The oldest boy was sure he would win this one. He started by putting both hands flat on the kitchen table and told the story of how he got the scars on his hands and fingers. The long one on the inside of his pinky was his pride and joy because he couldn’t stop bragging about it.
I was reaching to get this little pig out of that ball of barb wire somebody left right outside the hoghouse, he said.
It was a big one, all right, about an inch long from his right pinky knuckle almost all the way up to where the fingernail started.
The other boys looked at their hands. They couldn’t match that scar, but one of the boys tried by showing the red-circle scar on his right elbow.
That’s nothing, said another one of the boys. Look at this.
He put his finger to his nose.
The other boys leaned in. That’s nothing, said one of the boys. You can hardly see it.
They all went back to looking at the oldest boy’s pinky scar.
But you cheat, said one of the boys. You kept scratching the scab off.
That’s not cheating, said the oldest boy. A good scar is a good scar, no matter how you got it.
The other boys knew the oldest boy was right about something: if you wanted a good scar, you had to scratch the scab off when it was starting to heal.
While the oldest boy was not looking, the other boys looked for any scratches they might have that were not totally healed yet. They scratched at these scabs. It was the only way they could make sure they might end up with a scar worth bragging about too.
The oldest boy had warts. He had one on his pointing finger on one hand and on the little finger on his other hand. Both of these warts stood up like little helmets with scratchy lines through them. He had a third wart on the bottom side of one of his arms. It was flatter and bigger than the warts on his fingers, but nobody could see this one unless he turned his arm with his hand facing up.
Some neighbor boys teased him about his warts.
That’s what you get for playing with frogs, one of them said.
You got warts from picking your nose, said another.
Or maybe you got warts because you tell so many lies, said the first boy.
The oldest boy did pick his nose and he did tell lies, but he didn’t think those were the reasons he had warts.
He showed his warts to his grandfather and asked him what to do about them.
I had warts too when I was a boy, he said. I just put the milk from a milkweed on them. That made them go away after a while.
This will be easy, thought the oldest boy. He broke off a milkweed and put a big blob of milkweed milk on all three warts. He held his arm out in the sun to let the milk dry. He made sure he didn’t wash those spots for three days.
After three days the warts looked dirty but were still there under the dried milkweed milk.
I am learning something from this, thought the oldest boy. He washed off the dirty milkweed milk and put fresh milkweed milk on his warts. I can do this, he said. All it takes is patience. Lots and lots of patience. The milkweeds weren’t going away. They were in this together.