IT WAS GOOD to see Andy Mackie’s smiling face in the PDN on Sunday morning in a photo accompanying a feature story about him reprinted from the Jackson Citizen Patriot.
It was even better to hear his voice Sunday afternoon.
Andy was calling to check in with his favorite local reporter — at least, that’s how he makes you feel — and give an update on what’s happening in his life now that he’s moved to Michigan to live with daughter Laurie Wolford.
Despite the health problems that led to the move, he is still handing out harmonicas, still teaching schoolchildren to play “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.”
“A kindergarten teacher told me she couldn’t believe I could hand out harmonicas to 50 kids and have them playing a recognizable tune in under five minutes,” he said.
Andy is also still making the rounds to get the word out about his mission to bring the gift of music to every child.
In addition to the feature, he’s been profiled in five other newspapers, he said.
And film students at Michigan State University are making a documentary about him.
“They came to interview me and follow me around the schools,” Andy said.
The documentary may eventually show up at film festivals, he said, maybe even a local one.
In the meantime, Andy is keeping in touch with followers back home.
“I was having lunch with the school superintendent and got a phone call,” he said. “She said to take it. It was Kristin Smith and the Pi violin students at Chimacum, yelling ‘We love you’ into the phone. Then, they played some wonderful Scottish music.”
He also got a call from Jesse Watson, an artist who lives in Port Townsend.
Watson had painted a portrait of Andy in monotone browns, invoking his years working on cattle ranches and breaking horses, the gold flecks in his eyes aglow with memories of his native Scotland.
Watson, known for picture books on artists and musicians, asked Andy for permission to do a book about him.
And KING-5 TV in Seattle has contacted Andy about doing a story when he returns to Jefferson County for a visit, something that he is looking forward to.
“I miss Port Townsend,” he said.
But schoolchildren in Michigan are starting to recognize him and come up to him wherever he goes, he said, just like they do here.
He also gets calls and e-mails every day from schools in other states requesting sets of instruments.
In his new town,the school district is covering the cost of materials to make instruments, Andy said, and everyone is amazed with his ability to get kids excited about playing music.
In other states, PTAs and booster clubs front the costs.
“For under $1,000, I can send them 25 or 30 instruments,” Andy said. “One group of students teaches another. You can have the whole school playing music.
“It’s real doable.”
Working in a house with a heated workshop and a basement, Andy made and sent a set of instruments to the school at Cape Flattery.
He is also sending out copies of the instrument-making video made at Chimacum schools so that students can make instruments in shop class.
His after-school music lessons, led by young musicians he mentored, are still going strong in Jefferson County.
Making such an impact on schools has inspired other people to want to do the same.
“I get an amazing number of calls from people from all over, from all over the world, asking how to do it,” he said.
When he first started handing out harmonicas, Andy was living on an old homestead in Quilcene, with a barn where he made strum sticks and backpack guitars, along with rustic wooden reindeer as a fundraiser to buy materials to make instruments.
After Wolford moved to Michigan, Andy lived in a camper parked on property in the Chimacum Valley and worked in an unheated shed.
He commuted to schools in three counties in a van equipped to transport his electric scooter, despite heart problems that landed him in the hospital several times.
Last fall, accepting the inevitable, he moved to Michigan.
“It’s been very nice to live in a real house,” he said.
He is still struggling with health problems — his doctor nixed a planned trip home because of heart pains — and his range of walking is limited — he can make it down to the end of the driveway to get the mail but can’t make it back up.
But the weather doesn’t slow him down — road crews are out after snowstorms, he said, keeping the roads clear so that he can get out and visit schools.
Living with family means he gets to see his two granddaughters, ages 7 and 9, follow in their granddad’s footsteps.
“I watch them teaching their schoolmates to play music,” Andy said. “It’s pretty cool, pretty special.”
Jennifer Jackson writes about Port Townsend and Jefferson County every Wednesday. To contact her with items for this column, phone 360-379-5688 or e-mail email@example.com.