Wednesday, August 18, 2010

"A Passing is a Mighty Thing" JU Lee

Mitch Jayne died on Aug 2, 2010. There was a tremor in the force. The elements knew it,  the music knew it, his wife and daughters knew it. I didn't. It makes me feel a bit hopeless and helpless.

Mitch was a teacher of all kinds of things. He was interested in all kinds of things...especially words and people.  He was the purveyor of humor rich in the lore of his beloved Ozarks. He was "slicker than deer guts on a door knob", when he had to be, and absolutely as comfortable in his skin as any man I ever knew. He was and not afraid of life...or death, it seems.

According to his wife, Diana, when told the cancer was terminal. Mitch replied, "Well, that's a relief." She said Mitch  launched in to a monologue, that left no doubt who was still in charge....and cracked everyone up, his usual way of approaching life. He died quietly at age 82. A memorial service will be held this fall. I'll hope to be there.

Mitch's songs are well preserved in the Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame. How many times have I heard Old Home Place, or Ebo Walker, or Dooley sung in the wee morning hours from the confines of my tent at a bluegrass festival.

Mitch was a founding member of The Dillard's, who became a household word appearing on the Andy Griffin show as the Darlings. He  left The Dillard's in the late 70's to pursue a writing career of another kind. This produced a book Old Fish Hawk, which was made into a Hollywood movie. Go on line to find other titles.

I met him in the 70's while hanging out on the Bluegrass festival circuit when I should have been doing something more productive. We just sorta' hit it off, as he wasn't fond of the limelight and festivals can get pretty damn crowded with self important people.

The old Winnebago was his throne, and there was a constant stream of people in and out day and night. Occasionally he would pull the shades and lock the door to have some time in his inner sanctum with "his people"

Someone  usually had to find him when stage time came...he would show up just in time, or a little late. He  knew how to handle an audience...he read 'em right, and read 'em there rights, and usually had people rolling on the ground with his stories of being "growled out of his outhouse by somebody ole footsore coon dog who had taken up there like he built it, if you hadn't closed the door."...this led to the comment " that if you had ever been growled out of your outhouse on a cold winters night with a skiff of snow on the ground, you ain't gonna' sing old blue like Joan Bi-ez".

I don't feel quite as safe in the world as I did when Mitch was alive. His dying has somehow comes at a time when I am only beginning to search the nursery of my own mortality. It was his humor that got him through some pretty nasty times, something I can identify with. It was his determination to stand on his back legs and shoot like a man that kept him laughin' and writing.

Mitch's  love of words, people in general, and mountain people specifically allowed him to concoct an elixir that he fed to a waiting public. There are seldom born men who fit the role of diplomat, author, humorist, good ole boy, musician and friend to the world as Mitchel F Jayne. Mitch was 82.

Here is one of Mitch's Driftwood ramblings:

"A letter from my old friend Pat, in Georgia, describing somebody as “whippy as a road
lizard” reminded me that I’ve heard the same expression used to describe the month of
March. All I know is everybody has to be glad it’s finally here, and most of us don’t much
care how it behaves.

Pat’s letters could almost be written from one of our Ozark towns, as far as language
goes. He told me about a sign he saw on the desk of a small one-man used car lot that
said, “Buy here... Pay here. The best way to get back on your feet is to miss a payment.”

It doesn’t take many small town reminders from anywhere to cheer me up, knowing that
whatever crises Washington, D.C. might be juggling, most folks have a calm grip on
practicality--like the sign in a mom and pop furniture store, “A dollar a week for the
rest of your life will buy you anything in the place!”

Pat is fun and tosses things into a letter that startle me, like mentioning a neighbor
over in L.A., which, it turned out, stands for “Lower Alabama, below the gnat line.” You
can see why, at my age, it’s a treat to find out that gnats have boundaries in Alabama. I
always thought they just wandered from one male dog to another.

I also got a great letter from a man who used to teach in Viburnum, Missouri, who said he
has moved and taken up raising garden truck in greenhouses, but still lives where people
say “the kitchen zinc,” “slick-a-more” trees and “shoemac” brush, and tell you that “ash
splits like an acorn, and it burns to who laid the chunk.”

Altogether, this has made a great start for March and thanks to e-mail, I’ve had a little
vacation to other places without having to step out of the house. That’s a good thing,
because no one wants to get too far from the home fires in February, a month when nothing
much happens “and very little of that,” as an old friend added.

But March! Last year my weather vane bent to where west is straight up, and the little
wind speed cups are so wonky-jawed it looks like a Ferris wheel.

While the news media tells us the government is “broken,” whatever that means, at least I
know that where we live, winter is “below the chat line” of educated guessing. Winter is
broken when the critters know it: geese and robins and spring peepers can’t wait to tell
us--and even ladybugs have left the attic to gang up around the windows, waiting for
something to happen in their favor. All of us know it will blow and bluster and snow and
freeze, but it’s more like a hound baying a stranger; there’s no deep-down meanness in a
hound, it’s all show. March knows how to finally settle down and wag its tail, and let
April lick us all over."

And it happened just that way in Mitch's beloved Ozarks one last time.

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