Songs Around the Campfire

I loved being a Girl Scout. I especially loved camping and sitting around the campfire singing. What I didn’t love were some of the songs they made us sing. (I also didn’t love wearing my uniform to school because our meeting was right afterward. I got called a “little green cookie pusher.” But I digress.)

There were good campfire songs, of course. Among our favorites were “Free to Be You and Me,” which was popular at the time, and “Let There Be Peace on Earth.” There were rounds such as “Make New Friends But Keep the Old,” “One Bottle of Pop,” and, of course, “Row, Row, Row Your Boat,” which I never quite got the hang of. There were songs that couldn’t be sung today (“The Poor Old Slave Has Gone to Rest”). And there were songs that were just plain fun or funny – “Ragtime Cowboy Joe” (the Chipmunks’ version) and, as we got older, “Seven Old Ladies Stuck in the Lavatory.” There were also folkish staples like “Take Me Home, Country Roads,” “If I Had a Hammer,” “Puff the Magic Dragon,” “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?” “500 Miles” (not the Proclaimers version), “Today While the Blossoms Still Cling to the Vine,” and “The Ash Grove,” as well as classics like “Taps” and “This Land Is Your Land.”

There were also just plain idiotic ones like “On Top of Spaghetti,” “B-I-N-G-O,” and “Be Kind to Your Web-Footed Friends,” plus recursive song/chants like “There’s a Hole in the Bottom of the Sea,” and “There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly,” and memory test/games like “One Hen, Two Ducks” (which I actually sort of liked and can still remember most of).

What I didn’t like so much were the ones they made us do motions to. The old staples “Little Bunny Foo Foo” and “Kum Ba Yah” were among these. They were okay, I guess, if a bit predictable. Then there was “Gray Squirrel,” much less okay. The lyrics go “Gray Squirrel, gray squirrel/Swish your bushy tail/Wrinkle up your little nose/Put a nut between your toes/Gray squirrel, gray squirrel/Swish your bushy tail.” Not what I would call Grammy-quality lyrics, but hey, we were Girl Scouts. The motions that went with it were squinching up our noses, pantomiming putting a nut by our feet, and – you guessed it – waggling our asses. This wouldn’t have been quite so bad if we were five, but it continued into our tween years, when it was just embarrassing.

Even more embarrassing were the motions that went with “Running Bear,” that corny song of doomed Native American love (another one that’s almost certainly offensive these days). We mimed the lyrics as we sang – diving in the water, happy hunting ground, and so on. “Running Bear” (the male protagonist), unfortunately, was mimed as a homonym. We made a motion of running and then one of throwing open our shirts to expose our (or, in the context of the song, his) chest. It was stupid in the extreme, not to mention creepy. The thing is, I still can’t listen to the song without thinking of the motions. (Not that I listen to it often anymore. Or much. Or at all. But I digress again.)

Did they make Boy Scouts do this dopey kind of thing, acting out songs in pantomime? I don’t know. It could have been just us girls. I didn’t experience mixed-group camping until I was in college, when they took freshmen out, hoping to lose some of us in the woods and reduce overcrowding in the dorms. I managed to survive. And there was no singing. Or pantomime.

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