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Do you remember your Brown Owl?  If you were a Brownie as a girl, you likely have fond memories of the woman who lead your Brownie Unit.  Mine was wise, patient, imaginative, fun, musical and caring.  There were some other amazing owls too –  Tawny Owl and Snowy Owl – but I loved Brown Owl best.

Margaret Atwood sums it up better than I could in Negotiating with the Dead: A Writer on Writing (page 149)

“When I was nine, I was enrolled in a secret society, complete with special handshakes, slogans, rituals, and mottoes.  The name of this was the Brownies, and it was quite bizarre.  The little girls pretended to be fairies, gnomes and elves, and the grownup leading it was called Brown Owl.  Sadly, she did not wear an owl costume, nor did the little girls wear fairy outfits.  This was a disappointment to me, but not a fatal one. “

Margaret goes on to say that in pursuit of various badges, she ended up making little books by folding pages and sewing them together.  She then gave them to Brown Owl who, of course, liked them. Margaret Atwood had found her first audience.

“Then a few years ago a friend said to me, “Your Brown Owl is my aunt.” “Is?” I said.  “She can’t possibly be alive!”  But she was, so off we went to visit her.  She was well over ninety, but Brown Owl and I were very pleased to see each other.  After we’d had tea, she said, “I think you should have these,” and she took out the little books I had made  fifty years before – which for some reason she’d kept – and gave them back to me.  She died three days later.”

From Lady Oracle:

“It was hard to believe that an adult, older than my mother even, would actually squat on the floor and say things like, “Tu-whit, Tu-whoo” and “When Brownies make their fairy ring, They can magic everything!” Brown Owl acted as though she believed all this, and thought that we did too. This was the novelty: someone even more gullible than I was.”

And check out Cat’s Eye where Margaret’s Brown Owl is “still blowing her whistle and supervising the knot tests”.

My Brown Owl was Mrs. McRae.  At the time, I no idea what her real name was, she was just Brown Owl.   I wonder if she knows what an impact she made on me.  Because of her, I love the outdoors, pick up litter without thinking about it, I can sew, and I can light a match (one year we made a craft which required one package of matches to be burned per girl – the burnt matches were glued in a pattern of a cross for Easter – I don’t think girls today would be allowed, but it was cool to be trusted then).  Because of her example I am able to do anything, including be Brown Owl and have my own Brownie Unit.

In the words of the Brownie Story … “Twist me and turn me and show me an elf, I look in the water and there see… myself”.  Maybe I’m gullible, but I do believe in the magic of the wise old Owl.

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