As an older teen, I attended a National Order of the Arrow Conference. The Order of the Arrow is a fraternal organization of honor campers that is part of the Boy Scouts of America. The order’s national conference is held about every other year, usually at a university campus. At the time, I was wrapping up my service as lodge chief and was serving as section chief.
I had been involved in scouting since age eight. Anyone that has had much to do with the BSA knows that cloth emblems hold an important place in the organization. Almost everyone has seen scout patches depicting rank, unit number, and council affiliation. But there are also patches for events, non-rank accomplishments, camps, and just about everything that happens in the BSA program. Some patches are simple; others are very elaborate.
Ever since scouts started to have different kinds of patches, scouts have been trading patches with each other. While I had done some patch trading in my time, my teen trip to NOAC offered my first real taste of patch trading. I came with a pocketful of my local OA lodge’s flaps. Our lodge had a rather distinctive totem, so our patches traded well. By the end of the week, I came home with a pocketful of really cool lodge flaps from all over the nation.
But the patch collecting thing never grew on me. Over the next few years, I tried to collect all of the patches offered by my local OA lodge. But the lodge soon began offering so many different patch permutations that even such a localized collection effort exceeded my interest and means. Eventually I gave up on collecting scouting patches.
I think I really got turned off when I discovered full grown men that approached this hobby as if it were a business. I watched men with huge patch collections taking advantage of young scouts by demanding a handful of patches — one or two of them quite valuable — in exchange for a single cool looking but less valuable patch. Nowadays, most adult patch traders deal in cash.
Patch trading started out as a fun way to demonstrate goodwill and fellowship among scouting youth. It has turned into a cash business that is the domain of obsessed grownups. Some of these people have impressive collections. Some have private museums, as it were.
Although I am still deeply involved with the Boy Scout program, I have long since lost my affection for most patches. I get new patches all of the time. I toss them in a box I have in a dresser drawer and rarely think about them again. Many of them signify events of which I have been in charge. Sometimes I give these patches away when somebody else expresses an interest.
I have only the bare essential patches on my BSA uniforms. I regularly get chewed out by other adult scouters for having no knot emblems on my uniform. I have achieved at least a dozen of these awards, but I don’t care about wearing the insignia. I don’t need to be self important. I’m just another adult volunteer trying to help boys obtain some of the benefits from the program that I received as a youth.
Oddly enough, I still have an old and worn paper bag in my closet that contains the OA lodge flaps that I collected at that NOAC event years ago. I have thought about giving these to a real collector — someone that might appreciate them. But for some reason, I never do. They stay in the closet where no one ever sees them.
I can’t really explain this. Maybe I harbor some thought about passing these patches on to one of my sons. Or perhaps one of their sons in some future day. But then I wonder why they would possibly be interested in those old patches. I guess only time will tell.