A Remembrance of
Michael Carey Williams
Fenton R. Kay
Michael Carey Williams and I met in 6th grade. We attended Sunrise Acres Elementary School. In Las Vegas, Nevada. Las Vegas didn’t have middle schools in those days, the middle and late 1950’s. I lived in the neighborhood near the school that was called Sunrise Acres. It was a really scruffy and tough neighborhood, and most of the folks that lived there were scuffling to make ends meet. Mike and his parents lived in the opposite direction in a reasonably working-class neighborhood, but it was also within walking distance of the school. My mom was a housewife, and sometimes bank teller, and my stepdad was a shoe salesman with a booze problem. Mike’s mom was the secretary/receptionist for the Boy Scouts in Las Vegas, and his dad was a security guard at the Golden Nugget Casino. Two boys going to the same school with substantially different economic and social backgrounds.
I don’t recall just how Mike and I hooked up. We seemed to share something that bonded us, and in the 6th grade, I’m not sure we were really aware of what it was. To the best of my recollection, Mike never visited my house, but I was a frequent visitor to his. Mike’s folks never really approved of me. I was the scruffy, skinny kid from “across the tracks” although there were no real tracks to be across, just a couple of streets. I was also, at that time, the oldest of five kids, and Mike was an only child. Later I would be the oldest of seven kids. Mike remained an only child.
Somewhere along the years, 7th grade, I think, Mike and I took to walking to his house for lunch. Both of his parents worked, so there was no one home in the middle of the day. We would go into his mom’s kitchen and get a can of Campbell’s Chicken Noodle soup and heat it up for lunch. The big thing that we did was to try out different seasoning in the soup – you know, salt/pepper, cinnamon, oregano, etc. It was in those days that I developed kind of a feeling for what would taste good with what else. I’m not sure if Mike ever told his folks that we were doing that. Instead, I think he just said he had a can of soup for lunch.
I can thank Mike’s mother for my liking liver. One time she invited me to supper. She had prepared what looked like hamburger, and I thought it was wonderful. After supper, she informed me that it was liver. Well, I had really liked it, so how could I say that liver tasted bad. Couldn’t – didn’t.
In high school, we hung out together with a group of kids that today would be called nerds. For instance, we carried slide rules on our belts when we were taking math and chemistry. The group consisted, to the best of my memory, of Jon Cobain, Phil Lum, Mike, me, Mary Keller, and a couple of other women whose names escape me. Seems like there was one other male-type person as well. We were all in the college prep curriculum, and all of us took Advanced Chemistry. That class was taught at a college freshman chemistry level but in the high school. Sort of like today’s AP and dual credit classes. The class we took was the first of its kind in a Las Vegas school. Mike was excellent in it. I was terrible, but I loved the lab.
Mary and the other girls decided that the males were getting too big intellectually for their britches, so they devised a plan to take us down a peg. One day they all came to school speaking a strange, new language. They were throwing out words like “slithy toves” and “brillig”. Us male-types were all mystified. The women loved it – they had baffled us, know-it-alls. After about a week, one of the guys finally figured it out. I think it was Phil Lum. The girls were using words from Alice in Wonderland’s ‘Song of the Jabberwock’. I had Mike’s middle name hammered into my skull by the women in our group. They all insisted on calling each of us by our full name. I don’t recall what Jon or Phil’s were, but Mike’s middle name ‘Carey’ stuck like glue. Mine is ‘Ray’.
Mike played basketball and was on the Rancho Rams Basketball Team. Jon worked after school delivering water softener canisters. I’m not sure what Phil or Mary did. Mike and I both applied for the Coast Guard Academy and tested for it. Mike got accepted, I did not. As high school moved forward, our paths began to diverge. Mike’s b-ball took up vast amounts of his time, and we only saw one another during the school days. I moved toward literary sorts of things but thought I wanted to be a Chemical Engineer. I was in R.O.T.C.; Mike was a jock.
After we graduated, Mike went off to the Coast Guard Academy and I went to a small college in southern Utah. Mike lasted about one semester at the academy and came home. The discipline required there was just not his cup of tea. I came back after my first year of college and got a job at the Nevada Test Site. Mike started college at what was then the Southern Regional Division of the University of Nevada – Tumbleweed Tech. I moved to the San Francisco Bay area and worked in electronics for about a year. When I came back to Vegas to go to school, Mike was well along on his career path. He was going to be a teacher. I discovered biology.
Mike met a young woman, and they got married. I was an usher at his wedding. Not long after they got married, Mike and his spouse moved to Alaska. They were going to live off the land in the North Woods. I lost touch with Mike for many years, but I would hear every now and again that he was teaching somewhere in Alaska.
Many years later, Mike and I reconnected via the internet, Facebook and email. He was living in Kansas and had recently retired from being the Principal at a Kansas high school somewhere outside Kansas City. I was working as an environmental consultant for a New Mexico company, teaching online for a university, and thinking about retiring. The 50th Reunion of the Class of 1960 was coming up, and we were both talking about going to it. It would have been, what, 30+ years since we had seen one another. I went, but Mike opted to stay home. We fell out of communication again for several years.
I self-published a mystery novel, ‘Le Cochon Volant: The Flying Pig’ and sent a notice of it to a long list of friends and relatives. Mike’s email was on that list, even though I didn’t know if it was still good. Imagine my surprise when I got an email from Mike, in Tennessee now, saying he had bought the book, loved it, and had put a review on Amazon. It was a marvelous review. He then agreed that he would like to Beta-read the sequel, ‘Bear Market’, when it was ready. I sent him a draft of a Young Adult novel that I was going to publish, ‘Chipmunk Jumper Over Him’, and asked if he was interested in Beta-ing it. I got no response, but Mike was like that, so I didn’t worry, just assumed that the Young Adult story was not in his league. When I had the mystery novel’s sequel ready to go, I sent him a query about Beta reading it. No response. Then one day, I got an email response to my query from his daughter. Mike had died the previous week. The end of a long and stuttered friendship. Rest in peace, Michael Carey Williams.