The weather forecast called for the most beautiful day we could hope to imagine: It was anticipated to be sunny, breezy, and completely rain-free at a balmy 76°. On the eve of our tiny house raising, I sat on a cinder block in front of the shop and stared at the skeleton of our trailer while Mike, my boss and brother in law, examined a pile of loose iron scraps from the latest barn project.
“I’m worried about tomorrow,” I said suddenly, which was odd. I hadn’t been intending to say anything at all. Mike stopped sorting and looked up.
“Why? Are you just afraid it will rain?”
“No.” I shrugged a little. “It’s just… what if this doesn’t work? What do we do then?”
Mike started to laugh. His laugh is like a thunderclap, abrupt and sometimes short-lived; but you can hear it all the way across the shop, over the snarl of two miter saws and a planer and the clatter and bang of shifting lumber, and it’s unmistakable. He squeezed my shoulder tightly and said, “Listen, sweet cheeks,” – because that’s what he calls us all, regardless of age or gender, when it’s not honey bunny or yes, dear or you bunch of bloody useless turds – “you should know by now that we’re gonna do whatever it takes to get the job done. If something goes wrong, then damn it, we’ll just have to stay all night until we can make it work. You know that, right?” He gave the same shoulder a gentle pat and added, “You’ve got nothing to worry about.”
And that, in a nutshell, is Mike.
I’ve never had a brother. I never really had a dad, either, but in those situations you are forced to admit that someone at least contributed to your genetic makeup; and as that contributor refused time and again to fill the vital role of a good, honest man which is so crucial to impress upon the eyes and hearts of children, I chose to wish instead for the brother. Little girls – even the kind who are unafraid to pick up a sword – long for someone strong and brave to help them fight their dragons.
I was blessed with five mighty brothers when I married John, and they are, without a doubt, some of the most outstanding men I have had the pleasure of knowing. I love them so much, I can hardly bear it. But if I had to pick just one who exemplifies what my child’s heart imagined a brother would be like, it is Mike who falls naturally into place.
One minute he’s slinging excrement like a monkey in a zoo, and the next, he’s quoting great lengths of T.S. Eliot. He can mold his voice into just the right combination of fatherly wisdom and calculated threat to talk down that twenty-something kid next door before his public disagreement with the young lady turns into a real domestic. When he’s not spitting on the floor I just finished sweeping or blowing his nose into the collar of his shirt, he’s dispensing the kind of philosophy that draws the younger craftsmen around his work desk until it looks like a slightly dirtier and shaggier (if you can imagine that) version of the Sermon on the Mount.
On top of giving us the rickety old camper that first set our dream in motion, he continues to donate large quantities of wood and other materials, plus free use of all the shop’s tools and space. He lets us use his account at Lowe’s for a business discount on all our materials and pay back the balance at the end of each week. He’s taken the time to give us endless advice and encouragement.
In fact, with the kind of perspective that only comes from having given life to a small business of his own, Mike has been the biggest supporter of our fervent desire to succeed and improve and develop the skills we need to positively impact the lives of others by doing something we love – and that is perhaps the most valuable gift of all.
There are so many people working alongside us on this project, and dozens more supporting us from afar. They are wonderful, kind, generous, diligent, and full of an endless good humor. We are more grateful to them than I’m sure we’ll ever manage to fully express.
But without Mike, we never would have taken our first step.