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GENERATIONS: Hank Slotnick: On being a scoutmaster

Alan was 11 years old the fall that he joined Troop 20 in Grand Forks, N.D. He was a nice kid who participated happily in all the activities and got along easily with the other boys.

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Alan was 11 years old the fall that he joined Troop 20 in Grand Forks, N.D. He was a nice kid who participated happily in all the activities and got along easily with the other boys.

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Hank Slotnick

There was nevertheless something about Alan that disconcerted me. When I spoke with him, his manner of looking at me and his habit of pausing for a long time before answering left me feeling that he could see through me. It was as if he was considering what I was thinking and examining my motivations. Alan was the only kid who ever had that effect on me.

Troop 20 took a canoe trip in June of the following year, and it was wonderful. The weather was perfect, the mosquitoes hadn't yet emerged, and there was enough current so that the canoes made progress even when the boys dawdled. The result was that the kids were enjoying each others' company even more than usual as we made camp at the state park that was our home that evening.

Tents set up, Alan joined a group of the boys who were making shish kabob skewers by stripping the bark off green sticks. Alan's knife slipped, sad to say, and he filleted the index finger on his left hand. Though the wound didn't bleed much, the cut went to the bone, and so there was no question that it had to be cleaned, medicated and sutured. A young woman who was driving through the state park said she'd give Alan and me a lift to the hospital in Wadena, Minn., the nearest community, and the other fathers who were along told me they'd make sure the boys finished dinner and cleaned up.

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We arrived in the emergency department just after an elderly woman who was in cardiac arrest. Alan had no difficulty understanding why the woman needed the doctor's immediate attention, and so we settled into the waiting room while the medical staff stabilized the patient and sent her off to a cardiac care unit.

Eleven-year-olds aren't known for being terribly patient, and I expected Alan to be even more impatient than most because of the wound under the compress he held on his left hand. But that wasn't the case. He and I talked about how he was doing as we rode to Wadena and as we sat in the waiting room. When I was direct and asked if he was OK, he'd look at me in his way and pause as always. He always declared that he was fine while his demeanor seemed to say, 'I know what you're thinking, and why you keep asking that question.'

Alan and I probably could have watched the sitcom reruns on the TV in the waiting room, but that didn't seem right. I felt compelled to keep his mind occupied, and so I worked hard at engaging him in conversation. "What grade will you be going into in the fall?" I asked. "Who will your teacher be?" "What do you think the Vikings' chances are this fall?" "What's your favorite sport?"

He answered each of my questions, but he never said anything to extend the conversation. It was, once again, as if he knew why I was trying to make conversation with him so his mind would not be on his wound. Then I asked him what he wanted to be when he grew up.

"I want to work construction," he said. His father, who I'd met at Scout activities over the year, was both a construction worker and his hero. "But my mom doesn't want me to."

Sensing that the ice had been broken, I rushed to extend the conversation. "Oh?" I said, "Why is that?"

"Well," Alan responded, "Construction workers aren't often home for dinner in the summer."

I was getting ready to ask him what he liked about construction when, as an afterthought, he added, "Oh yeah. I want to be a scoutmaster, too."

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