Like most of us who were in a Boy Scout troop growing up, Dave Parsons had a Scoutmaster who changed his life.
But unlike most of us, Parsons is a gifted writer able to put his memories into beautifully written words. The 2011 Texas Poet Laureate was so moved by his Scoutmaster that he wrote the brilliant poem below to honor the man’s memory.
For Jack Wilkes
Every first Monday of the month
you would pick us up, 6:30 P.M. sharp
for Boy Scout meetings: Troop 1
at the O. Henry Junior High gym,
my school, the same space I learned
to dance in socks, doing the two step,
and how basketball was a kind of dance
from five foot tall, Coach Herman Wiese.
My traveling salesman Dad never being home,
your zeal was the only thing that kept me
in Scouts, you made it so easy, always
picking me up for meetings, weekend camps
and then helping me in securing a summer job
teaching Canoeing and Rowing at Camp
Tom Wooten. I remember how you would
go out before our camping trips and leave
Indian trail markers for us to find and follow
and how to make wild berry tea and survive
eating plants and grubs. Time and again, I
have found aspects of the ideal man in small
examples you planted in my head; in five decades
I never thought of you not surviving anything.
You were the most honest, self-resourceful man
I had ever known. I can see you now, tanned,
tall and slim with graying temples, impeccable,
Atticus Finch in a Scout uniform with your
ever present, Eagle Badge and knee socks.
After the Scout meetings, we would always
play a pick-up game of round ball, while
you would pack up the scout stuff and re-clean
what we had missed in our half-hearted attempts,
though firm, you never ranted or raised your voice.
On the way home we would frequently stop
At Scotty’s Bakery, where I would buy a dozen
hot, out of the vat glazed donuts and wolf down
the entire bag before being dropped off,
After all these years, I can still feel
the huge knot of sugar, grease, and dough
tightening my gut, not unlike the feeling
I had when my old, fellow Scout Bert told me
you were gone and I had missed your funeral,
and yet, even if I had been there, it would have
been too late to tell you what I regret never saying,
simply, Thanks, Mr. Wilkes, I do not know who
I would have become without having known you
and after all these years, I am still discovering myself
in memories of your many edifying ways, trail markers.
By David M. Parsons
2011 TEXAS STATE POET LAUREATE
This poem is reprinted from Feathering Deep (Texas Review Press), copyrighted 2011 by David M. Parsons.