Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Last Call

He went by many names, and worked at many bars, but I've only seen one expression on his face: a giant smile. And I do mean GIANT! Mike Connors was literally larger than life. Whether it was his raspy "Heyyy!' or gnarly handshake,  he enveloped people with warmth every time he greeted them. And it's beyond shocking that he is no longer with us.

I knew of Mike before I knew him. I worked in a restaurant across the street from The Black Duck, and there was much talk of Wolfie. I lived a somewhat sheltered life, and always thought of the Duck as a biker bar. And to tell you the truth, the first few times I ventured in there, he scared me. Quick with a wink and drink for the girls I was with, he was not as cuddly towards me. He was big, and gruff, and clearly In Charge, and, well I was intimidated.

But I quickly saw the softer side (and, really, the only side) of Big Mike...after learning he really did not like being called Wolfie by just anyone.  And over the years we went from being patrons to friends to family. Like actual family, as he ended up marrying my sister in law (technically former sister in law, but we don't play that way!)

Mike could not have been a better choice for husband and step-dad to Kelly and her kids. My brother loved his family and brought them much joy, but he also left them in sad shape, and Mike just picked them all up on his strong shoulders and carried them through some tough times. I feel very confident speaking for my entire family when I say we not only accepted Mike, but respected and felt indebted to him for taking on such a challenge and keeping the family together.

And that's what Mike did. He brought people together. I lost count of how many couples and marriages are attributed to his doings, but I've got two nieces who owe their significant others to his presence. I also remember being at Viva Zapatas, sitting on the patio with some friends, being annoyed by these young kids who were acting like obnoxious dicks - until Mike showed up, All of the sudden, there was a hush, and I could hear them whispering, "It's Coach Connors!" Without his saying a word, or even knowing what they had been up to, they changed their attitude and were on their best behavior for the rest of the night.

He was big, but his physical strength was no match for his emotional side. Looking back I truly don't remember him ever saying an unkind word about anyone. Well, anyone NOT wearing a Dallas jersey! He was big, but not afraid to show his love for his furry little hamster-sized dogs! He was big, but had the gentlest of touches for the frailest of Grandmas.

But as big as he was, the hole that he is leaving is even bigger. It's only been six hours since I heard the news, but I've seen his face a dozen times on the digital frame in my kitchen, and each time it pops up, I smile along with him, until it hits me that he is gone. I know that no one that big, that important, that involved in so many lives can ever truly be gone, but right now, that doesn't help.

 I hurt for his family. I hurt for his friends. I hurt for his former players and teammates and customers. It broke my heart having to tell my mother, as it felt like she had lost another son. And since he was technically not my bother in law,  I always jokingly called him my brother in love. But it was no joke. I meant it

Mike spent a lot of time in, and behind, bars (not the jail kind!) and made many a Last Call - but tonight, instead of turning the lights on, an incredible light has unexpectedly gone out :(

RIP Mike Connors