Table of Contents

    Musing: Fake It ‘Til You Make It

    In the summer of 1981, at the ripe old age of 17, I landed my dream summer job—camp counselor for the Boy Scouts of America.

    The great outdoors. Hiking. Camping. Swimming.

    Amazingly, they were even going to pay me. Fifty whole dollars a week.

    Minimum wage in 1981 was $3.35 an hour. If I had flipped burgers forty hours a week that summer, I would have made almost three times as much and still worked fewer hours.

    But, the camp director pointed out, the job came with free room and board.

    Of course, I was 17. I still lived at home, so I already had free room and board.

    But the great outdoors. Hiking. Camping. Swimming.

    Except I wasn’t going to do any of those things. I was going to be in charge of the handicraft lodge.

    In charge sounds mightier than it was. The handicraft lodge had a staff of one. Me.

    I was responsible for opening. Managing supplies. Cleaning. Securing the building at night.

    And controlling the chaos of a horde of mostly eleven- and twelve-year-old boys while teaching them about woodcarving, basketry, metalwork, and leatherwork.

    For those of you who know me, please stop laughing. Let’s let others catch up.

    You see, I wasn’t exactly an expert in those fields. By “not exactly an expert,” I mean I knew absolutely nothing about them.

    Zip. Zero. Nada.

    I didn’t even have those merit badges.

    Not that I hid that from the camp leaders during my interviews. When they offered me the job, I told them I was unqualified.

    A Scout is, after all, trustworthy.

    Not a problem, they said, because I had a week to learn. One entire week. The week before camp started.

    They recruited a Scoutmaster highly skilled in those crafts.

    Not to teach the kids. To teach me.

    He took off work to coach me through orientation week.

    That first Sunday, the staff arrived at the camp to get to know each other. After moving my supplies into the tent that was to be my summer home, I made my way to the handicraft lodge.

    The volunteer Scoutmaster patiently waited for me at the workbench in the center of the room. He invited me to sit down. He wanted to assess my skills in order to map out a plan to get me prepared for the arrival of kids a week from that day. He folded his hands, leaned forward, and asked, “Which of these four areas do you know the most about?”

    Confidently, I answered, “Woodcarving.”

    “Excellent. What do you know about wood carving?”

    “It involves wood.” I paused but realized he was waiting for more. “And knives.”

    A solid fifteen seconds passed while he stared at me, wondering exactly how much of a smart aleck I was. Though I don’t recall him saying aleck, but let’s pretend he did. “What about basketry? What do you know?”

    “It involves baskets.” After an uncomfortable pause, I continued, “But not knives. At least, I don’t think so.”


    “Metal. Not sure about the knives.”

    “And leatherwork?”

    “Definitely leather. Probably knives.”

    He stood and scanned the room as if he was hoping that he was the victim of an elaborate practical joke. After an uncomfortable minute of silence, he pointed to a stack of boxes and suggested I unpack supplies. He needed to have a chat with the camp director.

    I don’t know what got said during that conversation, though I wondered what the record was for shortest employment.

    To keep my mind off my impending doom, I dutifully unpacked supplies. Fortunately, each box was labeled. Woodcarving. Basketry. Metalwork. Leatherwork.

    Likewise, the cabinets along the wall were also labeled. Woodcarving. Basketry. Metalwork. Leatherwork.

    I figured I couldn’t mess this up.

    As I unpacked the various tools, though, I realized an unsettling pattern. Almost none of the tools looked particularly familiar. Even when I knew what they were, I didn’t have a clue how they would be utilized in their respective craft.

    Take woodcarving. That craft I claimed to be best at.

    I understood that the intricate collection of carving knives and chisels could be used to cut away and shape wood. I just didn’t understand anything beyond that point. My experience basically began and ended with the pocketknife I carried. What I knew was more whittling and less woodcarving.

    After a bit of time, the Scoutmaster returned. He hadn’t climbed into his car and driven away, laughing hysterically. I wouldn’t have blamed him if he had.

    Instead, he returned with a four-day plan. On Monday, we would dedicate the day to woodcarving. Tuesday, basketry. Wednesday and Thursday, metalwork and leatherwork respectively. Come Friday morning, I would be tested. The results would determine a remediation plan for the remaining time. Come Sunday morning, he vowed, I would be ready.

    He said those words with great confidence, his voice steady. His eyes, however, reflected grave doubts.

    On Monday morning, the staff gathered for a hearty breakfast. The camp director gave an inspiring speech. The counselors broke into their respective groups.

    The waterfront crew—affectionately called water rats by the rest of the staff—headed to the lake for a day of swimming, diving, canoeing, and rowing.

    The field sports team bonded with rifles, shotguns, black powder muskets, and bows and arrows.

    The business team set up the camp store and snack bar.

    The nature staff hiked through the woods.

    And I? I went to the handicraft lodge.

    On that first day of woodcarving lessons, I learned so many things. Primarily, first aid. All those blades were really sharp. I became intimately familiar with the medical supplies in the cabinets.

    Tuesday went through with fewer injuries. Basketry isn’t quite as dangerous, though not without hazards. After I had woven my first seat bottom, the Scoutmaster suggested I sit in it as a test.

    That went about as well as you might expect.

    During the metalwork lesson on Wednesday, I practiced my developing first aid skills from my encounters with sharp edges.

    I also expressed surprise how noisy stamping metal could be. The Scoutmaster grinned and suggested I was really going to enjoy a couple dozen eleven-year-old boys eagerly stamping metal at the same time.

    Leatherwork on Thursday was at least quieter.

    Come Friday morning, I was convinced I was going to fail miserably. As he tested me, though, he repeatedly complimented me for what I had learned. That would have been confidence building, if he hadn’t also created a list—an unsettlingly long list—of things to review over the next two days.

    As the sun set that Saturday evening, he declared me ready.

    Again, he said those words with conviction. Again, his eyes held doubts.

    On Sunday, buses rolled into the parking lot. Boys carried their gear to tents. Staff performed skits at the opening night campfire.

    Monday morning dawned. I waited in that handicraft lodge feeling completely in charge.

    Not really. I tried to sound confident, but my stomach roiled in nerves.

    And then, just as I debated whether I could escape with a mad dash away from camp, I heard the approaching roar. A mob of eleven- and twelve-year-old boys descended on my lodge. They wanted to learn woodcarving, basketry, metalwork, and leatherwork.

    I blinked. I swallowed.

    And, then, a miracle. Two Scoutmasters entered the building and asked if I would mind if they hung out for the week and helped.

    I wasn’t fooled. It didn’t take more than a few questions to figure out they were friends of the man who had coached me the week before.

    But I wasn’t insulted. All I felt was a warming sense of gratitude.

    I looked at the boys and began to share with them what I had learned the week before.

    I had a blast that summer, so much so that I worked at that camp for five more years. Though, to be clear, never again in the handicraft lodge.

    Several years later, a few weeks from college graduation, I sat with some friends in the cafeteria on campus. A tour guide was showing a prospective student around the cafeteria. As they passed our table, the high schooler froze and stared at me. “Oh, man,” he exclaimed, “you taught me handicrafts at Camp Netami!”

    My friends thought that was the funniest thing they had ever heard. Somehow, my experiences teaching kids how to craft had never been a topic of conversation.

    But I had made such an impression on a young Boy Scout that he remembered me all those years later. What type of impression might be debatable, but he still had all his fingers.

    I counted.

    Gratuitous Dog Photo: Frankie Suave

    The story wouldn’t have happened without me

    Our elder statesman Frankie Suave enjoying a summer evening in the yard… and making sure the youngsters know better than to disturb his serenity.

    Until Next Monday

    If you’re challenged by something new, fake it ’til you make it.

    If you have questions or thoughts, drop them in the comments below.

    Have a terrific week. See you next Monday.


    1. Susan on July 24, 2023 at 6:17 am

      What an excellent solution, Hu-Dad! Video, podcast, AND text!

      Would you believe, I’ve also had paid jobs where I had no idea what to do! But I bumbled through somehow. Fortunately, none of them involved sharp objects.

    2. JEAN BURKHARDT on July 24, 2023 at 7:18 am

      I have to say how much I enjoyed this week’s musings!!! I do love the video format and will continue to start my Monday’s off by watching them!!!! Our daughter went to Girl Scout camp too but she never told us of anything like you TRIED to teach the boys as far as wood-metal-etc!!

      LOVE that Frankie Suave!!!!

    3. Charlotte A McRanie on July 24, 2023 at 10:38 am

      Thanks for keeping the reading format. I just haven’t warmed up to videos and podcasts as a substitute for reading.

      • D.K. Wall on July 25, 2023 at 6:42 am

        Totally understand. You weren’t alone. The responses were split fairly evenly. About a third loved the video format and wanted it to continue. A third preferred reading. And the remaining third split between alternating formats or as a podcast. Glad I figured out a solution that worked for everyone.

    4. Carla Phillips on July 25, 2023 at 12:03 pm

      I am grateful you keep the reading as an option.

      • D.K. Wall on July 25, 2023 at 3:04 pm

        You’re welcome. It was a popular request.

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