When I was in high school, I put together a scrapbook of things I’d held onto from childhood. We moved around a lot, so it’s a miracle that I was able to save anything at all, but somehow, I held onto these Girl Scout membership cards including one from 1977.
It’s hard to imagine that they meant so much to me at one time, but they did. Even with my name misspelled, it’s like they were some proof that I existed in the world. I was officially a person. I had a membership card and my name was on it. I must be very important — or so I thought.
This card — ID Number 30033878334 — was issued by Girl Scout Troop 00017, 586 Permian Basin, in October 1977. The troop was located in Kermit, Texas, where I lived during 4th and 5th grade. (Go, Yellowjackets!)
I never had a picture taken in my Girl Scout uniform, but what I remember about it most is what I loved about it best: the gold flashes I wore at the top of my dark green knee socks. They were those gold fringy-flag things attached to elastic. I also wore them as a Brownie, except they were orange.
I searched for Girl Scout pictures from 1977, so you could see what I’m talking about, but all I found were stories about the three Girl Scouts from Oklahoma who were murdered that year at Camp Scott. And, who could forget? Doris was 10. Michelle was nine. Lori was eight.
I was nine when they died, and the crime has never been solved.
Until tonight, I never realized this card was issued the same year those girls were lost. They were Gen-Xers, you know. Just like Charlotte Kinsey and Cinda Pallett, two Oklahoma girls who went missing from the Oklahoma State Fair in 1981. They were 13 at the time; both born in 1968, and just a year younger than me. Unlike the girl scouts, they’ve never been found.
During the early 80s, my parents and I often visited family in Oklahoma City. One time, we stopped at the toll booth on the turnpike and the attendant handed us a flyer with information about the missing girls. I kept that flyer for a long time. In those days before the Internet, I often wondered if the girls had ever been found.
I’ve never forgotten any of these tragedies or the shadows they cast on my childhood. My father never let me go on Girl Scout campouts or door-to-door selling cookies. And every September, when the fair comes to town, I always think of Charlotte and Cinda.
Hell will freeze over before my kids ever go camping or to the fair without me. I wish this stuff hadn’t affected me as it did, but the truth is I’m a bit messed up because of it all. These girls’ deaths had a big impact on me, and seeing my little Girl Scout card from 1977 — I don’t know — it kind of takes my breath away. I’ve got this tattered scrap of paper from that era and it bears my little girl name and I stare at it and wonder: Was my survival random or destiny? Why them and not me?
Here is the card from the troop I was a member of in 1983. Troop 08196, Council 529 Meadowlark.
Throughout my school years, I had an OK time in Brownies and Girls Scouts. I don’t remember going to many meetings or earning any badges, but once I made a toy for a sick kid in the hospital, and another time I learned to make homemade egg rolls.
In recent years, I’ve been a troop leader and am now a regular volunteer. My little girl loves the tradition of the uniform, so I spare no expense in buying her the whole giddup. In the back of my mind, I’m always thinking about how fleeting and fragile it all is — time and us. Green grass that withers. Daisies that fade.
One thing is for sure; none of those deaths were wasted on me. They were lamps in the heavy fog of life. Amber light driving through the hard snow, and they have driven so much of my gratitude. I am so glad to be alive; to have survived girlhood and made it all the way to motherhood. Every day has been a bridge to the next, and then the next, and so forth and so on. I’m still here, and no passage is too small not to cherish with a prayer of thanksgiving.