As the sun faded into the horizon on Memorial Day, I received a text from a friend. She sent a photo of a comment she happened to see on Facebook.
The picture showed only a couple of sentences of a conversation. It read:
“Some of the inscriptions are awesome – ‘I dreamed, I soared.’ ‘Love you.’ ‘When things are too tough for others, they’re just right for me,’- Super Scout Gerald Raikes.’”
I did not know the man who wrote the post, but I knew he had been reading epitaphs on grave markers at the West Virginia National Cemetery in Pruntytown. He didn’t get the final inscription quite right, but he captured the gist of it.
The epitaph on that particular gravestone actually reads: “When it’s too tough for everyone else, it’s just right for me.”
I should know. I helped choose it—me, my mother, and my brothers.
The inscription was Super Scout’s motto. I knew him well.
The “Scout” in the name identified his profession. He had worked as a professional with the Boy Scouts of America. ”Super” because the man lived his profession. He dedicated his life to helping boys become responsible, resourceful, kind, and courageous men.
In the scouting world, the title “Super Scout” carries the same kind of esteem with which a queen dubs a knight. In my world, the Super Scout’s armor shined ever bright. Gerald Raikes was my father.
Red was his favorite color. The most expensive car he ever owned was a Honda Accord. At the top of his list of important things were God, family, friends, country, and scouting—in that order.
My father enjoyed sports—football, basketball, golf, and tennis. According to old yearbooks and newspaper clippings, he had been quite the athlete: lean, fast, and gritty.
Long before we discovered those articles, my brothers and I were well aware of our dad’s killer instinct. From “Horses & Cows” on car trips to Rummy or Hearts around our kitchen table to pick-up basketball games at the hoop attached to the telephone pole in front of the house, Dad played to win.
He never gave in.
Yet, Dad’s competitive nature did not conflict with his compassionate heart. He had a knack for recognizing the needs of others. There was always a place at our dinner table for scouts who were lucky to get one square a day, much less three.
During a meal, he often commanded our attention with a joke while he fed the dog jelly toast under the table. When I rode in the car beside him, Dad always held out his hand—palm up—to take my hand in his.
When I complained about anyone who had been mean to me, Dad encouraged me to pray for them. I hate to admit it, but on more than a couple of occasions, I responded, “Pray for her (him)? You can pray for her!”
It took a few years, but now I better understand his kind of empathy.
In summer, when other kids played at the beach, I rode high on my dad’s shoulders to the evening campfire at scout camp. There, as the flames rose and sparked and popped and reflected on the lake, we sang songs, laughed at skits, and heard stories about brave Indians.
After the closing “Scout Vespers,” I rode back to our cabin the way I had come. Fireflies lit our path and my head rested on top of Dad’s.
“Softly falls the light of day,
While our campfire fades away,
Silently each scout should ask,
‘Have I done my daily task?
Have I kept my honor bright?
Can I guiltless sleep tonight?
Have I done and have I dared?
Everything to be prepared?’”
Yes, you did, Super Scout — all that and more.
writer, blogger, columnist