This is the second in a series of “Family” posts. For the first, click here
A few weeks ago, I wrote about William Wordsworth’s “Lines Written a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey.” There was also a bunch of stuff about a baby monkey riding on a pig, so I understand if you might have missed the Wordsworth part.
There’s a particular passage from the poem that resonates with me:
But oft, in lonely rooms, and mid the din
Of towns and cities, I have owed to them,
In hours of weariness, sensations sweet
Wordsworth was referring to the solace conferred by remembering his time in the wilderness along the banks of the river Wye in Wales. I feel similarly about a backpacking trip I took in the Sierra Nevada in 1999. And interwoven with the fond memories of that excursion, is a particular reflection on my relationship with my brothers, and between brothers in general.
I am the last of the seven Mialaret children, and grew up with both the teasing and support of six older siblings. The sibling closest in age to me, my brother Stephen, has autism. The uniqueness of his situation definitely affected the dynamic between all of us. And my relationship with Stephen is by its nature different from my relationship with my brothers Jerry and David, who do not have autism.
And of course, my relationship with each of them is unique in the ways that we are unique. We relate on different topics, I have different inside jokes with each of them. But going down to a very core level, the bond is similar. It’s tied to the way I’ve always felt with them: protected. Secure.
Now please don’t read into this any opinion about traditional male and female roles—like men’s role is to protect, etc., because that’s not my intent. This is what I think: Jerry and David are just good, conscientious, caring, human beings. By nature of my age and station relative to theirs, I’ve been the beneficiary of their better intentions for most of my life. I consider this aspect of my relationship with them a real blessing, not a right.
Maybe it’s a holdover from my youngest days. There’s an age difference that was significant in childhood, less so now. David is eight years older than me, and Jerry is eleven years older. Maybe because of that age difference, I don’t recall ever having a rivalry with them. I remember the rivalry between the two of them, certainly; but not between them and myself. Jerry used to practice his wrestling moves on me, but he did that to all of us. I wasn’t singled out. And that wasn’t rivalry, it was roughhousing.
So back to the Sierra Nevada trip. It is etched in my mind as a brothers trip, because not only was it myself, Jerry and David; it was Jerry’s two sons. His oldest son, Jerry, (I’ll refer to him as Budge for purposes of differentiation) and youngest son, Matt.
Jerry and David’s daughters were babies at the time (David’s youngest wasn’t even born yet), so they did not join us in the wilderness. I am forever grateful to Christie and Barbara, for not minding that their husbands went incommunicado for the better part of a week while they cared for the girls.
So there we were: me, Jerry and David, with a median age of thirty-six at the time, and Budge and Matt, at a median age of thirteen and a half. You have to know their rivalry was in full-bore. And we were about to spend four days completely cut off from civilization.
Here’s the crazy thing—I can honestly say they were some of the most enriching days I’ve ever spent. Covering miles and miles under your own power, in some of the most breathtaking country I’ve ever seen, all the while feeling secure in your place with your companions. I’d never been on a trip like it, and I’ve never been on one since. And Jerry had done those types of backpacking trips enough times that I was confident we wouldn’t get lost or starve or get mauled by a bear.
Though in the stillness of the night, when the tent would pop and crackle, I was sure it was a bear, taunting us from afar by throwing acorns at the tent. (These are the types of things I think of in the middle of the night).
David recently told me he can’t think of Jar Jar Binks without thinking of that trip. While Star Wars: Episode 1 – The Phantom Menace released that same summer, there’s a story behind the particular reason why.
One night, before the bears started pitching their acorns at us, David, Budge and I were in one tent, with Jerry and Matt in the other. Budge had terrible flatulence. But he covered it up with Jar Jar Binks impressions—“Meesa make stinky farts,” and similar inane utterings. You had to be there, but David and I were laughing in hysterics. Tears streaming down our faces, the works. And then we hear Matt piping in from the other tent, wanting to know what was so funny, and getting increasingly agitated that he wasn’t in on it. Which made the three of us start convulsing even harder.
I think we scared away the bears that night.
And here we are, many years later. Budge has a daughter now, and Matt is her godfather. I can only hope that sometime when she’s older, she gets to experience the best aspects of the bond between those brothers. Who are good, conscientious, and caring in their own unique ways. The benefits of that time from the summer of 1999, and the balm it has applied in times of weariness, are too valuable to not to live on.