I don’t really have to cook anymore because I married a man with a passion for cooking. Don’t get me wrong; I can cook. I learned from some great teachers like my Aunt Suzy and Aunt Heddy. Good stuff too, like homemade spaghetti sauce and lemon chicken. But Steve loves to cook and who am I to get in his way?
But baking is not his passion so I still do that. I maintain that baking is how I first caught Steve’s attention. I baked every Saturday for the three years I served on the Adult Education Committee at church. I didn’t feel like I could add anything spiritually or theologically to that team, but I could make sure that those attending classes every Sunday for those three years had something freshly baked to feed their bodies while they were filling their souls. I’m pretty sure that’s how I came into Steve’s line of sight.
Mike is heading off to his first Burning Man Festival in the desert in Nevada next week. He tells me it’s about self-expression and self-reliance, so could I please make him some cookies to take along? So I expressed myself through baking so he could rely on himself why he bakes in the desert. It seemed to make sense at the time.
Don’t tell him, but I would actually do anything for Mike. He has grown into a person that I never expected he would based on our younger selves. He answers all my questions about computers at which he is self taught (Macs! Only Macs!) He can build a house and repair anything in one. He can ride a horse and herd cattle and call cattle and brand them, too. He learned all that (not the computers) on a ranch in western Nebraska in his teens. He can fix cars. He can and does run our family printing business as the production manager. He can hula-hoop and do yoga. He knows the entire Frank Zappa catalog, along with anything related to Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young collectively and in all their combinations.
He teases me for being a red wine drinker and for living in a Federal style house. He worries when I travel to the Middle East. He is always there for Jana when she needs him and won’t let her get away with feeling sorry for herself. He has a big heart when it comes to his sisters, even when it may not look that way to others. WE know!
As a young kid, Mike was what we called a burn-out back in our day. He smoked, tobacco and other things. He drank. He skipped school. I remember once coming home from church headed south on 105th Street with the whole family (except Mike) and passing what looked like our other car going north. I said to Daddy as we went home after passing the VW squareback with the Road Runner decal on the back, “I think that was our car, but no one was driving it!” Someone was. It was Mike and he was maybe thirteen at the time. He ducked as we passed on the street.
I was home from college one summer and stayed up late to watch television. Mike came in about one in the morning and headed to the bathroom. He was very sick and I was so worried about him I went to wake up Daddy. Daddy came and stood outside the bathroom and listened. After about a minute, he knocked on the door and said, “We will talk about this tomorrow!” I didn’t understand until the next day. (I have not always been such a slow learner, just a bit naive.)
Anyway, I think it is a miracle that Mike lived long enough to grow up, but he did. He is an amazing person. I know he is my brother and I am slightly prejudiced, but it’s true. And I don’t know what our family would be without him.
I know we wouldn’t be as close. With all the trauma we have experienced in our lives from the early death of our mom, to an evil abusive stepmother, to sisters who were hit by a train and survived, to the death of our dad and the murder of our baby sister, we should be a family that has moved as far from each other as possible. But Mike is the strong one who moves us closer together. Mike is the one who organizes family canoe trips on the Niobrara where we camp together, canoe together, prepare family meals and watch movies under the stars. (That’s him hanging out over the Norden Chute in that picture above.) He is the one who has organized our new tradition of going out to Lake McConaughy at Christmas time to make great family memories. He gets me to make cookies so he can take them out in the desert and share them where they are needed.
The best thing that Mike has taught me in this life is to get off of the Interstate and take the two lane roads. There is no need to speed to your ultimate destination and miss all the amazing scenery along the way. Enjoy the journey. He used to just head out on the road and take the least traveled one to where it ended as dirt tracks that tapered off in a field somewhere. You have to stop for cattle…or buffalo. You’ve got to open your eyes and look and if you travel at 75 mph you will miss so much. You’ve got to get out of the city so you can look up at night and see the stars and watch the International Space Station orbit the earth. You’ve got to pull the canoe over on the Niobrara so you can climb up the stairstep falls. If you just speed by with the current, you will never find them.
As he heads out to the desert next week, I know he will get there and express himself in a drum circle or a fire dance under the stars. I am positive he will point out the ISS to new friends that he makes, people that he will share those cookies with. I know he will take time on the journey to look.
I am confident that he is totally capable of self-reliance, but I am oh so glad that he has chosen to remain in this family and to let us rely on him. I am so glad that we get to share the journey with him.
So burn the man, Mike! But come back…we’ve got to figure out the McConaughy trip and we need you to do it.