I was a Brownie for a few years in elementary school.
Technically, I graduated into a Girl Scout. There was an elaborate ceremony involving singing and candles and the handing over of new, Girl-Scout-green sashes. There was also a pseudo-bridge, I think, constructed out of a school play prop and meant to represent our journey toward young womanhood. But after I had been promoted, I lost interest.
Despite my short run in the girl troop world, some of my best memories with my mom are from my Brownie years. She was one of our troop leaders, but, thankfully, she wasn’t a crazy gung-ho Brownie mom. Camping was never on the agenda, and on the day I was assigned snacks she didn’t spend an afternoon preparing Rice Krispy treats. Instead, she bought Little Debbie fudge brownies, and we decorated the cellophane individual packaging with Halloween stickers — anthropomorphic black kittens wearing witch hats, stirring cauldrons. This didn’t bother me at all. I loved those brownies. I still do, actually. And she let me handle the sticker placement.
With mom as troop leader, Brownies was low-key and safe. I remember taking walks through the school playground, choosing the biggest elm leaves for rubbings. And I remember volunteering to prepare part of our church’s Thanksgiving dinner for the homeless, stirring sticky biscuit dough and spreading canned pumpkin sweetened with evaporated milk into a pie crust. The local paper published a picture of my mom and me, the batter clumping against the wooden spoon and my mom bracing the bowl so it wouldn’t tip over.
But I especially remember those meetings when we sat in a circle in the basement cafeteria of my school, Saints Peter and Paul, which always smelled vaguely of cold french fries or watery green beans. We were usually rumpled and slightly sweaty from a full day at school, and my mom would turn off half of the fluorescent lighting, so the room was quiet and cool. When she was assigned storytime at an autumn Brownie meeting, my mom brought it one of my favorite books: Mousekin’s Golden House by Edna Miller:
Honestly, I don’t remember much about the story. I wasn’t as critical of an author’s prose at the age of seven (thank goodness), and the finer plot points escape my memory. I do remember, though, how much my mom loved this story. I remember how she read it. Her voice grew quiet as snow blanketed the floor of the forest where Mousekin lived, and she smiled when Mousekin found a warm winter home inside his jack o’lantern, the jaws withered shut for the season, Mousekin inside, snuggled in his nest of bird feathers. I think my mom was relieved every time Mousekin made it through, even though she’d read me the story hundreds of times.
One of the best things about studying children’s literature is that I get to return to books like this one. And when I tell others what I write about, they usually want to share a similar story: how they were comforted during sick days as a six-year-old with A Child’s Garden of Verses, or how they used to read Frog and Toad are Friends every June, at the beginning of summer vacation.
We lost our copy of Mousekin a long time ago. When mom was alive, she talked about buying a new copy, but it’s out of print. There are a few used and collector’s copies circulating, but they’re a little on the expensive side. Maybe someday I’ll have to spend the money on Mousekin and enjoy it with a Little Debbie brownie.