Girl Scouts

Are the cookies the only thing not stale?

All hail that most American of snacks, the Girl Scout cookie, with its two vital lessons in capitalism: Pound on enough doors and your troop goes to Space Camp�or, send the sales sheet with Daddy to the office, and your troop goes to Space Camp.

God love those Thin Mints, but my troop barely left the I-275 beltloop of Cincinnati, let alone the atmosphere. Our cookie sales funded such activities as Beauty and Makeup Night�the marketing division hadn’t yet invented the splashy cookie box photos of Scouts rope climbing or careening past boys on dirt bikes�and summer day camps along the tributaries of the Ohio. At camp we engaged in such empowering activities as cleaning the outdoor latrines, a delicate process involving sucking down a deep breath, attacking the open seat with a toilet brush, bursting out the door for another lung-full, repeat. We also stitched situpons, two slabs of vinyl stuffed with newspaper and bound with yarn. When you were done, you had your very own camping cushion that provided all the luxurious comfort of a slice of Astroturf.

Once you set aside latrine scrubbing and the bugs and the horrifying encounters with tree frogs (I accidentally stepped on one in the pool: I was horrified and permanently scarred squeamish; he was equally horrified, but not so much as when he was subsequently whapped by a counselor with a pool strainer), those were good times, those August mornings at day camp. I attended right up though high school, or would have, had contamination from the nearby nuclear waste plant not permanently closed the gates of Ross Trails Camping Ground. Ah, youth. Ah, the lulling chirps of radioactive crickets.

The cookie sales from my sister’s troop helped to fund the purchase of the latest model of the Girl Scout handbook, which featured guidelines for earning the brand-new Computer World patch. Life was more progressive there in Troop 1256, where the girls were encouraged to “learn to read a computer printout” and “write a message in binary code” and “visit a large company which owns its own computer.” And don’t forget to catch tonight’s Dallas.

The feminist revolution may have landed women in executive suites across the land while Troop 1202, Three Rivers Council, was taught how to apply blusher in smooth, downward strokes; but I’d join all over again these days. Girl Scouting in the new millennium is about presenting little ones with opportunities they wouldn’t otherwise have to work in girls-only situations, which, studies show, increases self-esteem, raises academic achievement, and boosts confidence. As a graduate of two women’s schools, I happen to be a fan of such goings-on. And there is lovely irony, I think, in the fact that these young ladies rise there on the yeast of output from the kitchen.