Now I knew. My older brother, Jim, didn’t like me! I had overheard him on the telephone telling Brother Busbie, our Scout leader, that he didn’t want to be in the same patrol with me at the Camporee on Saturday. He said that I always did things wrong and that if I was in his patrol, they’d lose the competition for sure.
After I heard what he said, I went up to my bedroom and closed the door. I lay on my bed and put my face in my pillow. I stayed there a long time and thought it over.
This Camporee was to be one of the biggest Scouting competitions ever held in California. Patrol would be matched against patrol and troop against troop, and I knew that my brother really wanted his patrol to win. He just didn’t seem to remember that when you’ve just turned twelve, you want to do everything right but sometimes you don’t know how.
“Stanford!” That was my mother calling me for dinner.
I sighed and rolled off the bed. I looked at myself in the mirror and saw a skinny boy with messy, blond hair, sad eyes, and a mouth that drooped at the corners. I didn’t look at the boy very long, because the more I looked, the sadder he became.
The morning of the competition, we met at the church and rode out to the Camporee together. I was new in Scouts, so Brother Busbie had to put me in one of the three existing patrols—the Bears, the Trail Hogs, or the Screaming Eagles. Jim’s patrol was the Screaming Eagles. Brother Busbie looked at Jim and at me and back at Jim, then said, “Stanford, you go with the Screaming Eagles.” My brother didn’t talk to me much after that.
An important event came early in the morning. Each patrol had to clear an area, build a proper fire with flint and steel, mix up some batter, cook a pancake, then give it to their Scoutmaster to eat. The first patrol to finish was the winner. It was meant to be a team effort, so every member of the patrol had to do something.
My brother was the leader of the Screaming Eagles, and I could tell that he was trying to figure out what job he could give me that I wouldn’t mess up. Finally he assigned me to add water to the pancake mix and stir it up.
The whistle sounded, and we rushed to our places. One boy cleared the area with a rake, and another made a circle of rocks. Another gathered bark and kindling. It was Jim’s job to start the fire with flint and steel, and I watched in admiration as he worked. He could usually get a fire started in about six seconds.
Our fire was going! More boys added larger pieces of wood. Someone placed the frying pan over the flames. Then it was my turn.
I always get nervous when I’m under pressure, and this was the most important thing I’d ever done. My hands shook as I poured water into the pancake mix. My heart pounded, and my throat went dry. The smoke from the fire filled my eyes with tears. Suddenly I became horribly aware that I had poured too much water into the bowl. I hadn’t made pancake batter—I had made pancake soup!
Jim stared at me. All the other boys stared at me. Brother Busbie sat farther away on a log near the other leaders, but they all saw what I had done, and they stopped talking to see what I was going to do next.
I looked at Jim and saw the disappointment in his eyes, and I knew I had to do something. I couldn’t let him down. I couldn’t let the Screaming Eagles down. I looked desperately around. Then I saw the clods of dirt.
This wasn’t dirty dirt, the kind that you drag in from the yard and that clings to your shoes and smears itself all over your mother’s kitchen floor. This was clean dirt. It was in nice, tidy clumps that you could pick up in your hand. I grabbed a clump and threw it into the batter. I grabbed another one, an especially large one, and tossed it in too. I stirred until the batter was smooth and thick, then handed it over to the next boy.
The pancake fried up beautifully, and we were still ahead of the other patrols. Everyone was cheering wildly. Brother Busbie was a good sport—he just smothered his pancake with butter and drowned it with syrup, then took a bite.
He chewed. He choked. He gulped down half a glass of milk. Then he took another bite.
I looked over at Jim. He had turned all red and was doubled over, clutching at his stomach. Tears poured down his cheeks, and he was making loud gagging noises as if he couldn’t get enough air. It took me a second to realize what was happening: My brother was laughing harder than I’d ever seen him laugh in my whole life.
We won the contest. Brother Busbie managed to choke down the last bite of pancake a few moments ahead of the next Scout leader. I figured that he deserved a medal and so did all the other leaders who had seen what he had done. When it was all over, I walked up to Jim. I looked straight at him and said, “We won.”
He didn’t get mad or make fun of me, like I thought he would. He just put his arm around my shoulders. “Yes, we did,” he said. “But you know, I just realized something. Winning is great, but, well, working together is important too.” Then he paused and added, kind of under his breath so that no one else could hear: “You’re not such a bad kid, Stanford.”
“You’re not so bad yourself,” I answered, right out loud.