It was a beautiful, chilly Saturday morning, and I could have skipped the memorial. I knew plenty of people would be there and that I would not have been missed. But when I considered other options, my inner child kept prodding me, saying that she wanted to say goodbye to Mikey. I had to go.
Mikey Jones was a man about town in a unique way; he owned the town and lived in every inch of it. It would seem that everybody in Fairhope knew him—and loved him deeply. That might not be easy to imagine if you never met Mikey, but if you had met him once, it was perfectly clear.
Mikey radiated joy in everything he did. It was as natural to him as breathing. To say he was friendly isn’t saying enough; he made a friend of everyone, it was his job. Once he told me that he found it funny that people assumed it was his only job, walking around town and smiling at people, doing odd jobs for them, hugging them, making them laugh. In fact, he said, he was in the oil business and traveled all the time; it was just that when he was in Fairhope he was not at work and he could do what he loved. What he loved was life itself, and people of all ages, sizes, shapes and colors. He was one of the world’s great huggers, also one of the world’s great smilers and caregivers. He cared about people more than anyone I’ve ever known.
At his memorial service, his business partner spoke, saying he had never known anyone like Mikey, and thanked God he had had the privilege of his long association with him. He made the congregation laugh when he told us that he’d never known anybody who would get to know every person who was with him on a short elevator ride. I had never been in an elevator with him, but do not doubt that for a minute. And we’re not talking about a superficial acquaintance either; he was as likely to get a name and information about a person he met in an elevator, and remember it when he saw him years later, as anywhere else.
Gina Lanaux said in her eulogy, “Mikey left a legacy of love, inspiration and passion. His many friends called him the ‘unofficial mayor of Fairhope.’ He had an insatiable appetite for good food, women of all shapes and sizes, travel, gardening, restoration of old houses and the preservation of all things Fairhope. Everything he did was about his love of life, his love of people, and he shared his positive energy with everyone.” She pointed out that every one of us in the crowded church had a wealth of Mikey stories, and I knew that, having two or three of my own, she was surely right about that. I said to my neighbor on the pew, “She nailed it,” and she, shaking her head responded, “She sure nailed it.”
He was ten years old when he moved to Fairhope from Barbados. He befriended Tommy Yeager, who shared at his memorial descriptions of life as a boy with Mikey as a friend in the most Tom Sawyer kind of way. This new boy had come from an island Tommy had never even heard of; he taught him how to explore the bay in ways he never could imagine. They swam in the bay grass and checked out the fish. They made logs into missiles they could ride through the water. Tommy was proud that he knew a few things Mikey didn’t—but Mikey caught on quick. “I had a way of finding anything we needed,” Tommy related. “He would mention wanting something and before he thought of it again, I would appear with it. What I knew was the schedule for curbside garbage pickup, which became our free yard sale.” This scavenger talent, no doubt, was a source for adventures in creativity for the two for years to come.
Girls who knew Mikey as a teenager remember that joyous charisma. When he surfed or swam he was at one with the water. He cut a dashing figure. Grace, balance and athleticism came naturally to him, and girls came naturally to him too. Once he made up his mind, however, he settled on a perfect mate, Dee Wilson of New Orleans, who married Mikey and took to his life—and loved it with him.
Tears were flowing in that beautiful church, tears of joy that we had known him and tears of recognition of how much would be missing from Fairhope now that he was gone. He had suffered a crucible for the past several years, having fought a painful personal battle with cancer, endured chemotherapy and gotten a little better for a time, and then relapsed for the inevitable end. A valiant soul and an extraordinary lover of life itself, he was as adept at facing death.
Thinking about Mikey will always be a source of strength for those of us who were blessed by his acquaintance. After the service, we were invited to join the family for refreshments. I debated with myself about whether to go and again my inner child chimed in. “Mikey would say, ‘Do anything you want,’” came the voice inside me. I went to the luncheon.
With any new problem we might have to face, we can think how Mikey would have handled it, and we will have our answers. It makes me smile to think of that.