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Backpacker Magazine – October 2010

My F*&^ing Family

Camping is known to bring loved ones closer together, but what happens when your relations include a treacherous sister, murderous brother, and their savage offspring? Steve Friedman leads his clan into the Rockies to resolve five decades' worth of sibling rivalry and simmering resentment.

by: Steve Friedman

Illustration by Zohar Lazar
Illustration by Zohar Lazar

Things would be different if I had gotten my way, if we had been camping at one of southwestern Colorado’s Ice Lakes, which sit in a glacial basin. We would have left a day earlier, as I had planned, ahead of the storm. I might not have misplaced the marshmallows. The kids would not have turned on me. But, of course, I hadn’t gotten my way. With this group, I—the middle child—had never gotten my way. My older brother got his way for many years, because he was bigger. So it didn’t matter that I preferred suburban St. Louis’s Velvet Freeze ice cream, which served a simple but proud vanilla, over Baskin Robbins, which specialized in flavors like Bubble Gum and Apple Pie that even a five-year-old could tell were cheap, whorish abominations; or that given my druthers (which I wasn’t), I would have rather raked the leaves than helped our father push the lawn mower. But no! I was the little brother, so when it came to ice cream emporiums and chores, my big brother, Don, got to decide. (Is it a coincidence that he grew up to marry, bear a son, and, as CEO, command a large financial services corporation while I have hopped, philosophically, from writing gig to writing gig and girlfriend to girlfriend? I think not.)

Then, just as I was ready to start asserting my will and needs, when I was six years old and my brother was eight, my little sister was born, and suddenly “the baby” had to be catered to. That left me, the middle one. The comic relief. The diplomat. The forgotten child. (There was a brief, embarrassing period in my ostensibly adult life when I haunted the self-help aisles of bookstores to better understand my underemployment and general malaise; some of the phrases I learned have stayed with me.)

I’m 54 now, marshmallow-less, chilly, induced to despair by a savage seven-year-old and her once-dependable brother. I’m having a challenging moment. The trip is not turning out quite as I had planned.

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