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The Torch Bearer

Yesterday I found a yellowed piece of paper interspersed with some old photos of the house I was forced to sell a few years ago and a single Polaroid from my one and only wedding. Sometime in the past 30 years, I tossed the paper in the box, where it remained, unfolded and unread.  My discovery appears to have been a gift left by my mother's benevolent ghost for me to read as I sorted through the detritus of my previous lives.   

It's not dated, but it was written over a three month period in 1942 or 1943 and chronicles the duties my mother assumed in order to attain the rank of "Torch Bearer" in the Campfire Girls of America.  My grandmother's signature at the bottom of the page matches the one on the identification card of every young man from Elkhart County, Indiana who served in the armed forces during WWII.

I've copied the list devised by her troop leader verbatim, adding my own comments, in parentheses.  

                                                                           * * * *

          1)  Be on time and stay thru each meeting for 10 consecutive C.F. meetings.  (After the tenth meeting, you'll be working so many hours to complete your assigned duties, you'll need your rest.)

          2)  Have no marks below “B” for 3 consecutive months.  (Mom graduated third in her class.)

          3)  Do not borrow money for 2 consecutive months.  (See #4, below.  You're going to be finding a job in a wartime economy at fifteen years of age.)

          4)  Fill a salaried position for two months.  (Grandma signed this, so we know Mom fulfilled the requirement.  Mom was a soda jerk at the neighborhood ice cream parlor; if any 15 year-old could talk her way into a salaried position, maintain a better than "B" average and complete the following duties in three months without breaking a sweat, it was Mom.)

          5)  Take entire care of room for one month.  (Grandma worked at the draft board from 8 a.m. - 5 p.m.  Only women and girls did housework.  Mom had a younger brother and no sisters.  Needless to say, they didn't have household help who were grateful for a little extra time to finish their chores.)

          6)  Set and clear table one month.  (See #5, above.)

          7)  Wash or dry dishes for one month.  (See #5, above.  Wash or dry?  In addition to her clerical duties, Grandma spent a considerable amount of time at the Goshen railway station with the other families who were there to wave goodbye to their sons, brothers and husbands who were leaving home, many for the first time in their young lives, to serve their country.  Eventually, she stood there and watched her own son board a train. Her dedication and service to others earned her a commendation from the Governor of Indiana and a half-page spread in the Goshen News.)

        8)  Take a warm cleansing bath (40 times in 8 consecutive weeks).  (No commentary on this one, other than the directive to visualize a closed bathroom door, if you know what's good for you.)

        9)  Brush teeth for three months.  (Mom would want you to know she had all her own teeth when she died.  The requirement we've all been waiting for is NEXT!!!!)

       10)  Wear clean underwear for 1 month.  (Mom and Grandma are bumping fists in heaven, exchanging whispered comments like, "Turn them inside out on the last day and continue wearing them until only the elastic remains.")

       11)  Demonstrate how to make a bed for a patient.  (This does not mean that the patient is leaning one-legged on his crutches, grateful for the lesson.)

       12)  Give ten hours work to the Red Cross.  (Ten hours of Mom's hyperkinetic energy was roughly equivalent to 50 hours of anyone else's.)

       13)  Spend 8 hours in library and find out how it works.  (Mom was President of the Ladies Library Association until a few hours before her death, when she passed the torch to her Vice President.  It was the last thing Mom did before she said goodbye.)

 

Comments
10 Comment count
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The Torch Bearer

Lovely piece of writing and what an incredible part of your family's history. Your mother sounds like a remarkable woman. I love stories like these as they illustrate the lives our parents and grandparents led, the challenges they faced and how they dealt with them - being so much more than photos in albums from times past. Your article gives us a marvellous glimpse of what life was like in a previous era - priceless.

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Many thanks

Nicholas,

Your photography is so moving.  I'm truly honored.  

Thanks,

Jane

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What an extraordinary,

What an extraordinary, touching story.  Your family sounds so kind and warm-hearted, Jane.  Thank you for sharing these uplifting stories.

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Ordinary women

Katia,

Neither my mother nor my grandmother thought of herself as anything other than ordinary.   I've only recently learned a little about their lives from newspaper clippings and letters kept by my grandmother's younger sister.  

I have now begun to truly appreciate their courage.  Thanks for your kind thoughts and words.

Jane

 

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Campfire Girls

I was a Girl Scout.  The unwritten assumption was that Campfire Girls were significantly lesser.  But this list changes all that in my mind.  Imagine the time, imagine the girls. 

What a wonderful story.  Looks like you are the torch bearer now.

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Thanks

Anne,

Campfire Girls actually organized and began two years before the Girl Scouts. I was a Campfire Girl and went to Camp Tannadoonah, which Mom attended when she was young.  Mom remained active in the local chapter even after I was no longer involved.  Our little group disbanded after elementary school.  

Mom and Grandma are tough acts to follow.  Thanks for reading and for your generous comments.

Jane

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What a treasure you found!

What a treasure you found! Don't you love when little stowed boxes turn out to be time capsules? I'm sure it brought back so many wonderful memories, and connections to where your own work ethic comes from. Lovely Jane, thanks.

I've got some catching up to do on some of your blogging. I had to take a leave of absence from RR for a couple of weeks, but I'm back!

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I swear I heard Mom say, "Ahem," when I opened the page

Welcome back, Eva!

Mom was a riot.  Her favorite Mother's Day gift was a push lawn mower. When I was learning to drive, if the light turned yellow as we entered an intersection, she'd say, "He who hesitates is lost!  Gun it!"  I was so lucky.

Thanks for reading.

Jane

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What an outstanding and

What an outstanding and unique artifact to find!  It says so much about your mother's kinetic energy and personality.  Unbelievable energy.  I assume Campfire Girls is today's equivalent of Girl Scouts?  If so, girls that age today have no idea how easy they have it.