Alison Berkley: Family differences in the high country |

Alison Berkley: Family differences in the high country

My 25-year-old brother Dan lives alone in a brand-new, three-bedroom house just south of Breckenridge on an acre of land backing National Forest. He has a hot tub and gets 500 channels on satellite TV. He furnished the place with Pergo floors and Berber carpets, wood kitchen cabinets and custom counter tops, all-black appliances and funky dimmer lights. He bought an SUV for the windy dirt roads of Placer Valley that lead to his house which is cozily perched 11,000 feet above sea level. His only roommate takes up very little space and pretty much does whatever he tells her to do. Sierra is sweet, obedient, attentive, and submissive. So he pretty much lucked out with his dog, too.

Whatever. Like I’m jealous that my baby brother owns all that stuff and I can’t even get a membership at the video store, my credit is so bad. This has nothing to do with sibling rivalry! I would rather live in Aspen and starve than trip over the unkempt drunks at the South Park Saloon. I mean, can you imagine what living in the middle of nowhere at that altitude does to people’s brain cells? Not to mention all that responsibility ? mortgages, work and all that jazz. My God, the child doesn’t even have time to snowboard anymore. I may not make that much money, but I have friends who work at Campo and can give me free shots.

Dan turned out to be my polar opposite, even though he totally worshiped me growing up. He took all the money my parents put away for his college tuition (he was the original ADD poster child) and invested it in real estate instead. Dan liquidated all the stocks my Dad put his money in “for safe keeping” about four years ago, when the market was still high. God only knows how a curly haired 21-year-old snowboard bum/pizza delivery boy living in Steamboat had the foresight and courage to make such a wise and defiant decision. Everyone and their mother’s broker tried to talk to him out of it, but his mind was made up. That’s when he learned to “pull the trigger,” a business tactic that has worked quite well for him ever since.

I always knew Dan would be a success. My parents freaked out when he didn’t go to college, a traumatic proposition for an overtly intellectual family who treated education as religion. I tried to tell them his learning disabilities would make him smarter in other ways, sharpen his senses the way a blind person can hear or a deaf person can see. From the time he was a toddler, he could turn the world upside down with his charm. Our childhood quickly filled with people ? from the waitresses at Mr. Steak to my lacrosse team in high school ? who wanted to do things for Dan. They’d bring him hot-fudge sundaes before our dinner arrived or pass him around like a doll on the bus, and he literally ate it up.

No one knew the real story: He threw his toys at me and loved to pretend he was The Incredible Hulk. He couldn’t sit still for five seconds. He yelled and banged his fists or his feet constantly for no reason at all except to make noise. After awhile, my mom started calling him “Damnit” instead of “Daniel” because she got so tired of saying, “God DAMNIT, Daniel,” that she just dropped the Daniel part and called him Damnit for short.

He climbed on the counters and broke into the high kitchen cabinets and ate chocolate for breakfast. I watched him lick entire butter cubes clean from the gold paper wrap during a lobster dinner at the country club. He played demolition derby with his Matchbox cars by smashing them with my Dad’s free weights. At 16, he totaled my parent’s Ford Explorer and they actually thanked him for it when they received the $15,000 check from our insurance company. “Gee, honey ? this is great,” they said. “That car wasn’t worth nearly that much!”

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Dan’s teeth miraculously came in straight and he never needed braces. He sailed through his teenage years without zits and somehow managed to inherit straight blond hair, big bluish-green eyes and a perfect little upturned nose in a family of Jews. He smoked weed constantly and never lied or tried to hide it, so my parents blamed it on me. He hated Connecticut and threatened to move to Vermont the summer before his senior year in high school, so my parents suggested he live in our second home. To this day, everyone from the greater Stratton Mountain area knows me as “Dan Berkley’s sister” and excitedly recounts all the “awesome parties” they went to at “The Berkley house.”

So it’s really no surprise that Dan tread all over the adult world in much the same way he trampled all over our childhood with his oversized Tonka trucks. Now he sells real estate on top of all the property he already owns, and touts himself as one of the most successful agents in Summit County during the toughest market the area has seen in years. He’s already selling his house (far be it from him to get attached to something) and wants to buy a bigger house on a higher lot so he can “upgrade” and collect on his investment quickly. All of his other properties (the house in Alma and two condos in Steamboat) have gone up in value, and he pockets a good chunk of change from his renters every month.

So what if at 32 I still rent and have no savings and no credit and no steady income? His cell phone never stops ringing and he works eight days a week, including weekends and holidays. He hates to travel and snowboards only a few times a year, even though his office is within walking distance to the lifts. He talks about money constantly and hates my house in downtown Aspen. He said it should be condemned ? that is his professional opinion. I guess I should probably get serious and work hard and make a lot of money so I can afford all that stuff, too. I’ll get focused … after just one more ski season.

[The Princess took her snowboard out of storage last week and stares at it every night. Send your e-mail to]

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