Many of you will remember that back in March of this year - I mentioned that a dear friend - Mike Schildknecht - was opening a restaurant about 120 kilometers (78 miles) from San Francisco. He called the place 'Berryessa Corners'. He was kind enough to invite me to hang my photography in his new dining room. Ten black & white prints are on display there.
Last Tuesday - a week ago today - I received a call from a mutual friend saying that Mike's body had been discovered that morning. Evidence suggested he'd had a heart attack in the middle of the night.
Mike was one of the most amazing people I've known in this life. He was a bulldog from New Jersey - with the accent and attitude to let you know it. Yet , he was one of the most accepting, loving, tolerant, and steadfast people I've ever had the pleasure to know.
He had made medical history several times over as a double-heart-transplant recipient from UCSF Hospital in San Francisco. Transplanted hearts have a maximum life span of about twelve years. Mike had gotten all of that time and a little more from his first heart before they cleared him for and then went ahead with a second heart transplant in 2002.
Two major automobile accidents tried to claim him. Both red-light runners - neither his fault. In the first one - it took rescue workers more than an hour to free him from the wreckage. They had to disassemble the front seats and remove him through the right rear door of the car. There was no room to use the 'jaws-of-life'. The emergency room doctor at San Francisco General Hospital wrote on Mike's admittance form; "unlikely to survive".
Mike's life contained so many adventures - one could fill a book. Many of them could not be printed in a family newspaper. Mike could be wild.
But when he learned that he would not be permitted a third heart - he knew he was against a loudly ticking clock. He had always wanted to run his own bar and restaurant - and when he saw this beat-up old building, rotting by the wayside near his beloved Lake Berryessa - he knew it was his mission to bring it back to life. And he did.
There were three businesses under one roof. A market, a restaurant, and a bar. He managed to open the first two and had almost completed the bar. Oh how I wish he'd been given the time to see it all finished. He had everything plotted out on paper. He was so proud that the market kept exceeding his projections.
The time bell rang. Now, the book is closed.
Before taking on the store - Mike was a taxi cab dispatcher on a grave-yard shift - part time. The company was in decline and Mike was increasingly unhappy with his time there. In January of this year - Mike quit his job and moved to 'Berryessa Corners' to build his dream.
All of us who knew Mike and who would visit him 'up at the lake' agreed that he'd never looked or seemed better than during these past few months. He was relaxed, happy, challenged by the unending demands of opening three businesses in a beat-up building that had to be brought up to code. Mike seemed to thrive on all of this.
And, there was Mike's fear that he would slowly get sick and wind up in the hospital with doctors and tubes defining his decline.
My good friend, Bill, was with Mike on Monday night. They talked business until late and parted company. Bill was likely the last person to see Mike alive. Bill reported that Mike seemed fine that night. His color was good and his spirits upbeat. So Mike was healthy to the end and went fast. He couldn't have scripted a better departure.
Fifty years is way too short a life in these accelerated times. However, Michael Schildknecht was an inspiration. His original heart disease cheated death for more than two decades and he knew it.
Time after time - I was in awe as Mike would go out of his way to befriend a person who was suffering or was down and out. He seemed drawn to the downtrodden and gave them plenty of his time and attention. Everyone was an equal to Mike - unless it was someone who would bully or take advantage of another. Those folks found themselves instantly on Mike's (bleep) list. And he pulled no punches in letting them know just what he thought about their misguided ways.
This then is a day of closure...
Thank you Mike, for sharing time with me along this life's path. I am grateful for every moment. My life will be substantially less full without your beautiful presence.
The visitation at the funeral home is set for Noon. The service is at 3.
There will be many, many people there. Lots of these folks I'll have not seen in a long, long time. There will be those I've not yet met. Mike formed many circles and made friends easily. The fact of Mike's life will be at the center of this pilgrimage. I look forward to being with all of these people. I readily find comfort in our common love, admiration, and friendship with this remarkable man.
We will all join to celebrate a man's full life.
And we will cry.
© copyright 2018 by Stephen Phillips Photography / Oakland, California / www.JoyOfLight.com
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