The Younger Brother Measuring SystemPrint
What to do with your sibling on a cold, snowy day
By Brian Doyle
You kids think this was a snowstorm? I’ll tell you about snowstorms. We had storms so wild sometimes when I was a kid in New York that you would use your youngest brothers to measure the depth of snowdrifts. You jammed them into the bottom of the drift to get a base number, you know, say three feet high, and then you could estimate percentages of younger brother above that, to see if it would be at all possible to slam the station wagon through the drift to get out into the plowed street to be able to get to the gym to play basketball after telling mom and dad you were going to Mass. A seven-foot drift, for example, is 2.33 younger brothers deep, and that’s a serious drift—anything over two brothers, you might want to think about using your sister’s Falcon, because who cares if that gets a little more dented? Like who would notice a 15th dent, you know what I mean?
The problem with the younger brother measuring system, though, is that with a whopping drift, basically anything over two brothers high, you’d be so awed at such an epic alp that you would forget about the actual younger brothers until either you noticed an extra hamburger at dinner or mom asked for the millionth time where exactly are your younger brothers? As if we were supposed to be our brothers’ keepers, although the sweet Lord alone could help the boy who actually asked Cain’s question and then said something snide about it being in the Bible. My brother Kevin spent two years in his room once because he asked that question in a certain tone of voice we do not tolerate in this house, young man, and when he came out he was five inches taller and had begun to grow one of those third-armpit goatees every teenager has to grow by law, apparently. That was unnerving. I mean, who looks good in a goatee?
Sometimes, though, you would forget about the younger brothers only for a few minutes, until you heard plaintive cries from inside the snowdrift like the cries of lost peewits, or noticed the thin pale smoke of their signal fires coming out of the snowdrift like the portentous smoke that will soon be coming out of the Sistine Chapel when a new pope is chosen; in that case you would reach in and haul them out and dust them off and send them back into the house for the keys to the Falcon. All in all there is no question that younger brothers are an excellent addition to a family, especially in winter.
Brian Doyle is the editor of Portland magazine at the University of Portland, and the author most recently of the novel Mink River. He writes the weekly “Epiphanies” column at theamericanscholar.org.
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