I knew Mike for 50 years. For a few of those years we were married and together made our son Sam. For the other 40 or so years, Mike and I were in and around each other’s lives. I never anticipated a day when he would no longer be there on the other end of the phone line or sitting across a table talking. Now I wish I had paid closer attention.
Or that I had his astonishing memory, or his huge capacity for mimicry. If I had, I could bring him to the gathering, along with the cast of characters and accents he could slide into and out of moment to moment.
In fact, my earliest memory of Mike is riding the bus to school in grade 6, Mike in the midst of the group, perfectly in character doing Smothers Brothers routines.
And the talk! Erudite, endless, infuriating, hilarious, fascinating, obsessive, sometimes depressive, into-the-night, talk. And the inevitable advice and recommendations, almost always good, not always welcome. What to read, what to drink, what to listen to, how to live. From a letter in 1976 – “get a good bottle of wine or two to bring back – look for Grand Cru Classe on the Bordeaux. You should be able to get some good stuff for around $4”. And another from the same year – “last night I looked through Beginnings; it looks like an amazing book. It seems to be a book that ought to be read aloud in six sessions, and that is what I propose we do with it, maybe over the holidays.” We didn’t, by the way.
And I’m learning as people speak about Mike, that for many that advice and that talk so generously dispensed brought them safely to the other side of times of crisis or sadness, illness, break-down, death of a loved one. I laughed when he told me last year that he and Sandy had been awarded “Good Neighbours of the Year” at their block party. For all of the adjectives we have applied to Mike, neighbourly is not one that comes first to mind. But it was not a joke. Over the last few months I’ve met his and Sandy’s neighbours in Ithaca and have heard them speak warmly about him and cry many tears over his death.
Mike always did have the power to enliven a room, or to cast a deep shadow when in his darker moods, or sadly today, at his passing.
Maureen Wall (February 2014)