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Jack Zaleski, Published January 04 2014

Zaleski: It’s a better story without a cellphone

The other day, I was in the new Boy Scout headquarters in south Fargo. It’s an impressive building, complete with a store featuring gear, uniforms, books and nearly everything else a well-equipped Scout needs.

It took me back to my time in Troop 100 in New Britain, Conn., where I worked through the ranks to Eagle Scout. The equipment was primitive compared to what is available to boys today. Then it was a simple compass, heavy canvas tent and backpack, sleeping bag without high-tech insulation, and all manner of military surplus.

My cellphone buzzed me out of my nostalgia. Then the very idea of my modern magical cellphone conjured up memories of a bloody emergency one fall night long ago on Rattlesnake Mountain just outside of town – when I could have used a cellphone.

Five of us were camping in a leaf-carpeted forest hollow. The sun had set, tents were pitched and a campfire blazed bright in a ragged ring of gray stones. It was a beautiful spot. We’d camped there many times.

Blaine, a rangy kid who loved to laugh, tried to open a can of beans with the bayonet his dad had brought back from World War II. The blade slipped and slashed through the soft tissue between his thumb and index finger. Lots of blood. Blaine blanched white as we tried to stanch the flow. It was bad. We knew right away we had to get him to town – about five miles back on the trail that linked with gravel Horse Plain Road.

“We gotta get to a phone,” one of our friends said, “call his dad.” The nearest phone booth (how’s that for dating me?) was outside a grocery store where the pavement began at the edge of town. A runner on my school’s track team, I was tapped to sprint from our camp to the phone booth.

By now it was pitch-black dark. The trail was hard to see. I stepped out and ran as fast as the rough ground and tree-blocked trail allowed. I lost count of the times I fell over logs, or was whipped in the face by low-hanging branches. In what seemed a very long time, the trail widened into Horse Plain. Up ahead I could see the faint lights of the store and the phone booth.

I called my dad, who called Blaine’s father. In minutes they were driving up to the phone booth, where I was shaking from the run and the night chill. We drove down the road as far as the car could go; then walked into the trail that was cast into light and shadow by the car’s headlights. Within minutes, we heard the boys shouting. They were carrying Blaine out of the woods in a blood-stained sleeping bag.

He recovered quickly after stitches and tetanus shot from a nearby doctor. The tale of his wound and my run to the phone booth became the stuff of Troop 100 legend. It got better every year.

If we’d had cellphones back then – I think it was 1960 – we could have called our dads right away; maybe an ambulance. But the story and memories wouldn’t have been near as good …

Contact Editorial Page Editor Jack Zaleski at (701) 241-5521.