Monday, February 23, 2009

Dishonorably Discharged

It's Girl Scout cookie time.
I grew up knowing hunger. Mom and I struggled and often food was scarce. Through the generosity of folks at church, I was far more blessed than others.
But you take a kid who doesn't get to go to birthday parties or have birthday parties... you take a kid who doesn't really do any extra activities... you take a kid who dreamt of having the few spare dollars to go to the school skate party...
You take that kid and you take a generous and thoughtful caretaker... Said caretaker signed me up for Brownies with her daughter.
I didn't last a year before being... dishonorably discharged.
Here's the deal. You take a hungry kid and give her boxes and boxes and boxes of cookies to sell and you send her home with them. What do you think is going to happen??
This was back in the day, before order forms and such. Heck, maybe I'm the reason they went to order forms!
We show up at our Brownie meeting and we've been so pumped for the arrival of THE COOKIES. Selling THE COOKIES is a BIG DEAL and we've been preparing for it forever. The day arrives and we are all giddy with excitement but really not having a clue what it all means.
I came home with a few cases of THE COOKIES.
I dutifully began casing the apartment complex. Door to door, lugging the cookies everywhere I went. And I started hearing about these things called "Thin Mints." I didn't know a thing about them. We certainly didn't but any of these things. If we had a few spare bucks, it went towards shampoo or cheese or bread. Maybe a brownie mix if we were really splurging. But certainly not THE COOKIES.
I sold and sold and sold. And it hit me. I was selling food. Edible and, from what I was hearing, tasty treats.
I grabbed that green box that supposedly contained chocolate and mint in some perfect combination.
I hid in my closet.
I carefully tore open the box and inner packaging. The smell of mint and chocolate smacked my nose and my mouth began to water.
I took a little nibble and suddenly I heard angels singing! I had found heaven! And I had boxes and boxes and boxes of heaven in my living room!
I shoved an entire sleeve of cookies in my mouth. And was full.
I hid the other sleeve and the carton in the closet and went about my day.
A week passed and I had been spending most of my selling time in my closet, finding God. I no longer cared about being a top seller or winning a sales prize. I had found a source of food and it was the most amazing flavor sensation- added bonus.
At our next Brownie meeting, our leader announced that our money was due the next week. All of those boxes of cookies suddenly formed a solid mass in my stomach as I realized that I was in deep shit. I had a collection of empty Thin Mint boxes in my closet and no money to show for it.
The next week is fuzzy- I must have blocked it out. But it was soon realized that my money didn't match with my taken cases of cookies. Busted.
My mom gets called in. She's dumbfounded, has no clue what I've been up to. And I'm mortified, embarrassed. I don't want to tell these people that I ate the cookies because I was hungry. And not in the "nothing is interesting in the fridge" kind of hungry. Hunger and there is nothing there to fill my stomach hungry. I stayed silent until we got home.
I showed my mom the closet.
I don't remember her reaction. I do remember how embarrassed she was to have to go back to the Brownie troop leader and quietly explain that I'd eaten the cookies and that we couldn't afford to pay for them.
The troop leader decided it would be best if I turned in my sash and stepped down from my place in the troop.
Dishonorably discharged for thievery of Thin Mints.
I've relayed this story to moms I know now... moms who are Girl Scout and Brownie leaders and they are always appalled at the choice made by this other leader.
I'm not. Because how could she have known what was going on in my home? The signs were there. But we only see what we choose to see. And she chose to ignore that she rarely saw my mom. She chose to ignore that I never wore new shoes or clothes and that what I did wear was always either too big or too small. She chose to ignore a lot of signs that things were wrong. And I did a damn good job hiding a lot more than just hunger.
So the next time you are walking into the grocery store and see a table of Girl Scouts selling cookies, stop and buy a box and think of me. Then go into the store and buy food to feed your family. And buy some extra cans of veggies, jars of pasta sauce, boxes of spaghetti and donate them to a food pantry.
Because you just might prevent some one's dishonorable discharge from the Brownies.


Joanie said...

Oh my, Liz! Did you have any idea you were going to have to come up with the money for those cookies when you took them?

You would have gone bonkers in my house a while back. I was the cookie mom for 3 years running. My dining room was FILLED with cases and cases of cookies! My cookie bill each year was about $200 (of course, Gina won for selling the most boxes of cookies). Each night someone would stroll into the dining room and say... now, what flavor snack are we going to have tonight?

Amy said...

This is the first year that Annie hasn't sold Girl Scout cookies and I'm ok with that.

We bought 8 boxes and they're gone. They were gone in 3 days. And I'm ok with that too.

There's an element to your story that is a little funny, until you add in the hunger part. Then I feel bad for giggling at the thought of you tearing through boxes of Thin Mints in your closet.

Thanks for the reminder about the food pantry.

Unknown said...

This is such a weird story for me!!

We used to sell McDonald's gift certificates for Boy Scouts (the local owner/operator donated hundreds of them and we sold them for fund-raising)

Well, there was a girl that used to be in band with me. I knew she lived in squalor. It was obvious. We all would go to lunch after band practice and she would slink away to the library; she wore the same clothes repeatedly, etc etc.

I gave her all my McD's gift certificates. It was only like $30 worth (in 1981 when a cheeseburger was like 50 cents or something crazy)

I told my Dad (who had to pay up for my "crime") that I had lost them somewhere.

This is why they will never put me in charge of the federal bailout. It would go to feed the hungry. McDonalds of course, but still.


Boozy Tooth said...

"A week passed and I had been spending most of my selling time in my closet, finding God."

That is so funny! And Liz, if you don't know this now, you should... every Brownie/Girl Scout has the same impulses and would have done the exact thing if they didn't have mom's in charge running the show. Your Thin Mint thievery was a basic instinct - and I don't mean stealing. You didn't need those stinkin' Brownies anyway. Look who you've become!

Alison said...

Wow. Who knew Girl Scout cookies could carry such a powerful message?

Now I feel kinda bad for having the same weakness for thin mints, without the same basic motivation. I'm glad you're here to tell us of your difficult childhood.

Eternal Lizdom said...

Joanie- You would have been my bestest friend if you could have kept me stocked with thin mints, tag alongs and samoas!!

Amy- I bought 2 boxes at work, 3 boxes at church, and another 2 boxes in the neighborhood. I've received 5 of my boxes. Only one is completely gone but 2 will be finished off before the day is done...

Andrew- Why couldn't you have lived near me?? I would've loved a McD's pimpin' sugar daddy!! :) Seriously- you're my hero.

Alix- As an adult, I've come to accept the fact that Thin Mints contain crack. But I won't use my disease as an excuse for my actions...

Flartus- Thin Mints are a special gift, no matter the motivation!

Kristi said...

oh there you go and do it again. You've managed to tug at my heartstrings once again. Amazing. Truly amazing. You are such a gifted writer and I love that you share these life experiences with us. I am a frequent donor to the local food pantry, and it stories like this that keep me doing it.

Anonymous said...

i'm shocked at your brownie leader. but not really surprised. so many people turn the other cheek. my mom bought a ton of cookies for curt & i, but you reminded me exactly what i need to do-- go through my canned foods and donate! perfect timing too, with Lent starting tomorrrow!

Anonymous said...

It is amazing what people choose not to see, and how children learn to hide things so expertly.

It was your troop leader's job to figure it out. We can't hate her because she was human and nobody told her, but it was her job and she didn't do it.

I have piles of Girl Scout cookies in my house. In your honor I will donate them to the food pantry, so some little girl can enjoy them, fill her belly, without shame.

yodaobi said...

That's an awesome story. I had to send the link to friends.
It reminds me of my mum who grew up hungry and stole chocolates off the christmas tree one year.
We don't get the same Girl scout cookies here in NZ. They are only plain shortbread ones and also chocolate backed shortbread.

I adored Andrew's comment. What a little hero!


The Courteous Chihuahua said...

I feel young Liz' pain, and regardless of your magnanimousness, I am appalled by that leader. That is one of the reasons why I hate the Girl Scout organization. Almost every leader I've encountered is a bitch with a capital B.

Mary Ellen said...

What a difference it might have made if only that leader had been the person she should have been. If she had acted with even a little bit of humanity, think of how this story could have had an entirely different ending.

Alice said...

What a crazy but funny story. So if its not appropriate for me to laugh, I apologize in advance.. but your story made me LOL. Not because you didn't have the money (I can relate to that too).. but I completely related to hiding in the closet eating cookies. Its so much fun until your caught. I ate 2 boxes of Samoas already and my kids asked me about the empty boxes hiding behind my desk. Not cool. Last year I ate 8 boxes. So I figure I'm doing pretty good this time around.

Eternal Lizdom said...

Alice, it is a funnt story to me, too! I certainly don't intend to make people sad but I am very moved by the message my readers are taking away from my tale!

Isabella said...

First, thank you for sharing the story. Freakin' hysterical and touching all in the same post. Love it!

Secondly...similar story for me, except not with Girl Scout Cookies. My story happened back in the day when people used to give money for their orders BEFORE the product arrived. The money I collected went toward food for our family. It never occurred to me that I'd actually have to be accountable for it later on.

My grandmother made sure I went to each person's house and personally apologized before handing them their money back (the money came from her pocket).

Mrs4444 said...

I can relate to your story, though I never ate my GS cookies meant for selling. Being hungry makes you do desperate things. My older sisters tell a story of breaking into the neighbors house (through their kitchen window) to steal fruit from the bowl on their table. And, in fact, I just caught a student stealing food from my desk this week. You do what you have to do.

Michelle@Gotchababy said...

Oh wow!! I always remember order forms from the time I sold cookies in the early 80's! You can't have been the only girl who ate the loot!

Shame on the leader for shaming were a hungry child. What kind of idealistic adults send 8 yr olds home with hundreds of cookies and the order not to eat???

My brothers in law were kicked out of boy scouts, but their crimes included recreational fire....

As far as where we've met/seen each other...I dunno. I do sort of frequent the 96th St. Meijer a lot, as well as Trader Joe's....currently unemployed...we'll run into each other somewhere soon and go "ah ha!!"

Garret said...

My favorite part of this story?

"All of those boxes of cookies suddenly formed a solid mass in my stomach as I realized that I was in deep shit."

Perhaps it's that a lot of us bloggers don't curse in our blogs too often so when we do, it's even more hilarious.

Elizabeth said...

Ok, let me begin by saying... LOVE THIS ENTRY. The humanity, humor and just all of it. However, after a few tears both from sadness and laughter, I am still extremely angered by the leader and her actions. As a past leader, cookie mom and girl scout mom of 6 years, I am truly appalled by your leader's reaction and the consequences she handed down! So what if she didn't know what was going on in your home?! Clearly, if a Brownie aged girl has eaten the cookies, the family cannot pay for them, the child is embarrassed and the mother is there explaining... there's more to the story! Whether that leader chose to delve into asking for more of an explanation (which also would have angered me by the way) or not, isn't the problem. You were a little girl and clearly there was more to the story. Your leader could have and SHOULD HAVE done something, ANYTHING, else, other than what she did. I am embarrassed for the entire organization b/c of this "leader". And, I am saddened that this had to happen to you... at such a young, innocent and tender age. It really breaks my heart Liz!

Mrs4444 said...

This is awesome, Liz. I'm linking it up on Saturday. I get it; I totally get it.

Nancy C said...

Thank you for reminding us that hunger does not go away after the holidays. I will be buying cookies and food for all those hungry souls.

Anonymous said...

Really, really hoping that I am allowed to be LMAO right now because that is what I am doing! Love, love this post!

I had a closet stash of cookies too. We could afford to pay for them. I think I got in just a wee bit of trouble...along with my 4 brothers who helped me get rid of the evidence.

Sarah*G* said...

This is my daughters first year selling cookies. It is our first year in Girl Scouts. I never did anything like this when I was young. I would never have been allowed to knock on neighbors doors to ask if they wanted to buy cookies etc. I would either get mugged or attacked or offered some form of illegal drug as payment! Yeah, growing up in the rougher side of town was ...interesting. Plus I would have been sat in my closet too eating the cookies and not selling them. My mum always bought the store own brand of cookies that had been dropped so were reduced in price. :)

Geri said...

Very well written, and I love what Damomma said! Donating cookies in your honor. Now, I must clarify what my younger sis Mrs. 4444 said! One time at least we broke into the upstairs neighbors for food, but one other time at least we asked neighbors, through our window, if they would get us something, and they handed us bananas through the window! We were supposed to be napping. :0 We will not get into how I stole some of mom's hidden peanut brittle stash!

Garret said...

Speaking of the hungry, my friend Deanna keeps small bottles of water and Lance cracker packages in her car. She makes little care packages in a paper bag along with a napkin.

Now that it's cold she gives them hand warmers, a $3 blanket (throw), toothpaste and tooth brush and some other stuff. She hands these packages out at traffic lights from time to time.