THROUGH MY BROTHER’S EYES
By Michael Jerry Tupa
“Ferget it, dude. Like, I ain’t in the mood for trompin’ around Mt. Piedi tonight and eatin’ cold grits. I got me a ding-dong date tonight with Suzy Q., dude.”
“Quit talkin’ like a red neck, Ted.”
Nick leaned back in the chair, put his hands behind his neck and rested his extended legs on Ted’s bed.
“C’mon, bro,” Nick repeated. “If we’re outta here in the next few minutes, we can be a quarter up the slop in a half-hour.
“Look, Nick. I just don’t want to hiking and camping out tonight. And, I really got a date, man.”
“Yeah, but we haven’t spent much together this summer. I’m headed off in less than a month to college and you just got done with your Legion baseball team. It’s a beautiful Friday morning. Let’s head up and …”
“I just want to hang around, you know? Between summer football workouts, baseball and mowing lawns, I haven’t had two straight hours during the I could leave my shoes off. Until this weekend, that is.”
“Well, you can climb barefoot.”
Nick’s mischievous smile earned him a pillow in the face by Ted.
“Get out of here, Nick,” Ted bellowed, mostly good-naturedly. “Don’t wake me up until 12:37 p.m. — or the world ends, which ever comes first.”
Ted spun his body around, putting his back toward Nick.
Unruffled, Nick moved his lets off the bed and cocked the front edge of chair forward.
Ted put his pillow over the back of his head. But, it didn’t help. He could feel The Stare.
Ted had earned his Boy Scout Eagle rank prior to his 13th birthday. In every school election since sixth grade, he had been chosen as the class president.
During his first two years in high school wrestling, he had qualified for the state meet — and had brought home a third-place medal the previous winter.
From his win on the mat despite a broken foot to his school record on the rock climbing wall at the local YMCA facility, Ted had obtained legend status in the households of most the youth — along with their astonished parents — in town.
But, Ted could not withstand The Stare.
Even with his head turned toward the wall, he could feel Nick’s eyes drill into the back of his skull and burn his brain.
He could only take it for two minutes.
“Okay, man,” he snapped, after twisting his body around. “Heck, can’t a guy get any rest anymore!?”
“I’ll get your pack ready,” said Nick. “I’ve already let Mom know we’re going to spend one night up there. Better eat a good breakfast, but make it quick.”
“Yeah, yeah, yeah,” grumbled Ted. “What about my date, huh?”
“Take her you’ve got a fatal disease and you broke your leg and your car’s broke and you’ll take care of it today and take her out tomorrow.”
“Go soak your head in milk.”
“I’m on my way.”
Exactly 33 minutes later, Ted and Nick — both dressed out in their hiking gear — threw their packs into the trunk of their mom’s car and climbed inside.
“Thanks, Mom,” said Nick as he rolled down the backseat passenger side window. “Just take us to the start of the canyon turnoff and let us out. You can pick us up at about 6 o’clock tomorrow.”
Madge Kent turned and smile.
“You guys be careful,” she said, as she started up the engine and backed on to the street.
“I’m going to miss you both tonight,” Madge continued as she drove toward the base of the mountain.
“This will probably be my only chance to go camping this summer with Teddy,” Nick said. “We’ll all have plenty of time together before I go back off to college.”
“I hope so,” said Madge. “You guys are the best I’ve got.”
Three minutes later, Madge pulled the car to the side.
“Well, here you go,” she said. “Again, guys, be careful. You’ve got your phone?”
“Naw,” said Nick. “I really want us to get away from everything, Mom. Besides, we’ll probably run into other people if something happens. I love you, Mom.”
Nick patted his Mom’s shoulder.
“We’ll see you tomorrow.”
“Love ya, Mom,” added Ted, who leaned over from the passenger’s side and kissed his mother’s cheek. “See you tomorrow.”
Nick led the scramble over the first pile of rocks and the brothers began their ascent up the steep, walking trail.
“This is kind of like a hip-hop, zig-zag type of thing,” said Ted after the brothers passed the halfway point of the initial hill.
“Yeah,” said Nick. “We should be at the top in about a half-hour. What did your date say?”
“She said she was busy Saturday night and to call her in about two years.”
“Sorry,” said Nick, has he side-stepped a clump of mountain shrubbery and took a giant step to the top of the hill.
The brothers then headed on a well-traveled path angled parallel along the back crest of the hill and toward the next rise, on which the brothers would begin to the beginning of wooded terrain.
Hour after hour — mostly in silence — passed while the siblings forged forward and higher, while the sun curved through the sky.
“How far do you want to g0?” Ted asked during a break in the shadow of a sturdy — but wind-bent — tree.
“Let’s try to set a new record,” the older brother said, we need to go about another eight miles.”
“That’s another three hours,” complained Ted. “The sun is only going to be up for another two — two-and-a-half — hours, at the most.”
“We can do it,” said Nick, his brown hair looking golden as it caught a gleam of the late afternoon sun.
Ted frowned, shrugged his shoulders and munched the final piece of a Snickers bar and pulled out a small bag of barbecue potato chips and poured them into his mouth.
Nick finished off a cold, fried burrito and swigged a half-cup’s worth of water from his canteen before leaning forward to pick up his pack.
“Sure,” Ted said.
“When’s the last time we came up here?” Ted asked after the brothers had traveled another two miles and began another upward slope.
“You were 14 and I was just getting ready to head to U.C.L.A. Remember how it rained on us the last couple of miles and stormed most the night?”
“Yeah. when we got home, I never felt more tired in my life,” Ted said. “I don’t know how I made it off the mountain.”
“Yeah,” Nick said, as he pointed out to Ted a deer staring through the openings of a pine free, about 35 yards away. “I know what you mean. I remember. I barely had power that morning to lift my blanket off my sheets.”
Really,” Ted said, with a note incredulity in his voice while he paused in his march. “I thought you were indestructible that day. Man, I wanted to quit walking about 20 times and collapse for a nap. I mean, I really didn’t think I could make it. But, you kept going and I just shut off my mind and put one step in front of the other. I don’t know how I made it.”
“Yeah,” Nick said. “We did it.”
Ted looked at his watch.
“We’d better hurry if we’re going to set the record,” he said while picking up the pace. “First one there has to cook the hot dogs.”
Sunset was almost a distant memory — but a golden haze still creased the western sky as the brothers halted and sought a level patch of ground on which to build a small campfire and spread their sleeping bags.
Nick pulled a package of hot dogs — which had been frozen when the hike started that morning — while Ted retrieved from his gear a crushed bag of hot dog buns and a can of pork and beans.
“I got it,” Nick said, as he produced his cooking kit, separated the pan, dropped into it the beans and began warming them up.
Ted, meanwhile, found a couple of small branches and speared a hot dog onto the sharp end of each of them.
“Well done?” he asked Nick, as he held them over the fire.
Each brother consumed four hot dogs — flavored by the packets of catsup and mustard Nick had toted — and a half-can of beans.
“What time is it?” Ted asked after he gulped down half-a-canteen of water.
“Aah, 10:30,” Nick answered. “Want to cook a couple of marshmallows?”
“Just to say we did it, I guess.”
Nick munched on two of them; Ted barely got through one.
“So, you like this girl?” Nick asked.
“Yeah, she’s pretty nice,” Ted said. “Y’know, pretty and nice. But, I don’t want to get too serious, at least that’s what Mom says. What about you?”
“I don’t have a lot of money for dating,” the older brother said. “But, there is this one girl, Francey, who I’m getting to know. We have Genetics 105 together. We eaten a couple of times together at the student union and been to a campus movie together, and spoke for a couple of hours afterward in the empty lounge. We’re in the hand-holding stage, you know. She’s from Wyoming.”
“Sounds great,” Ted said.
“Looking forward to your senior year?”
“Yeah,” Ted said. “Going to be busy, though. Got studies, football, wrestling, student government stuff, golf and my job at Perkins’ feed store.”
“How does the team look?”
“We’re going to more of a running offense this season and coach wants me to run more with the ball,” Ted said. “With the graduation of Mike Taylor and Corey Hough at receiver, I lost my best targets. Joe Gray is a good receiver, but he’s not really a deep guy, you know. Anyway, we could be pretty decent.”
“Can you keep up your studies?”
“Well, I got AP history, and you know I’ve always enjoyed history. I’ve also got lit writing, which could be interesting. Perhaps I’ll be the Willie Shakespeare of the family.”
“How’s Mom doing,” Nick said.
“Pretty good, I think.”
“She’s a special lady.”
The brothers lapsed into silence while sitting around the fading fire. The bark of a coyote and the brushing murmur of a nearby creek seemed to add to the solitude.
“Well,” Nick said. “Maybe we should sack out.”
The adventurous siblings went to their respective sleeping bags and lie down. Each stared at the clear sky until their minds seemed absorbed by the winking stars and giant moon, which appeared to be a white cantaloupe ready to be sliced for eating.
But, this was a time for sleeping and — after just a few minutes of contemplation — each of the exhausted brothers succumbed to the soft, warm tentacles of sleep.
Early dawn found the brothers still snoring.
But, less than a half-hour prior to sunrise, Ted stirred awake. While he quietly gathered his gear and got ready for the return hike, Nick also came to life.
Within 20 minutes — and after visiting the stream and replenishing their canteens — the brothers started their return home.
After a half-hour, Ted reached into an outside pouch on his pack and pulled out his next-to-last Snicker’s bar. Nick munched on some M&M’s.
“We’re making good time,” Nick said a half-hour later.
“Yeah,” Ted said. “Hey, Nick.”
“How many times did we go hiking with Dad?”
“Well, you know, I was seven when he died, so I don’t remember too much. I think about six months prior to-to he left us, I remember going on a short hike with him, just up a hill, and cooking around a fire. I think — yeah, I think we brought you. Dad must have carried you part of the way.”
“I never knew that.”
“Yeah, I remember now,” Nick said. “You made it most the way. I remember Dad letting me go ahead while he waited for you to catch up. You didn’t want to be carried or helped. You just kept coming.”
The scene filled Ted’s imagination and he felt a twinge of gratitude tweak his heart and produce a few tears.
“Thanks, man,” he told Nick.
“Before I leave, do you want to go visit dad? I haven’t been there for a while.”
“Mom and I went there on Memorial Day,” said Ted. “Maybe we can go over tomorrow, after church.”
The journey downward continued. Despite the brisk pace, both brothers noticed the branches and leaves of every tree, watched the bees dance in the breeze with the wild flowers and heard the cries of birds swooping in the air above them, or the chatter of the ones hidden in the bushy chests of protective trees.
They finally reached the peak of the frontage hill and made their way carefully down it.
They would be home in time for supper.
About the Author:
Mike Tupa began at age 16 his literary writing pursuits — if one doesn’t count his classic tale penned in elementary school about a lion that was struck with Cupid’s Arrow. Even though that classic is lost to the world, Tupa has attempted doggedly to sharpen his story-telling skills. During the past eight years, several literary publications have featured his works.