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"We got some blankets and some fry pans, and we camped out 12 times those first two years, without tents," says Cornwell. "I felt like it was some kind of message that it never rained on us."
To watch Cornwell work with his scouts is magic. "Amanda," he asks a nine-year-old girl scout. "Have you read all those star books I got for you?"
"Yes sir, Mr. Cornwell, I read them all," she says. Amanda turns to me and says, "I'm going to be an astronaut."
"Do you know that that is Jupiter up there?" I ask her, pointing to the dark mountain sky. "And over there is Mars?"
"Yes ma'am, I know them all," Amanda says.
The next day Cornwell checks up on Tim, a 12-year-old whose only memory of his father is that "I cried the morning he died." Tim's mother is a near invalid. His clothes don't fit, and he has no socks on. Cornwell and Tim walk along a stream below a hog shed. He asks Tim to identify a tree. "I think it's a walnut," says Tim.
"Well, let's taste it," says Cornwell as he bites into a twig and then hands it to the boy. "Remember that taste. You'll always know a walnut in the winter."
Later, as Tim shuffles up a hill toward his chicken chores, he tells me that the Wilderness Scouts "gave me something to do when I didn't have anything to do." Looking down at the cold Georgia mud, he volunteers his heart: "Harold says I can do anything I set my mind to. I've learned that now. If I could get a scholarship someday, I might even be a teacher."
In what serves as scout headquarters, a room in an abandoned wing of an old motel, Cornwell must answer an ever-ringing phone. On top of a cabinet, above the shelf that holds his Guide to Butterflies and Moths, sit four jars of spaghetti sauce, a tube of toothpaste, a bottle of shampoo, two boxes of powdered milk and two boxes of Jell-O. "Staples for somebody who'll need them," says Cornwell.
In a free moment, Cornwell, whose group always stands about one minute from bankruptcy, is poring over checks, including "a big one" from Bill Elliott, a new Blairsville resident whose big gold Winston Cup award for winning the 1988 NASCAR championship is down the road on display in the Union County Bank lobby. But fame has its price. "Shoot, if I didn't get myself in a jam talking to that radio station out in San Francisco," says Cornwell. "They asked me if it'd help if their listeners ordered bluebird houses, and I said sure and told them they were $5 apiece. Then I figured we'd better add another $5 for postage. But the post office wants $6.25. So the way it is now, we got 200 orders for houses, and we're going to lose $1.25 on every one."