Friday, October 29, 2010

Cults of the 60s...

Nice job on the Tie! - 1962  
 When I was a kid we really couldn’t afford any extracurricular activities outside school. In fact I’m not sure if they even existed then. If it was free though, and ‘good’ for me, my mother was all over it. So I ended up having to go to Brownies and then subsequently to Girl Guides. Both of these I detested. When I think of Brownies now, I consider it some sort of a cult experience. Dancing in circles around giant mushrooms with owls perched on them. It was considered an honour to be ‘chosen’; the one who got to come a little early to the next week’s meeting in order to set up the ‘grotto’. First, the large square green piece of felt, then in the centre of the square the large mushroom (or was that a toadstool), then the assortment of small mushrooms and the owls, brown owl, tawny owl, whoever else. Once everyone arrived we danced around the damn thing pretending we were in the woods I guess. At the end of the song we used our secret brownie salute .. it went something like ‘T-wit t-wit t-woo’. Twit is right! We then recited the Brownie promise ...”I promise to do my best. To do my duty to God and the Queen. To help other people everyday, especially those at home.” Translation...a guilt trip geared towards me helping my mother and being a ‘nice’ girl.
The meeting then progressed with an inspection performed by our cult leader, Brown Owl. My tie was always my fall down; I practised tying a proper brownie tie so many times that I still catch myself making Brownie ties out of restaurant napkins 50 years later. Then we paid our 10 cent dues,our dimes secured in small brown leather pouches attached to our belts.

The major activity for brownies was collecting merit badges which were then sown on our sleeves. If I were a Brownie now I could use that great line out of Treasure of the Sierra Madre. 
Most of the badges had to do ‘girl’ type activities of the early 60s, sewing something, cooking something, darning socks, making tea for someone, shining shoes for God’s sake, learning different knots and then ...the dreaded semaphore. This particular badge was a mandatory one and required to be able to ‘fly-up’ to Guides. For those of you who aren’t familiar with semaphore, it’s an alphabet signalling system based on the waving of a pair of hand-held flags in a particular pattern. The flags are usually square, red and yellow, divided diagonally with the red portion in the upper hoist. The flags are held, arms extended, in various positions representing each of the letters of the alphabet. In old movies you’d sometimes see navy men standing on board ship signalling to another ship. Now where and when the hell was I going to use semaphore?? In any case, I just couldn’t get it right when it came to test time. I flunked...big time. I can’t remember crying about it but I’m sure I did, as I cried about almost anything. 

The following Spring we gathered for the yearly ceremony for Brownies who were ‘flying up’ to Girl Guides. The ceremony included attaching a pair of wire wings covered in gold foil wrap to the girl who was ‘flying up’. She would then walk through a tunnel created by Girl Guides with their arms raised and hands touching. When she got to the end, the new Guide was presented with their Girl Guide pin and congratulated by their new leader. When my turn came, I was not allowed to don the wings of gold because I was an abject failure at Semaphore. Instead, I had gold foil wrapped around my shoes and had to ‘walk up’ to guides. Now how embarrassing is that? Obviously it bugged me because I’m still talking about it. I am sure they don't do this least I hope not!         

 For Linda...


  1. OMG Suzanne, that's hilarious. I remember most of that stuff too. T-wit t-wit t-woo -- whoooo the hell thought of that? Pretty crazy. Someone on drugs must have dreamed up that scheme. Brownies, owls, mushrooms?? Semaphore and algebra. Useless!

  2. Suzanne,

    What a great memory you have! All I remember from my Brownie experience is failing the home economics badge because I brought some store bought oreo cookies to the event. Apparently I was supposed to bake something! Their idea of 'economics' was different from mine I guess.

    As for flying up to the Girl Guides, cause we lived in the North, I had to 'canoe' upstream in a donned foil wrapped canoe around my waist! sigh. Probably a bit of metaphor for the years to come.

    Thanks for bringing up those memories. I had all but forgotten about the mushroom in the middle!

    PS... You were a cute little 7 year old.

  3. Never got involved in Brownies but did get into Beavers as a leader with my boys. Beavers beavers beavers- sharing sharing sharing!!! :) Love your stories; keep them coming!!! :)

  4. So where does the tap dancing come from??


  5. Well Suzanne and all others that went to Brownie and Girl Guides. I always felt left out because I wasn't allowed to go. My younger sisters went though, ok now who has the problem 40 years later I am still talking about not being allowed to go the the cult meetings. Ah memories I love them. Keep up the fantasic work I love your blog!

    Nancy L

  6. I remember some of the rituals you described, but I had managed to block them out of my memory. I hated those damn passage of right for those badges...I barely could darn a sock. Never made it to guides...and of course, when I had 2 girls, I subjected both of them to Sparks, the precursor to Brownies. Was I insane? Of course, they both didn't go beyond Sparks...need I say more. Thanks for the recall. Caroline X

  7. Hey, your bangs are looking pretty sweet in this picture! I was a brownie and girl guide too. In fact my Mom still has my uniform. I know, weird. I never cared much for those weekly meetings however loved when we did the annual trek to Camp Woolsey. Now that was fun!

    Poor Nancy missing out on Brownies. I think I'll suggest she become a leader so she can see how much fun it is for herself!

  8. How odd, Those are almost my exact same memories of Cub Scouts! Except we worshipped a wolf's head on a pike pole, and danced around the scout leader, who was the evil German woman who lived up the street. Heck, she hated kids!

    How twisted was this Baden Powell guy? Seriously, that is some sick sh*t.
    I got kicked out for failing to do a merit badge assignment on how the Government of Canada works. Jeez, I was 8 for cripes sakes. Forty odd years later, I am still trying to figure out how it works; but hey, so is the Harper.

    Speaking of Boy Scouts...