My Uncle Mickey died this morning.
He had been in failing health for a few years, my mom told me yesterday, after the news that he had had a heart-attack while riding in the car with his wife, my Aunt Carolyn.
I’m sad. Not as much for myself, though that’s part of it, but mostly for my Aunt, and my two cousins: Janna and Jeff. I know it’s hard on them.
I haven’t seen any of them in many years. I can’t even remember when it was; that’s how long ago. Must be at least 10 or 12 years: too long for sure.
I’m friends with them on Facebook, of course, and that’s cool, since I do get to see what they’re up to, and visa versa. But it’s not the same.
I remember Uncle Mick as he was in the 70s, and 80s: a tough old, Southern boy, who raced cars for a living. Yeah, he was a race-car driver. They lived in Kannapolis, which pretty much means you have to be a race fan, at the very least.
I never really was a race fan, to be honest, but I had fun as a child, when we visited Uncle Mick and Aunt Carolyn. Jana was younger than me, by a couple years: cute kid, as girls go when you’re not yet a teenager. Jeff and I hung out a lot, since he is just a year older than me.
We would spend time in his room, which was chock full of every kind of race car, or race memorabilia you could imagine. He loved cars. He probably had a gazillion Matchbox, and HotWheel cars, which I thought were cool, and fun. I remember spending hours, crawling around in the red-clay dirt behind Granny’s house, creating little roads for all of those cars.
And sometimes it would be red MUD! And that was even more awesomer, because Granny and or mom’s would get nail-spittin’ mad when we came in with all that mud on our shoes and clothes! If you’ve never played in Piedmont, Red-clay Mud, then you ain’t lived. Do do it now!
Jeff went on to be a driver, too, just like his dad, which was no surprise to anyone.
I remember, once, when we were visiting Mick and Carolyn, Uncle Mick and Jeff gave me a tour of his shop, out back of the house. He had one of his race-cars in there, and they had taken out the entire engine, with a pulley-lift-thingy (that’s the official, technical name for it; I swear it is), and were getting ready to put it back in, after they had given it bionic powers, or something. Hell if I know; I’m a writer, not a race-car driver.
I remember Uncle Mick’s laugh, especially when he and my mom, and Aunt Nettie Jo, and Uncle Dave (his brother) were all together for some family event or another. They would get to laughing so hard, they were in tears. It was awesome.
The thing I never picked up on when I was young, was that Uncle Mick was quite happy doing what he was doing. I guess I was used to adults that were. My parents were following their passion, their calling, as Salvation Army Officers. And Mick loved nothing more than building cars, and racing them. It took me many years to realize that doing what you love is the whole game. I wish I had learned that lesson from Uncle Mick, 40 years ago. Never too late, I suppose.
Passing away in a hospital bed, isn’t likely the way he’d have wanted to go.
I’m sure, if he’d been given a choice at the end, he would have preferred to have gone out in his car, hurling around the track at breakneck speed. Maybe that’s what he was doing, in his mind, when the end came for him. At least that’s how I like to think of it, anyway.