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Marathon singing with Danny

Another story about my friend, Danny, who recently passed away:

Danny and I were camping with our Boy Scout troop on an autumn weekend. We had hiked deep into the forest off a dirt road in our hometown of Blackstone with about two dozen other Scouts and our Scoutmaster (and also Danny’s father), Donald Pollock.

Danny’s older brother, Chris, was also part of the troop. Troop 1. Still exists today.

Danny and I shared a tent, and while setting it up on Friday night, Danny taught me the song “Do-Ri-Me” from “The Sound of Music.”

Doe, a deer, a female deer
Ray a drop of golden Sun
Me, a name I call myself,
Fa, a long, long way to run!

And so on…

The singing quickly annoyed Chris, whose tent was nearby, so rather than stopping, Danny and I continued to sing well into the night, knowing how much it would irritate Danny’s brother.

We must have sung that song a thousand times. We thought it was hilarious.

We had no idea how many other people we also annoyed with our late-night singing marathon.

As the sun rose, Mr. Pollock told us to pack up and hike out. The singing had kept him and others awake, and he wanted no part of us for the rest of the weekend. When I asked how we would get home, he said, “When you hit the road, turn right. Walk home. You have all day.”

Danny and I couldn’t believe it.

But it was also the mid-1980s – a time in America when punishment was real and hiking ten miles home with a backpack strapped to my body was a distinct possibility.

So we packed up our gear, took down the tent, and began a slow walk up an enormous hill in the direction of the dirt road, looking over our shoulders every few steps at the campsite – fires blazing, breakfast cooking, friends laughing – wishing we hadn’t been so stupid.

We submitted the hill and began our descent in the direction of the road. Then we heard it. “Hold on a minute!”

It was Mr. Pollock’s gravelly voice.

We turned, popped our heads over the summit, and saw Mr. Pollock, hands on hips, standing at the bottom of the hill.

“Are you ever going to be as stupid as last night?

Never, we promised.

He passed a moment as if to consider his choices and then told us to come back down the hill to camp and put our tent back up.

I have rarely felt so relieved. I missed breakfast that morning, but Mr. Pollock taught me a valuable lesson that day:

Offer children a glimpse into the future. Place them on the precipice of disaster before pulling them back. Give them a long, hard view of the potential consequences they might suffer if they do not change their ways.

Also, be crazy enough to sometimes follow through on your most outrageous threats. Making us walk home that day was an absolute possibility. Frankly, I was astounded that Mr. Pollock had changed his mind. He was a kind man, but he was tough, too, with persistently high expectations and a willingness to make things hard when necessary.

But if kids don’t believe the worst can happen, they’ll never behave like it might happen.

Mr. Pollock passed away back in 2020, and Danny’s mother, Bernadine, whom I also knew well as a boy, passed away a year later.

With Mr. Pollock’s passing, I lost a man who was as influential to me as a boy as any other human being. Donald Pollock was a tough, smart, disciplined man who loved helping boys learn to become better men.

The world is a better place because of the late Donald Pollock.

I am a better person because of him.

I don’t believe in heaven, but if there is one, I hope Mr. Pollock was standing at the top of some heavenly hill, hands on hips, a wry smile planted on his face, waiting for his son to arrive.

They both deserve a moment like that.