Wednesday, May 14, 2008

The Prince of Greenbriar

In any family with multiple siblings, there's bound to be some rivalry no matter how tight knit the family is. This cannot be more true than in a family that includes one girl followed by four boys.

I have some theories as to the reason. You see, I watch public television and I'm a better man because of it. Usually at around 9:00 pm, PBS airs nature programming like the Prince of the Alps about the plight of a young red deer struggling for survival in the Austrian mountains.

From the moment he is born, a red deer calf faces a life-long struggle to survive in his new home -- the mountain wilderness of the Austrian Alps. His first six weeks are filled with exploration and discovery of his world.

I've come to realize that Nature's truisms are often replicated in the dense cohabitation of families. It often boils down to some form of competition for resources among siblings: an extra portion of potatoes, the attention of parents or for that new toy with a limited budget. This animus must be leftover wiring from evolution --if you're not from Kansas and believe in such theory. Just like in nature, it's usually the older and bigger sibling that gets the lion's share. Their size and maturity simply enables them to bully, cajole, or outright take from their hapless younger siblings. In this crucible of pressure, the smaller ones often develop some sort of inferiority complex that takes either takes years of counseling to work out, or results in the development of some bizarre talent from channeling the energy of fierce competition.

And so it was with my family.

Let's go back to the late 1970s. The location is the suburban St Louis neighborhood of Greenbriar. I was nearing ten years old and my kid brother Brendan was barely four. Theresa was a high school frosh, and Murphini was an eighth grader. My next closest brother, Matt, was in fourth grade.

On a cool misty morning, Murphini and Matt were were preparing to ride the four miles from Greenbriar to school on a wooded and hilly route aptly named Highland road. Murphini was preparing his ten speed while Matt was riding metallic deep blue Stingray.

Matt: John, can I ride to school with you today?

(Murphini flicks his center-parted feathered hair backwards)

Murphini: Yeah, just don't make me late. I want Julie Ray to see how much of a stud I am riding to school.

Matt: Julie Ray? She's a dog.

(Murphini dips his mirrored "I Ski" sunglasses to peer into Matt's deep blue eyes)

Murphini: Like you'd know. She dances like Olivia Newton John. I want to impress her with my White Lightning Schwinn Varsity.

Matt: You're a jerk.

Murphini: Don't make me pin you down. C'mon, get your crap and let's go.

(Five minutes into the ride, destiny moves her hand: the Stingray's front wheel comes off, causing a spectacular wipe out that could have made Evel Knievel wince)

Matt: John!! Wait!! Help! Ow -- my wrist!

Murphini: I knew it! I should have never let you come along. You're gonna make me late! Get up you sissy!

Matt: My wrist really hurts!

Murphini: (mockingly:) My wrist hurts -- Stop crying, you baby. Can't you just get that wheel back on your bike? What's wrong with you?

Matt: (choking back tears) It's my wrist, I can't move it.

Murphini: What a wuss. Get out of my way. Lemme put the wheel back on. GEEEZ! I have to do EVERYTHING for you!

(Tears silently fall from Matt's cheeks while John works furiously to hand tighten the axel bolt to the fork)

Murphini: There - your bike's fixed. Now get on and let's go. I won't wait for you again...

It's 30 minutes later. Julie Ray gave up waiting for Murphini and let Dave Finder walk her to class. The fourth glade classroom has just finished pledging their National Anthem. Matt's wrist is throbbing and he's still wearing the jacket that he rode to school in.

Teacher: Matt, why are you still wearing your coat?

Matt: 'Cause I can't take it off.

Teacher: What? Why not?

Matt: My wrist doesn't work. I can't pull the jacket off.

That, my friends, is the correlation to everything I've learned from PBS: from natural selection to survival of the fittest. For what else would explain the sex drive of a teenage Murphini or the inexorable persistence and courage Matt displayed to complete the ride with a broken wrist? What else explains how in the present day Matt beats him in golf outings despite Murphini's liberal use of mulligans? Is it much different than the red deer's competition for resources in a challenging world?

Seven months into his life, the little prince is left alone and his chances of survival are slim. But when the sights and sounds of spring once again appear, and the red deer mothers and calves make their way up to the high mountain pastures, a one-year-old red deer calf with tiny antlers sets out with them. He has earned his place as Prince of the Alps.

I rest my case. Thank you PBS!


  1. I think I just learned something, but I'm not sure.

  2. Disclaimer:
    Brady ate leaded-paint chips for snacks. A lot.

    None of this ever happened.
    Ok, there is some truth in this:

    1. Kelso had nothing on my in hair style back in the day.

    2. I did ride my bike to school because it was faster than waiting for my family to get there.

    3. I did have a Bicentennial Schwinn Varsity.

    4. I don't remember riding to schol with Matt, ever.

    5. Julie Ray went to Nipher Jr. Hi, not St. Gerards. If you'd have said Maureen Mulligan in 8th grade, you'd been closer.

    6.Come to think of it, I don't really remember you at all....were you a part of our family?

  3. --- Forwarded message ---
    From: Matt
    Date: Thu, May 15, 2008 at 12:28 PM
    Subject: Re: Please verify

    He rode with me on way to school in 2nd grade when I broke my wrist. Helped me retighten the nut on front wheel after crash

  4. And who's eaten leaded-paint chips for snacks?

  5. hmmm

    I honestly don’t remember that crash:

    -where did it happen
    -did you have a cast afterwards
    -when did you go to the doctor
    -what time of year did it happen
    -did I tighten the bolt with my bare hands?

    I remember when Theresa crashed her bike on the cartpath on #2

    I remember when our neighbor on my soccer team crashed on highland when the soccer shoes he had over the handlebars got tangled in his front fork and he went ENDO

    I remember when dad saved one of you with a diving lunge when you were going down glenwood in front of Guerrerio’s house with the chain off of the white rollfast and he and I were playing catch at the cut.

    I remember crashing myself when I was trying to weave in/out of the cracks/center line on Glenwood (near the Guerrerio’s house) and t-barring the front wheel. tramatic disorder or depraved indifference....