In the shadow of the Ozark schoolhouse
Mitch Jayne’s love affair with the Ozarks started on the steps of a one-room schoolhouse. He “eloped” and married the last love of his life, Diana, on the schoolhouse steps, and somehow, it was just fitting that the celebration of his life (one could not hardly call it a “wake”) took place under a brilliantly clear October sky at the Storeys Creek School house just a few yards from the equally blue Alley Spring.
The rows of desks were laid with photos from his life. At the front of the room, on the teacher’s desk, were his bear claw necklace, his pipe, an ash tray, copies of books he had written. His buckskin coat draped the chair, as if he’d gone out for a load of wood for the stove at the back of the room. Across the top of the blackboard, above the cursive letter forms, were LP covers of his albums from his years as bass player and joke-cracking emcee for the bluegrass group, The Dillards.
Bluegrass music is one of the oddest forms of music, telling the saddest tales in uptempo time, and bluegrass was everywhere. The Missouri Boatride group played first…a Branson band featuring Dean Webb, the mandolin player for The Dillards. At one point, at least three “jam sessions” — small groups which spring up as soon as a wide enough selection of string players gather — had put their lawn chairs in small circles and strummed and sang, as much to please themselves as others.
You don’t need to know each other to jam…just your instrument and the common canon of traditional and not-so-traditional bluegrass tunes. The music takes care of itself.
In respect of Mitch’s tastes, no spoons nor accordions were seen.
The hundred or so folks who wandered the grounds were family, friends, strangers and acquaintances…all drawn to this Sunday afternoon as community– all with some tie, however tenuous to Mitch. A cousin with the same name came, startling a local lodging place when he called to make a reservation. Two of his former students brought tales of Mitch as schoolmaster.
His wife, Diana, spoke briefly how the day was mostly unplanned by design…that the thing Mitch loved almost as much as breathing was talk, and things had been left fluid to ensure that talk flowed. As some people left, others arrived…some notable and many not so. The pulse of people flowed like the spring branch nearby.
More than just a musician, Mitch was all about words. Words with the bark on them. Archaic words set aside with the coming of modern times. Much of the word-music of The Dillards were hewn and sung and remembered into the hearts of people around the world because of Mitch’s wrestle with the English language. Until the end, he wrote for the local newspaper, The Current Wave. The Wave returned the favor at this affair, bringing libations to toast the man who brought moonshiner “Dooley” to life.
With bluegrassers on the porch of the schoolhouse, the old classroom reverberated like the box of a guitar or the flat skin of the banjo; the building echoed with the deep thrum of the bass, hearing and repeating the recitation and singing of Mitch’s words.
And one could almost see, in the slant afternoon sunshine of Ozark Halloween, the day when the barriers between this world and the next are the thinnest, smoke curling from Mitch’s pipe and hear the fiddle of his ghost.