Today @CanadianDadBlog tweeted “I feel like Girl Guide cookies used to be $3. Am I that old now???”
I replied that they were actually two dollars a box, when I was selling Girl Guide cookies. This proved once and for all that I am older than Canadian Dad. And also, that shame never dies.
I was not a very successful Girl Guide. I begged – BEGGED – to be allowed to join, even though it was expensive, because all of the popular girls were in the same troop. At nine, I was still naive enough to think that simply joining the troop would magically unlock the door to being One of Them, and so I harassed my mother until she finally gave up.
On Registration Day we went down to the local Girl Guide building. I desperately wanted the Thursday night troop. “Thursday, mom,” I kept saying. “Don’t forget we need to sign up for Thursday. Thursday is the one I really, really want to be in.” By the time we made it to the front of the line, Thursday was full, and I got shunted to Monday.
I didn’t know anyone in the Monday group.
After we were registered came the list of required uniform gear and let me tell you, back in 1987 the uniform was Serious Business. We needed:
- the dress
- the scarf
- the badge belt
- the regular belt
- the opaque tights in Girl Guide blue
- the coin purse (it attached to the belt)
- the lanyard
- the whistle
The year I signed up was the year the uniforms changed, and the colour went from plain old navy blue to the bright Girl Guide blue they still use, so used uniforms were not an option. I remember my mom’s mouth tightening when she read through the list.
She bought it all, and I had to wear the whole thing every Monday night from 6pm – 8pm. Our leader was an older lady who missed her calling – she should have been a drill sergeant. Every week she got us to sing the Girl Guide song and do some precision marching around the room before she lined us up for inspection. It was awful. Then we’d do a craft project, or do badge work. That was it. It felt like school, except itchy because opaque tights are terrible.
Anyway, I didn’t really like Guides, but I stuck with it because I knew mom hadn’t wanted to send me and I didn’t want to back out. I got some badges. I learned some campfire songs. I went to camp, even, and that was the most fun I ever had as part of the Guiding movement… I met a girl that weekend and we are still friends, all these years later.
A big part of Guiding is fundraising. It costs a lot to run the organization, I guess. Registration fees and weekly dues don’t cover it. The first year I was in Guides we sold calendars door-to-door… that’s a post for another day. What a shitshow that was. Ugh. It was a hard sell, and I guess even the organization realized it, because the next year we sold cookies instead.
Each of us was sent home with a case of cookies. These cookies are your responsibility, said stern leader. It is up to you to sell this box of cookies. You need to bring back all the money for these cookies in two months, and any cookies you don’t sell, but of course you will sell the whole case.
Now, at the same time, I had discovered basketball – it remains the one and only team sport I was ever any good at. I loved basketball. I had my puberty growth spurt early so I was one of the taller kids, and my competitive nature served me in good stead on the court. Unfortunately, basketball practice was on Monday nights, and many times I just couldn’t make it to both. If one had to go, it was always Guides.
So there I was. My mom wouldn’t let me go door to door with a case of cookies. I sold a couple of boxes to family, and I think dad sold a few at work, but a case of cookies is a lot of goddamned cookies. I kept the case under my bed as basketball season wore on and the cookies remained unsold.
Then one night, after lights out, I got hungry.
I started thinking about the vanilla cookies, which were (and are) my favourite. I had some money in my wallet. Babysitting money. I earned $2 an hour back then… or, providentially, exactly the price of one box of Girl Guide cookies.
I got out of bed, tossed a $2 bill in the case, and ate every last vanilla cookie out of one box.
Did I stop there? I did not.
I kept buying boxes of cookies for myself with my babysitting money. I ate only the vanilla ones. I put the half-empty boxes back in the case. I couldn’t have done this too many times because I didn’t have much money. Eventually I started eating the cookies before I had earned the money, and I’d carefully write I.O.Us and toss them in the crate.
Meanwhile, basketball season was rolling on, and our team was good. Really good. We were on our way to the division championship. I missed three Girl Guide meetings in a row. When I finally went back, stern leader read me the riot act and said you need to choose. Basketball, or Guiding. You need to make a commitment.
So I quit.
I quit for two reasons. I quit because I really did hate Guiding, and I thought then and still firmly believe that discouraging girls from having other interests was an awful thing to do.
But I also quit because I had a case of half-boxes of cookies under my bed, maybe $20 in cash, and a drift of I.O.Us I had no way of paying off.
I didn’t tell my parents (and they forgot to ask). I didn’t ask for help. I didn’t return the case or the money, and I don’t know why we never got a phone call… instead I quit, and the box stayed under my bed for several weeks more. The secret was killing me. I was terrified of getting discovered but also terrified of never being found out, of forever being the Girl Who Ate a Case of Cookies. I just remember being cloaked in shame the whole time. It was awful.
At some point, I was away overnight, and my parents got snacky. Dad suddenly remembered that there must be a case of cookies somewhere in my room, and went looking for them. The whole sad tale came out.
They didn’t punish me, realizing right away that I had punished myself enough. They made reference to The Tell-Tale Heart (they really did, and mom even brought me the story to read). It still gets brought up every so often, and I still blush to the roots of my hair every single time.
When I see kids selling Girl Guide cookies now, I always buy a box, and throw in some extra money. I hope that by now, I’ve paid back the cost of that case. I hope the karmic scales are balanced.
And now you know the truth. I did actually steal and eat an entire case of Girl Guide cookies.