It's odd to me that I still recall this old bastard. I remember how mean I thought he was, but could not refrain from listening to his old stories. One thing is for certain, thank goodness I have met very few people like him in my life.
THE SCENT OF VANILLA - PART SEVEN
In 1969, and I suppose certainly now, being a Boy Scout was very difficult for a youngster of junior or high school age. Membership in the organization was generally kept secret from non-scouting friends and certainly from the girls with whom you attend class. There are many reasons for this, the greatest of which has to do with the uniform.
The scouting program is based on providing certain experiences and guidelines to young boys. These experiences; such as hiking, camping, and other outdoor activities help to build a boy physically and create a sense of self reliance and esteem. The scouting tenants of responsibility, honesty and providing aid to others are designed to create a positive moral basis. This is at a time in a youngster's life when many other influences are at work which can be destructive and oft times dangerous. Today there are controversies regarding the sexual preferences and religious beliefs of scouts and scouters that were not issues of concern in 1969. But for myself, the program was one in which I personally believe had a very positive effect on my life.
However, and perhaps unfortunately, scouting has many military influences that in the eyes of some people detract from the success of the program. Scouts spent time engaging in patriotic ceremonies, marching in formation, saluting and attempting to achieve certain ranks or badges. This influence was most apparent when you examined the emphasis on the wearing of the uniform. The uniform was designed to make all of the boys equal in dress, create a certain sense of "belonging," and discipline. During the late 1960's and early 70's anything related to military practices or anything resembling the armed forces were considered by many, especially by young people, as reflecting a negative model for anyone to embrace.
Not surprisingly then, many of the adult volunteer and professional scout leaders, “scouters,” had military service records. Although I held that the then current military presence in Southeast Asia as being reprehensible and morally corrupt, I was still drawn to the stories that these adults would relate to my eager ears. There were two older men that worked at the camp who captured my imagination and in the case of one individual captured my respect.
Tom Hardweld had been the camp's rifle range instructor for many years prior to my arrival as a staff member. Tom, or known simply as "Hardweld," was about one hundred and thirty seven years old, smoked hand rolled cigarettes and cursed the foulest language recorded in history. His skin had the appearance of a bran muffin with extra raisins, his legs were spindly and bowlegged and his right eye was completely white with cataracts. He could always be seen wearing one of the old fashioned Boy Scout "Campaign Hats," which he had rolled in a manner that more resembled a cowboy hat than any officially approved head gear. Despite his near blind condition he could hit a bull's-eye from twenty miles. His skill with firearms was absolutely bewildering and often took on legendary proportions.
Hardweld was at once frightening in appearance, abrasive in attitude and short in temper. Here was a man who proclaimed that children would make quite adequate target practice but spent every free moment working with them.
During the summer of '69 a new rifle range shelter was being built and Hardweld was found many times walking on the roof rafters twelve feet off of the ground much to the worry of everyone. On several occasions I would walk up to the range to bring him a cool drink and listen to his colorful memories.
He had spent a great deal of time in the armed services and had rode horses in the now non-existent Calvary. "I remember chasing Pancho Villa up and down the Mexican Border for weeks on end. That son-of-a-bitching Mexican was as clever as a coyote," he laughingly said. "Never did catch that brown bastard. It was like trying to catch a mouse with boxing gloves!" he added. He would pause, look me right in the eyes with that one clouded eye, and laugh out loud, hack and light up another cigarette. I never knew if he was testing my resolve to stay and listen or telling an out and out lie. Whenever I looked at him I recalled Edgar Allen Poe's story, "The Tale-Tell Heart," and the protagonist's obsession with his victim's evil eye.
"Why there was one time on an Arizona Indian Reservation that I had to hand out food and blankets to the Navajos. Those people couldn't speak a single word of English and the women were as ugly as I have ever seen." Continuing, "I tell you boy, it looked like a goddamned bread line."
Though I listened and sometimes smiled, I rarely added anything to these talks. His obviously racist attitudes bothered me greatly. And though I sought him out I never really liked the man.
One morning, Hardweld was walking on the roof of the near completed range shelter putting on shingles and fell about thirteen feet, unable to move. We placed him on a stretcher; all the while he was cursing and writing in pain.
"I need a smoke. Somebody give me a cigarette, somebody give me a god damned cigarette," he demanded.
Finally someone produced a lit Winston and placed it in his mouth. The curious thing is that the only people at the scene were staff members, none of which were allowed to have tobacco. As we were carrying him down the hill to the waiting ambulance, we noticed that he had dropped his hat. I found it lying on the ground near the place he had fallen and put it on my head. As he was being transported to the hospital I hung the hat over the fireplace in the main assembly hall for safekeeping.
We learned that he had broken a leg and his hip. He never left the hospital. Hardweld died several months later.
His belligerent, cantankerous attitude and hateful behavior was unwanted and unnecessary. He was probably a man of his time but the old bastard lived a bit longer than he should have. Fortunately, his hate died with him.