My Girl Scout career lasted six years. I started in first grade as a Brownie and continued in the organization until the end of sixth grade, my last year as a Junior. I sold a lot of cookies, earned some patches, and never went camping.
My mom was the leader or assistant leader for the first five troops I was in. In fifth grade, no one wanted to lead a Junior troop, so I got to be the helper in my mom’s Brownie troop. I don’t remember in what ways I helped. Mostly I remember participating in activities with the younger girls during meetings and working on projects for my badges alone, at home, on my own time.
By sixth grade, while I was still interested in Girl Scouts, my mom was burned out. She was done being a Girl Scout leader. By the beginning of the school year, another mom had stepped up to lead a Junior troop.
I don’t remember much about that troop. We met in the same building where Catholic kids (including me and my sibling) received weekly indoctrination in church policy. My overall memory of my troop is of a bunch of almost teenage girls running around a small classroom screaming. Our troop leader did not have control of the situation.
The Christmas season rolled around. (This was the early 80s in a medium size, predominately Catholic town. No one I knew spoke of the “holiday season.” I’d never heard of Hanukah or Kwanza.) At a meeting after Thanksgiving, our leader told us we’d make Christmas tree ornaments the next time we met.
On the appointed evening, after we ate our snack (cheap cookies and super sweet Kool-Aid), the leader gave each girl a metal circle that had been removed from a can of food. The edges were jagged and sharp, and a crude hole had been punched to facilitate hanging. The leader said we could decorate our circles any way we wanted, then turned us loose with glitter and glue.
It wasn’t my finest art project, but I hadn’t been given much to work with. I don’t recall the ornament ever hanging from the family Christmas tree. In fact, when my parents divorced and I took the box of family Christmas tree decorations, I didn’t find the ornament among the tinsel, lights, and other school art project decorations. I suspect my mother trashed the can lid ornament moments after it arrived in our house.
My mother was trying not to badmouth this new leader. After all, the woman had taken on a job my mother didn’t want. It wouldn’t be fair to criticize her for doing the best she could. Beside, since I was in the woman’s troop, I should respect her, which might be difficult if my mom was badmouthing her within my hearing. Somehow, I still knew my mom didn’t approve of the rowdy chaos of the meetings, and even I could see the Christmas tree ornament was a substandard art project. My Girl Scout troop didn’t meet during the Christmas holidays, and whenever it came up as a topic of conversation, my mom pressed her lips into a thin line of disapproval, but didn’t say much.
Soon after we went back to school, it was Girl Scout cookie time. Some years back, the people governing the Girl Scout organization decided girls should take preorders for cookies. Each girl received a large, glossy card printed in color with a list of all the cookies available. The chart included a place to write the name and phone number of each customer and a row to fill in how many boxes of each variety of cookie the customer wanted. I dutifully carried my order card around with me for the next few weeks so I could take orders from friends, family, and family friends.
When the cookies were finally delivered, my mom went with me into our troop’s meeting room to pick up what my customers had ordered, as well as the extras I’d sell door-to-door. My parents spent the following weeks driving me around so I could drop off cookies and collect money owed.
I don’t clearly remember the next part of my story, but my mom told me all about it when I was in my 20s. Of course, my sibling says, Mom lies about everything! and Mother’s track record is spotty at best. However, since I have no recollection of the following events and only Mom’s side of the story to go by, I can only report what she told me.
Throughout cookie delivery time, the troop leader wanted the girls to give her cash as we collected it. I think she even called my mom and asked for the cookie cash we had on hand. My mom explained that in years past, as I collected cookie money, she deposited it in the family checking account, then at the end of cookie sales, she wrote one check for the full amount owed. I don’t think the leader was very happy with this arrangement, but there was nothing she could do if my mother refused to turn in the money until the very end.
The day came to turn in the cookie money. Mom sent me in to the troop’s meeting room to hand it over, but I don’t remember if it was in the form of a check or a wad of cash. She made me bring in the order card too, on which there was a spot for the leader to initial to indicate all money had been received. My mother told me not to come back to the car until I had the leader’s initials in the proper spot.
I was gone for a long time, Mom told me years later. I’m not sure if I told my mom that the leader hadn’t wanted to initial the card, of if that’s a detail one of us has added in. In any case, the cookie money was turned in, and my mom had one less thing to worry about.
I don’t know if it was weeks or months later when a representative of the local Girl Scout council called my mom to let her know our family still owed money for all the boxes of cookies we’d taken. Mom said I’d given the money to my troop leader. The person from the Girl Scout council told my mom the leader said she’d never received any money from me. My mom countered with the leader’s initials on my order card indicating she had received full payment. The Girl Scout council representative thought that was very interesting as the leader had not initialed any of the other girls’ cards.
More details came to light as my mother talked to the parents of other girls in the troop, as well as people she knew who worked for the local Girl Scout council. The leader had been asking everyone for cash during cookie delivery time, and apparently, lots of families had handed it right over. There was even some indication the woman had ordered way more boxes of cookies than the girls in the troop could possibly sell, but I don’t know if she planned to go into the black market cookie business during the summer or if she planned to feed her kids cookies when she didn’t have grocery money. I imagine her driving down to Mexico to start a new life, a thick stack of cash in her purse, her kids buckled in, and the back of the station wagon stacked with boxes of Thin Mints and Peanut Butter Patties.
The last my mother heard, the sheriff was looking for the troop leader.
I understand times were tough for the troop leader. I think she was a single mother with a couple of kids in addition to the skinny daughter who was in the troop. However, one can’t get much lower than stealing from Girl Scouts, except maybe by stealing from nuns. The leader probably didn’t think what she did was stealing from 5th and 6th graders, but some portion of that money was supposed to go back to our troop for fun activities and projects. She really had stolen from us.
That year was my last in Girl Scouts. I would have moved on to a troop of Cadets in 7th grade, but no one wanted to lead the troop, and maybe no other girls wanted to be part of it. After the leader embezzled the cookie money, my mom decided my time in Girl Scouts was over.