Friday, November 17, 2006

More about Roscoe: A Memory

In my previous post, I told about Roscoe leaving a group of scouts for a shad bake. Here's the rest of the story...

Every time I saw Roscoe, he greeted me with a smile that revealed his front teeth, one chipped and the other capped in gold. He even greeted me with a broad smile the night he’d come back to claim his troop of scouts who had to be evacuated from a raging forest fire. Trouble, like water off a duck, slid off Roscoe’s back. It was hard to give him a real chastising when he grinned at you. But the night of the fire, I didn’t have much time for him. He and a friend loaded up their boys and drove them safely home as I went back to the camp to join the fire lines. Another time I’ll have to tell the story of the fire, but now let me introduce you to Roscoe. I’m sure that somewhere I have some photos of him, but they’d be packed away in boxes of slides that I took while working as a District Scout Executive. For the three years, nearly a quarter of a century ago, I was the Waccamaw and Bladen Lakes District Scout Executive and Roscoe was the scouting advocate for his tiny community which will remain nameless in case any revenuers are reading this blog.

Roscoe started as a Cubmaster when his boy joined the Cub Scouts. Not long after I started there, he boy turned eleven and he promoted himself to Scoutmaster. The troop was defunct, but Roscoe got it back up and running. He never had a lot of boys, maybe eight or ten. The community was a rather remote and economically depressed. There were not a lot of opportunities for work. Most of Roscoe’s boys were from families headed by mothers; their father’s having left years earlier in search of work in cities and up north. I suspect Roscoe enjoyed being in a community with so many women and so few men.

Roscoe was a longshoreman. He worked at the port in Wilmington, some 25 miles away. In the early 80s, it was taking fewer hands to unload the ships as almost all of the products hauled in and out of the port were in containers handled by large cranes. He never worked a lot and toward the end of my tenure in these districts, Roscoe received his pink slip. I worried he might have to move and give up scouting. But Roscoe was an entrepreneur and didn’t really want to leave the community where he’d always lived. He never seemed very concerned about things; I think I worried more about his lack of a job than he did.

The last time I saw Roscoe was a few weeks before I transferred to another council. I was coming back from our office in Wilmington and had some materials to give Roscoe. He gave me the directions to his “establishment,” a jut-joint located a good eight miles off the main highway. Driving down these back roads, I passed a little settlement where he and his family lived. It was another three or four miles down a one-way road that I came to an old concrete block building. It may have originally been a garage for working on logging equipment. Roscoe had cleaned it out and fixed the place up. He had a few pool tables, some pinball machines, a jukebox, and a counter in front of a grill over which hung a chalkboard advertising soft-drinks and sandwiches for sale. I couldn’t believe such a place would pay for itself, but Roscoe was proud of what he’d created. This part of the county was dry, meaning one couldn’t legally sell booze (unless you were the VFW). Normally booze was the profit maker for a jut-joint. Once I noticed Roscoe’s old white caddy backed up to the door by the counter, I realized what he was up to. His trunk was open and inside was a cooler and boxes of liquor. He offered to fix me a drink. I declined, thinking it wouldn’t look very good if the scout guy got busted. When I asked about the legality of it all, he said not to worry. His mom was at home and if the cops or any strange cars headed down this way, she’d call. He just had to close his trunk and drive off with all the evidence of his “speak-easy” going with him.

By this point, I was well away of the corruption at this end of the county. There were still plenty of bootleggers and I’d been in the only “legal” drinking establishment in the community, a VFW post that had found a loophole around the laws and served liquor as well as having a backroom with slot machines. It was out on the highway and, although there were no signs, it was pretty evident that they only served white veterans and their affiliate members (all who were white). I’d been offered such a membership one of the times I’d dropped by their meetings to update them about scouting and to pick up a check to support the organization. At such meetings, the post commander would always give folks five minutes to finish their drinks before calling the meeting to order with the pledge of allegiance. They didn’t think it was right to pledge the flag with your right hand over your heart and your left hand holding a drink. Having seen that slice of the community, Roscoe’s establishment didn’t seem that strange; it just added a new twist into life of the community.

I don’t know whatever happened to Roscoe. I never saw him again. A month or two later I moved to the other end of the state. A few years later I read about the leaders of the VFW post being busted. They had done something like pay brides to politicians so they could continue selling booze. I don’t know if Roscoe’s place was caught up in the same sting. Although I couldn’t condone what he was doing, I had to admire his entrepreneurial spirit and his willingness to befriend a bunch of boys who needed a male role model. Roscoe may not have been the ideal scoutmaster, but in a community where there were few men, he was the only game in town. None of us are perfect, yet we’re all to try to make this world a bit better. Despite great shortcomings, Roscoe did his part. And he did it with a smile.


  1. what an interesting life you have lead, and what a great character in Roscoe

  2. What is jut as in jut-joint short for? I'm not familiar with that term.

    My scouting experience ended rather abruptly with the scoutmaster getting sent to prison for five years. But up until then, there was a lot of good memories.

  3. Wow...does it feel like half your life has gone by already? ;)

  4. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  5. Diane, he was quite a character

    Ed, I'm not really sure. I use to think it was spelled Juke-joint, as in a jukebox, but that's not the case. The places I've always heard of them were rural bars--generally with music or dancing and often frequented by African-Americans.

    Murf, I'm not feeling my age today, but you know that in two months, I'll be 50 and, according to what you said earlier, will lose all my appeal.

    Okay, who deleted what?

  6. Your appeal becomes questionable at 50, not lost altogether. You may be like Paul Newman and end up having it well into your 70's. I'll keep you updated on that. :-)

    It was me. Blogger posted my question twice.

    So how old do you feel today?

  7. Murf - I'm guessing he feels 49 today.

    Sage - I tried Googling the meaning but only came back with a line from a movie.

  8. Wow, what a character he was. You have certainly had a lot going on in your life. I'm going to have a look around if you don't mind.

    Michele sent me but I'm glad I came. Hope to see you over at my place.

  9. Sometimes being a friend to those in need is a considerable redeeming feature, Sage :-)

    Here via Michele

  10. That's a good story, Sage and a nice slice of life in eastern NC. He sounds like a harmless character, and as you say, he was the only game in town for the local boys.

    Michele sent me.

  11. Roscoe sounds like quite the character. Maybe a book might be in order for Roscoe stories.

    Here from Michele.

  12. Roscoe does sound quite the character!

  13. he sounds like he was up to something new every day, would have kept you busy I bet. Nice slice of your history though, thanks for sharing.

  14. I like how you note the good in people such as Roscoe.

  15. Hello Michele sent me.

    Roscoe seems to have pitched in and seen a duty to fill. Good to get a male role model around.

  16. Murf, I'm going to start selling salad dressings in the not to distant future.

    Ed, I got a link to the Color Purple--referring to jut-joints

    Moogie, enjoy your look and I'll come over to your site and check it out too.

    CQ, AGREED, if you can't be a friend to somone in need, you can't be much of a friend

    Kenju, although set in Eastern NC, this story could be set in many rural areas of the nation

    Diane, May God bless you!!! Problem is, I don't yet feel 40!

    Margalit and Deana, yep, he was a character--I actually had two scountmasters named Roscoe and they both were characters

    Happy, being up to something new is the sign of being alive!

    Tim, thanks!

    Pearl, if we wanted till we have perfect role models, we'd have never get a role model.

  17. Sage--you drew me in, and now I'll spend the rest of the day wondering what happened to Roscoe

  18. Is there a market for salad dressings that lack salt but are in dire need of it in order for it not to be bland? :)

  19. Roscoe sounds like a very colorful character.

    Cheers from Michele's

  20. wow, that was great and sounds like an interesting place.