Some women find success through hard work, creativity, business savvy or public service. Others? Through sheer luck, like my mother’s friend, who was spotted and offered a leg-modeling career. She didn’t need skill. She had perfect legs.
My successes have included an Archery Award (summer day camp, fifth grade) and Best Actress (also day camp, fifth grade.) That was a big summer for me. Later, I earned Girl Scout badges, fervently making junk no one wanted except my loving and extremely forgiving mother. I also earned a Health Aide badge. Apparently, the persons I helped lived through my 10-year-old skills. Then there was the elusive Troop Camper. I worked like a dog for it, but didn’t finish. Our cabin got busted for sneaking in illegal snacks, and I quit scouting.
Nowadays, success is measured in bigger terms. On the all-knowing Internet, successful women in suits and pearls are thriving in businesses that help other women thrive in business and wear suits and pearls to help others make money to…well, suits and pearls.
Even children are successfully making big bucks, like the 10-year-old I read about who manufactures pencil tops. But I don’t judge. She’s blazing a trail of success.
Of course, success is a relative term.
I blazed a trail of success myself years ago when, as a young teen, I faced survival in nature. Today, I’d be on a reality show and get a book deal out of it. But back then, I was just a teen from the New York suburbs, where a “successful” friend might get a pink Porsche on her Sweet 16th birthday that matched her new lip gloss.
Our more down-to-earth family gathered every summer in Maine, among our dearest relatives and friends. Climbing Pleasant Mountain in Bridgton was one of our favorite annual outings. We climbed up, picked blueberries at the top, and climbed down, pails half full and teeth stained blue – a short, easy climb.
One particular time, there were a dozen of us, mostly teens, and a couple of adults. Our moms had dropped us off, with plans to come back in the early afternoon. As we approached the trail, someone announced he knew of an alternate trail “just a little ways down the road.”
Everyone agreed. I personally didn’t care what trail we took. All I could think about was a boy I liked named Gary.
Our energetic group walked along the dirt road. We walked and walked, looking for this new trail. It was a lovely day, and Gary was nearby.
The adults finally asked our new guide if there really was an alternate trail. I believe the words used were, “Is there really an alternate trail?”
Finally, a full hour into it, there it was – and up we went.
Somewhere between “up we went” and “Holy-sh**-where-are-we?” we got separated from each other. Initially, I could see two people ahead and three behind me. That felt fine. OK, what felt fine was that my partner was Gary. Blueberries, at that point, were the last thing on my mind.
Then, the two in front of us were no longer in sight. Hurrying to find them, we lost those behind us. We trudged up hill (mountain) and down dale (again, mountain), without food or water, clinging to our buckets of non-blueberries and wondering why Pleasant Mountain seemed so different this year. And me? Was I worried about the others? No. Did I use my Girl Scout skills to leave a trail of markers? Um, no. Did I think about anything in the Official Girl Scout Handbook? Never mind. This badge I was working on was taking on a new direction.
We kept going.
Pails empty and daylight fading, we were still on-trail. Those picking us up would be anxious and panicked. I say this because my mom was one of them, and later recounted, “I was anxious and panicked.” But me? I was happy to be with Gary, with no thought of bears or dehydration. Long before teens sailed fancy boats around the world and back to awaiting press and cameras, I was having an adventure of my own.
Just before the sun dropped and the evening air chilled, we found some berries to eat, then continued.
We finally reached the bottom of the mountain, group by group, to the relieved hugs of parents and apologies from our adult guides. We later figured out we had walked up and down four mountain peaks, a total of 11 miles.
It was one of the best days of my young life, filled with the pride of success. If I’d still been a Scout, I’d have gotten some big badge. But success didn’t come from surviving the rough hike.
See, an hour earlier, as the sun made its last flicker through the trees, and knowing we were still far from safe return, my 15-year-old prince took gentlemanly charge.
He reached out to help guide me. And held my hand for that one last glorious hour.
Kathy Eliscu is a nurse and freelance writer who lives in Westbrook. She credits her way of looking at the light side of life to her mother, the late Marge Eliscu, whose “Coffee Break” humor column ran for two decades in the Maine Sunday Telegram