A great Big Brownie Smile

Published 10:20 am Tuesday, April 2, 2024

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

By Bonnie Bartel Latino


Readers of last week’s column will recall my first meeting with another second lieutenant’s wife when our husbands were in Undergraduate Pilot Training (UPT) at Reese Air Force Base, near Lubbock, Texas. Her name was Maggie Emery, and she was the cutest Yankee I ever did see. With her Michigan accent as thick as my Southern drawl, Maggie had just told me she knew I had been a Girl Scout like she had.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

“Truthfully, Maggie, I was at my best as a Brownie.” I tucked my left hand across my waist and bowed. “Troop Six, Atmore, Alabama, Ma’am.”

Maggie tossed her long blonde hair over one shoulder and laughed with glee. She sounded as if she had discovered a cousin she had never known. “I liked Brownies better, too. Everything was new to us, and our leaders made learning fun!” I agreed, but her next words startled me. “Will you be my co-leader for a base troop this fall?” And just like that, SNAP, before I could say “Juliette Gordon Low,” I had agreed. What could go wrong?

During planning sessions that summer, I had been thrilled to learn Maggie already had her teaching degree. My happy-go-lucky girlfriend knew more craft projects than I learned in four summers at Camp Grandview in Alabama. Maggie would lead; I would be content to follow. Neither of us could have fathomed that we would soon become embroiled in the student wives’ version of “Rank has its privileges.”

As August pushed deep into 1968, Lubbock welcomed inbound college students that clogged the streets and hinted at September, which meant back to school. Finally! Time to meet our 28 (!) tiny, rambunctious balls of energy! The base had assigned our troop a small empty building, one of several on base. “Our girls” wearing their brown skirted-uniforms and matching brown beanies atop their heads, were beyond beautiful in both spirit and appearance. At our initial meeting, Maggie and I taught our troop the pledge, other Scout regulations and rules, and served cookies and Kool-Aid. They also learned the same Brownie song that we had sung as children. Girl Scout copyright prevents inclusion of the entire lyrics, but they are something this: “I’ve something in my pocket … a great big Brownie smile.” We also explained that until cooler, rainy weather arrived, all meetings would end outside at (4 p.m.). Maggie and I then gathered our handbags and motioned for the girls to grab their books and follow us outside. Two-by-two, arm-in-arm, our mini-misses merrily sang and illustrated “our song.” By our second week, the mothers knew to collect their daughters at the curb.

                                                                                          *  *  *  *  *

For the third time in October, Maggie and I found ourselves sitting outside on a wooden bench waiting for the mother of our last remaining Brownie. Again. Located on the backside of the base, the area became deserted by 4:30 (p.m.) every weekday. Even to Maggie and me the place felt a bit spooky. When one Brownie remained, we both stayed. We took our responsibilities seriously to “our” girls – and to each other.

All three of our heads turned in unison at the sound of an approaching vehicle. “Four-twenty,” Maggie muttered under her breath as she looked at her watch. Expecting to greet the tardy mother, we pasted on our great big Brownie smiles. We soon realized it wasn’t the car we had come to know and dislike. I wasn’t familiar with the late model vehicle, a dark sedan. Maggie straightened the child’s beanie. “Your mom will be along soon.” 

As the car slowed, Maggie and I instinctively positioned ourselves around the child. We immediately relaxed when we saw the driver, a friendly colonel’s wife who oversaw the base’s entire Girl Scout program. “Hello, ladies,” the graying woman, old enough to be our mothers, said as she rolled down her window and parked by the curb. “Does this happen often?” We knew what she meant, but neither of us wanted to cause problems. “It’s OK,” we echoed in unison.

The attractive woman grimaced. “No. It is not. You’re not here to babysit. This won’t happen again.” She restarted her car. “I promise you that!” As she drove away, Maggie cocked her head toward our little waif and silently mouthed to me, “You know her Dad is a lieutenant colonel in 69-06?” 

“Look! Here comes your mom, Sweetie,” I patted her shoulder and turned to Maggie. “I had no idea.” The child’s mom, oblivious that she had been found out, acknowledged us only with a nod of her head. “Hop in, Baby Doll.”

As she drove away, I turned to Maggie. “Is this what we signed up for? And I don’t mean the troop.”

Maggie shrugged. “‘You know ‘Rank has its privileges’.”

“So, I’ve heard. I just hope this doesn’t come back to bite Chuck and Tom.”