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The Man Scout: Wrestling with memories of an unthrifty childhood and a guy called Jake ‘The Snake’

By Chris Cole
Special to NKyTribune

I should have known this was going to be an interesting journey when, a couple days after ordering my copy of the Boy Scouts Handbook off eBay, I received a message from the seller informing me the book had fallen apart as he was packaging it.

I’m not exactly in mint condition myself, so who was I to judge a little wear and tear on a book that is 24 years older than me? I told him to send it along anyway.

When the book arrived, I wasn’t disappointed.

The 1952 Boy Scouts Handbook that will guide Chris Cole as he learns critical life skills. (Photo provided)

The cover is a painting of two Scouts and an Explorer around a campfire. After the initial uneasiness of seeing people sitting so close together (thanks COVID-19), I began to wonder what the boys were talking about. Hovering above them, as if rising from the flames, is the ghostly image of a Native American in full headdress. I imagine that may have been what they were discussing.

I assume whoever owned this Handbook before me was a Boy Scout, although aside from the detached cover, there isn’t much sign of heavy use.

One of the 12 points of Scout Law, I’d discover on page 27, is that “A Scout is Thrifty.” This means, among other things, taking good care of what belongs to you.

I wish I could say I don’t have some growing to do in this area, but that would be a lie. Since I was a kid, I’ve treated most of my stuff in one of two ways: either working it harder than it was made for or ignoring it completely.

Growing up, I loved G.I. Joe action figures. I played with them all the time. When I wasn’t exploring the wonders of Newport’s East End with my older brother Billy, you could find me holed up in my bedroom with 20 or 30 G.I. Joes.

I never played war with them – I was more a fan of professional wrestling. I’d have epic battles with real and imagined superstars. This was the era of Hulk Hogan and André the Giant, but I was a Jake “The Snake” Roberts guy. For whatever reason, the G.I. Joe figured named Flint was always Jake the Snake.

G.I. Joes were perfect for wrestling because unlike the toy wrestlers, they had great mobility in their arms and legs and weren’t so big as to be unwieldy.

The only downside was their internal construction. A small rubber band ran from a hook joining the legs up through the torso and connected the head. The band broke fairly easily; I went through a lot of Flints.

Any parent who thought the World Wrestling Federation was too violent in those days should have seen some of my matches.

Professional wrestler Jake “The Snake” Roberts and his pet cobra. (Photo courtesy of jakethesnakeroberts.com)

“We’ve got ourselves a good one, Mean Gene! It looks like Rick Rude is about to finish off Jake the Snake and reclaim the Intercontinental Title. Wait – out of nowhere Roberts goes for the DDT and – oh no! Oh no! Rude’s head has popped clean off his body. The horror! The horror!”

If I’d received Scout training, I would have been able to fix my toys with no problem. But I weren’t no Boy Scout, so I usually ended up playing Dr. Frankenstein – taping one figure’s head to another’s body. One time I took a long rubber band and ran it from one figure’s legs up through a straw, connecting it to a random head. There was a physics problem, and Straw Man’s wrestling career was brief.

Once I decided to give my collection of random parts a proper burial in the small strip of grass behind our Park Avenue home. That was all well and good until it rained and washed arms, legs and torsos all over the backyard. The humanity.

Anyway, the previous owner of my Boy Scouts Handbook must have taken the whole “thrifty” imperative seriously. The only marking in the book is a handy checklist of items needed for a First Aid Kit (Alexa: What is a “Halazone tablet”?), written on the next-to-last page alongside ads for Tootsie Roll candy and camping equipment.

Mine is one of 6.4 million copies of the fifth edition. I had no idea when I started this journey how popular the Boy Scouts of America program is. Today there are about 2.3 million youth participants and another million adult volunteers. Since its founding in 1910, there have been more than 110 million Scouts and volunteers.

I’d hoped to be learning Morse code by now, but there is a lot of good information in this book so I’m going to do this right and take my time. For now, one final note on this particular edition of the Boy Scouts Handbook – it was the first to include the official Scout slogan: Do a Good Turn Daily.

Chris Cole is Director of Enterprise Communications at Sanitation District No. 1 and a deacon at Plum Creek Christian Church in Butler. He lives in Highland Heights with his wife, Megan. The Man Scout chronicles Cole’s journey to acquiring some of the skills of the head, the heart and the hand he failed to learn as a child of the 1980s growing up in Newport. His field guide: a 1952 Boy Scouts Handbook he found on eBay.

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  1. Chris Cole says:

    G.I. Joe figures were my favorite toys growing up – I’d spend hours hidden away creating imaginary worlds for them. While much of that time could have probably been spent more constructively, I do think it fed my creativity and imagination in a way that school never did.

    What about you? What was your favorite toy, and how did it help shape you into the person you became?

  2. Peggy Henn says:

    Holy Cow another great story. Oh the memories you bring back even though I grew up in the 60s early 70s, and Barbie was my thing, I remember many of hours sitting under a tree in the yard trying to figure out what the best outfit to put on her and dreaming some day to have as many outfits for myself as I had for my Barbie’s. Keep them coming.

    • Chris Cole says:

      Thanks again, Peggy! I have several nieces, and whenever I find myself entertaining them during doll time, I still revert to the old days and find myself staging wrestling matches with their dolls. Some things never change!

  3. Eric Feebeck says:

    This is a very well written article. I am definitely enjoyed the last two installments of the man scout. Also is a big wrestling fan myself growing up that brought back a lot of good memories for me.

  4. Michael Turney says:

    Great article, Chris. I thoroughly enjoyed it and still have my copy of that exact same edition of the BSA Handbook for Boys. I got it in the late 1950s when I graduated from Cub Scout to Boy Scout, used it as a scout into the 1960s, and now carry it in our “travel van” where it will be handy if I need it for reference while traveling, camping, or otherwise outdoors. Cheers!

    • Chris Cole says:

      Hi Michael! I’ve thoroughly enjoyed reading it thus far, and look forward to rolling up my sleeves and getting into some of the skill building stuff. I hope you’re doing well!

  5. Doug says:

    You were a GI Joe guy? So was I! My brother and I had countless epic battles– he was very good at making “explosion” sounds. Did you ever have the Sgt Slaughter GI Joe figure? I hope so. He was the perfect intersection of your two passions. Another great article.

    • Chris Cole says:

      I DID have the Sgt. Slaughter figure. He was one of my many favorites. I remember getting him and wishing that all wrestlers were made as GI Joe figures. Really, it didn’t matter though.

      When Megan moved in a few years ago, she found a few wobbly old GI Joes in my nightstand. It’d been a long time, but I picked them up and immediately started wrestling with them. Haha.

      Some things never change.

    • Chris Cole says:

      I DID have Sgt. Slaughter. He was another one of my favorites. I remember when I got him wishing that they made all wrestlers as GI Joes. But really it didn’t matter. I don’t think I even saw the actual GI Joe after awhile; I saw the wrestler I imagined.

      When Meg moved in a few years ago, she found some wobbly old GI Joes in my nightstand. A few had survived. As soon as I saw them, I picked them up and started wrestling with them. Haha.

      Some things never change.

  6. Shirley Faehr says:

    My dad and I sat up on Saturday night to watch true wrestling. Him and I used to holerat them,pound the floor. Don Eagle was my favorite.

    • Chris Cole says:

      Chief Don Eagle was a little before my time, but I did enjoy the AWA before it went under.

      Thanks for reading!

  7. Brenda Melahn says:

    Great article – great memories!!

    • Chris Cole says:

      Thanks for buying me all of those G.I. Joes! Even though you wouldn’t buy me tickets to the Great American Bash. Haha. Love you Mama Bear.

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