by Andy Weddington
Wednesday, 15 May 2013
"Originality is simply a pair of fresh eyes." Thomas W. Higginson
Once in a rare while you meet someone whose name fits them perfectly.
"Smiley" is not a moniker - it's a surname.
Vietnam veteran. Police officer. An artist - stone and steel sculptor, jewelry inventor, and more.
My wife and I met Mike (and wife, Betty), five years my senior, the artist. That was 11 years ago and he was doing exactly what he wanted to do. Already a resident of Joshua Tree for some four years, he was well on the way to establishing himself as one of the more talented, hard-working, and productive artists of the area.
Physically big with a bigger heart, gregarious personality, and a smile that drew people to him, Mike didn't just shake hands - he hugged everyone. There weren't many in our high desert community who didn't know Mike. Those who didn't know him had heard of him. In short, Mike's one of those guys typically described as bigger than life, invincible, and memorable.
As a matter of fact, last weekend we visited with friends from the Palms Springs area and asked if they knew Mike. It took only a moment for them to describe him and his art - and they'd only met him, briefly at that, once or twice. Would he have remembered them as quickly? Likely not considering the hundreds, even thousands, he'd meet exhibiting his artwork. But he was the kind of guy that made longtime friends, casual acquaintances, and even strangers feel welcome and like old pals. That's a gift.
Well, about a week ago big Mike Smiley, a giant in our community and an optimist's optimist, was told he had cancer - an aggressive cancer.
A few days later, last Friday morning it was, he died in his sleep.
And since, our little desert haven, that writers often refer to as the 'New Bohemia', has been unseasonably wet.
Mike had a great big refreshing smile. And, as in Higginson's opening thought, he had a pair of fresh eyes. Mike Smiley was an original, one of a kind, the consummate example of someone who lived life as if there would be no tomorrow. That takes courage. And that I did not know him as a military man nor police officer, I've no doubt he was damn good at both - courageous - and likewise at all else he did.
On Friday morning (10:00am) at the Big Morongo Canyon Preserve, one of Mike's favorite places on earth, folks will rally to honor, to celebrate his life - lived to the fullest his way. A Facebook post noted anyone showing up clad in tie will be turned away - "Mike style" only!
For those who knew him, the thought or mention of Mike Smiley will surely bring a smile. What a way, a happy way, to be remembered.
Donations, in Mike's name, to this national treasure welcome: http://www.bigmorongo.org/
Mike Smiley - lives on through his art. He called Joshua Tree home - and he sculpted many of them. The light and shade photograph serendipitous - ironic for a sculptor of steel. Symbolism. Karma.
'Joshua Tree' by Mike Smiley