March 16, 2011
Being in the Brownies and Girl Scouts was a great experience, but selling cookies proved to be traumatic for Kathy Stahlman Zinn
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By Kathy Stahlman Zinn, 1963
Like many girls in Levittown, I joined scouting at age seven or eight. The Brownie uniform was a little brown dress, belted, with a brown felt beanie. I liked the outfit, and all the other Brownie/Girl Scout stuff - the activities, the badges, the camping and especially the songs. There were so many songs: around the campfire, in meetings - like "Girl Scouts Together" (I still sing it around family campfires) , "Our Chalet", "Day Is Done" ("Taps").
However, there was one aspect of Brownies/Girl Scouts I hated - selling Girl Scout cookies. There is a picture of me (see above) in my little Brownie outfit, smiling proudly as I hold a box of Girl Scout cookies (they were only thirty-five cents in 1953.) However, because I was very shy, I dreaded having to go out with my minimum amount of boxes, (12) to sell to neighbors. I also hated asking anyone for money and I still do.
Girl Scout cookies were an easy sell. Even parents who already had their own Girl Scout would take pity on you and buy a box. It was just my personality. After I sold only half of my requirement, and those with great angst, my mother bought the other six - no problem with a large family to feed. I loved eating them - the thin mints, of course, and the short bread cookies called "Trefoils". I think there was also a vanilla sandwich cookie. The first "new cookie", added a few years later, was the "do-si-do, a peanut butter- filled sandwich cookie - also a big favorite. Now Girl Scout cookies cost $3 a box and more, and there have been many exotic additions.
Scouting outfits and accessories could be purchased at the Lobel's store near the Mays department store in Levittown. I loved going in there to buy new uniforms, pins, badges, canteens for camping etc. I believe the Boy Scout materials were also carried there. Camping was a big part of scouting. When Marilyn Monsrud (also Division Avenue High School's class of 1963) and I were nine, we were both at Camp Edy, in Bayport, for a week. For many girls, homesickness was a big issue. But since I was then the eldest of five, I was happy to be on my own, with nothing to do but have fun.
Later, at age 13, I went back to Camp Edy for two weeks, in a more "primitive" camp site, supposedly appropriate to our age and skills. However, putting a dozen 13-15 year old girls together, in the woods, for two weeks, is not always the wisest move. My tent mate, who was 15, missed her boyfriend and her hair dryer. And for me, two weeks was a long time to be away from friends, the TV and the telephone.
In fifth grade, we "flew up" to being an "Intermediate Scout". Our skill levels and activities were more interesting . The green uniforms with green berets were somewhat more attractive than the Brownie ones. But, despite how much a girl might enjoy scouting, the closer one got to puberty, the more embarrassed many of us, including me, became about wearing our uniforms to school. Meetings were often held at school, at the end of the day.
In junior high, the "dorky" factor became even greater. Even though I would have liked to have become a "Senior Scout" (some rare troops on Long Island even had programs where you could learn to fly - but not ours), the competition with school mates to be "in" became too great for me, and I eventually dropped out.
Later, as the mother of a 10-year old in Virginia, I was talked into being a Girl Scout leader. It was fun in many ways, and my husband helped. But it was also very challenging, with two other children to raise, and, of course, the cookie sale to coordinate. It made me greatly appreciate the efforts of my past Brownie and Girl Scout leaders.
Also in adulthood, I visited the childhood home of Juliette Gordon Low, the founder of American Girl Scouting, in Savannah, Ga. My daughter was with me, and I was amazed at how emotional it was to be there. Girls Scouts were brought up to venerate the founder. One of the favorite Girl Scout songs is called "Make New Friends" It talks about the delights of both new and old friends because "One is silver and the other gold". I have found that to be true.
The 1955 Brownies group photo is courtesy of Marilyn Monsrud Frese who is the first person on the right, next to the author. Note the Levitt houses in the background.