kids are hungry. We’re sorry we’re late…"
A man decked out in his Dress Cub Scout leader garb came out of the adjoining room.
”Is there a problem?" He interrupted.
My father always stuttered when he was nervous. He stammered until Mr. Br___ stepped in again, turning his sturdy block over his shoulder, looking into our upturned faces,
”Why don’t you guys wait in the (adjacent restaurant) pizza area until we work this out”. He said to us, handing Pat a roll of quarters.
We were flummoxed, but eager to play some video games. When the quarters ran out, Pat and I went to find our fathers. What we found were the two of them red faced, trying to control their tempers.
Our fathers were patient men with boiling points. The banquet had denied our admission because of a dress code. Our fathers were reasonable, they suggested just letting the kids in and making them stay out, they offered apologies and finally they cracked, right when Pat and I turned into the alcove.
”Were you in the service?” My father asked the man.
"Yes". The man replied, swallowing hard.
”When were you over?" They asked, easing up a bit ready to reconcile and be chum chum again.
It was over.
My dad lost it. The stress of the day had him. He pushed his finger right into the guys’ chest and pulled him close by the button of his lapel.
“Look here bud, He pointed to his eyes behind his thick glasses. The last time we wore uniforms we were on our way home from ‘Nam and I’ll be… dddddamddd” (escalating voice)…
Mr. Br___ pushed my father back with Pat and I in tow into the Pizza area where they told the hostess we needed a table. They gave us more quarters and ordered a beer at the bar. When we finally got a table and our Den Fathers had soaked their tempers a bit, they took a minute to explain.
”Due to those jackasses in there,” My father pointed to the banquet room, Den 4, Pack 23 is no more. Today we are having pizza as a Den, not as a part of a greater military organization. Cub Scouts is about having fun and Mr. Br___ and I decided that the banquet wasn’t fun. I’m not saying Cub Scouts is bad, I think it is very good and we learned many things about each other and how to do things. But they didn’t want to let us in because Mr. Br___ and I didn’t know we were supposed to wear uniforms. Mr. Br___ and I were in Vietnam, like we learned about today. We’re very sorry that you guys aren’t in there. Now what’s the motto?"
“Do your best!” We yelled in unison, more impressed with those who had the ability to squirt root beer out of their nose.
”Well today our motto is, Good Enough!” He said, sitting down.
Mr. Br___ took over in his Lawyer voice, explaining that Pat and I wouldn’t be in Cub Scouts anymore and that if anyone wanted, they could join another den. We ate our pizza and our stint as Cub Scouts was over. Pat and I were the last to be dropped off and since he lived across the alley and he was in my dad’s split of the dropping off pool. When Pat got out of the car he looked up at my dad and said,
”I think we’re good enough.”