I missed the chance to see him again. My Uncle Mike.
I had begun to loosely plan a family reunion that year. Seven hundred miles, other family problems, no vacation time–swoop, the hawk clasps prey in its talons.
I suppose I have no right to say how much I miss them–my aunts, uncles, cousins–when it is of my own doing. I chose to move away. Now, thirty years later, my heart doesn’t care if it has the right. I miss them!
I love my Uncle Mike. Not because we were so close; we weren’t. We weren’t close in a pal-around sort of way. I hadn’t even seen him since 1993, when he helped carry my mom’s casket. We spoke on the phone, well, maybe never. We emailed and Facebooked a little.
Our closeness was in mind and heart. A gentle soul, humble, quiet, unassuming, was he. His eyes twinkled; glorious wrinkles at the edges–evidence of many happy times. His smile turned the edges of his lips down a bit instead of up, especially when he felt a bit embarrassed by adulation. His hard drink was milk. Mike was mild-mannered and humorous, with a self-deprecating style–not bound by fear or low self-esteem, simply unfettered by pride.
If any man had reason to be proud, it was he. A self-taught musician, he earned the respect of musicians world-wide. He not only mastered the instruments he set his hand to, but he innovated their use and design, especially that of his beloved resophonic guitar. His Auldridge tone and style are cited as the turning point in the sound of the resophonic guitar overall. Earning numerous awards throughout his life, including a Grammy for Best Bluegrass Album (1994) and a National Heritage Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts (2012), Mike was involved in mentoring many famous artists and playing with well-knowns like Emmy Lou Harris, Linda Ronstadt and Lyle Lovett.
He was a man who honored family commitments. In his earlier years as a musician, he kept his day job. Forsaking the call of Nashville with its star-making machinery (to borrow a line from Carly Simon), he chose to stay in the Washington, D.C. area, where he created a stable home for his family. He kept it simple. He kept life balanced despite his remarkable talent, inspirational creativity and incredible productivity. His band name reflected that choice: “The Seldom Scene.” He kept his head.
When I was little, uncles Mike and Dave entertained our family with their music in the living room, in the yard, at the park. No one knew what talent he carried back then. He was just Uncle Mike. He brought home a new toy one day, a pedal steel. He let us kids see it, touch it. “The difference between men and boys,” he grinned, “is the price of their toys.” I figured he felt about the same when I saw him with that Z-28 several years later. That was about the extent of his extravagance, though. Well, he might have paid someone to iron those jeans of his, I’m not sure about that.
As I’ve read what others said about Uncle Mike, I realize I miss not only the Uncle Mike of my childhood, but also a man of great import.
Uncle Mike, you have done well. You influenced many for good. This gives me heart-strength, encouragement, direction. Your nature and your accomplishments together are a star on our family tree.
You resonate beyond your years.
Here’s to you, Uncle Mike. You are gone too soon. May we catch up soon–and sit around God’s living room, listening to your heavenly strings, sharing our stories and a glass of cold milk.
In honor of Mike Auldridge, December 30, 1938 – December 29, 2012
Mike’s signature resophonic guitars:
A very important note for prostate awareness: