Excerpt from the book “They Call Me Orange Juice” by Audrey McDonald Atkins
Once a year every year, I am reminded of one of my greatest failures. My failure to become a Brownie.
It happens along about the time smart little girls dressed in sashes heavy with the badges of their accomplishment implore you to fund their pursuit of “courage, confidence, and character” through the purchase of sweet treats — Girl Scout cookies.
When I was about seven or eight years old, someone in my hometown decided to start a Brownie troop. We were to meet once a week at the Citronelle Baptist Assembly and learn how to be resourceful, clever, and creative young women. We also got to have cookies and Kool-Aid, de rigueur for any social gathering of the mid-‘70s.
I went to the first few meetings, received a handbook, and raised my two little fingers heavenward while I fervently recited the Brownie Creed:
On my honor, I will try:
To serve God and my country,
To help people at all times,
And to live by the Girl Scout Law.
I was sincere. I was earnest in my study of the manual. I wanted desperately to become the responsible young girl in the illustrations — kind to animals and the elderly, able to create a tourniquet under duress, and adept at identifying indigenous trees by their bark.
I remember well the day of my downfall. The day I knew my hopes of sewing and fire-building badges would never come to fruition. The day I knew that I would never proudly wear the smart brown jumper and striped blouse with the Peter Pan
collar. The day I knew I could never become a Brownie.
The end began with these words, “You girls will be excited to know that we are planning a campout on the banks of beautiful Lake Chautauqua.”
A campout? Outside?! I was immediately filled with dread and horror.
Now many of you may think that because I come from the country, the far-flung recesses of Mobile County, Alabama, that I just love to sleep outdoors, on the ground, staring blissfully up into the heavens while the crickets chirp and the little froggies sing their songs. You would be wrong. It is precisely because I am from the country, the far-flung recesses of Mobile County, Alabama, that I do not, and will not, sleep outdoors, especially by a brackish, murky body of water.
As our apparently fearless, and obviously deranged, leader went on to explain how we would start fires and roast marshmallows and tell stories, all I could think of was the time when Baw and I were fishing at my cousin Sister’s pond. We were sitting out on her little pier drowning some Catawba worms and having a ball. Sister’s husband Jesse came down to join us. As the men stood on the bank and chatted, I continued to fish, dangling my little toes off the edge of the dock.
All of a sudden, Baw yanked me up by my overall straps and flung me up onto the grass while Jesse frantically began to beat at the water’s edge with an oar. It was water moccasins, you see. A nest of water moccasins. Mere feet from where my little piggies had been.
Then there was the time when Baw and I were swimming at Puppy Creek. Tired of playing in the water, I was digging clay out of the bank to make little cups and saucers so that we could have a tea party. Baw was sitting in his harvest gold folding chair about thirty feet away watching me.
Now Baw always carried his pistol with him when we went to the creek. After all, you just never knew what sort of person might wander up. River people. I never really thought much about him carrying a gun until this day when I heard him say calmly and quietly in a tone, “Stand up slowly. Don’t look behind you. And come to me. Now.” I had never heard this tone before.
I looked over at him, and the gun was leveled in my direction. As I did like he told me, “Pow!” Baw fired and shot the head off a cottonmouth that had crept up right behind me.
As if this wasn’t enough, I knew all about the rattlers, alligators, wild boars, bobcats, and black bears that shared our woods with us. Not to mention the less menacing but still disturbing armadillos, skunks, fire ants, and mosquitoes, all of which were guaranteed to be spending a warm summer night on the banks of bucolic Lake Chautauqua with a horde of little girls and their crumbs and noise and Kool-Aid. We’d be sitting ducks.
But not me. Not then. Not now. For you see, it was at that moment that I realized I was really only in it for the beanie, and beanies can be bought. Common sense cannot.
Born and raised in Citronelle, Atkins shares stories about growing up and living in the South in her book, “They Call Me Orange Juice,” and at her blog folkwaysnowadays.com.