Thursday, November 4, 2010


Janice and I just got back from the little town of Eminence Mo. where about 200 of us celebrated the life of Mitch Jayne, writer, actor, radio personality and storyteller. The most amazing talent Mitch carried through life was that of an observer and adventurer with a penchant for summarizing what he saw and felt in his song writing for the Dillards. He could spin a yarn, and pull your leg clean off if you would bite.

Humor was just a part of Mitch. Recently, he wrote a welcome for the small tourist rag in Eminence Mo. that thanked the tourist for coming and leaving some dollars with the town folk, 'cause the ones they'd left last summer had gotten so worn out that winter you could see George Washington's face on both sides by Spring.

Here is a brief excerpt of a letter Mitch wrote to a friend about writing thanks to his wife Diana. I paraphrase, but I think it's worth your attention.

“Like most of us who regard the written word highly, (because it’s there to look at and

recall again and again and never loses its luster or its quality of permanence). You are a

natural writer, placing things as carefully as if you were constructing a poem or a song,

or an epitaph. You pace yourself and have your own sense of build and flourish.

 I can try to impress upon you that we are few, the word gatherers, the savers of time and our

work is uniquely our own. We have to find an excuse in life to put down all those

memories, all those people, all those funny happenings, because everybody else is working

at something vital, and they haven’t time. If your only excuse that anyone will accept is

that you sell things you write, all the better. People will praise you and call you

useful…. the bottom line is just write and keep on writing, and… know for sure that what

you do is a very fine thing indeed, if all you do is make one thing or person real for

another, and consequently, immortal on a printed page.”

Mitch wrote everything, obsevations, songs, poetry, prose, and probably a bit of grafitti...he had that kind of personality.  His work was mostly grounded in the cradle of his beloved Ozarks and the people who lived there. He wrote and co authored songs with other members of the Dillards that have become bluegrass and country rock icons. The Old Homeplace, a song about leaving home, and losing that home, was a common theme in the 60's and 70's, as thousands of country people found it necessary to move to urban areas for work.

Mitch was interested in people, their words, their work, their laughter and pain. The songs he wrote were based on characters he knew in the Ozarks...people who were  "just making a livin, however they could." His spot on obsevations lead to songs about moonshiners, hunters, farmers, musicians and the everyday stuff of their lives.

Oh, did I mention those years on the Andy Griffin Show and the Darling Boys...has anybody not seen at least one of the 6 episode featuring the Darlings...Mitch in his coonskin cap, high top fringed moccassins, and curved pipe...Rodney with his slack jaw delivery. Mitch usually wore a bear claw necklace. I asked someone where he had gotten it, trying to discover it was "real' or not. and was told it had always been there, and it was probably a birth defect. Why else would he have worn it for the last 125 years!

You Tube is a treasure trove of old Andy Griffin Shows in which the Dillards, or Darlings appeared. Check it out.

Yep, Mitch lived quite a life, according to Big Mitch, his first cousin. Big Mitch remembers being the "fat kid" that followed Mitch around  "just to see what would happen next." He told me that once Mitch enticed him to climb the highest water tower in town in the middle of the night. It had an old wooden gang plank that went around it, and he stepped on a loose board which fell to the ground and pretty near scared him to death! Little Mitch went on to the top to see the light flashing!

Mitch was bad to run away from home on his bicycle to Big Mitch's house. All the kids would " hide" him in wood sheds or barns for the night, and bring him what ever food they could pilfer. They would have a great time until Mitch decided to go home. He'd just get on his bicylce and ride off into the sunset again.

Big Mitch said there was nothing strange about Mitch's showing up, in fact they worried if he didn't. No one ever seemed to get too upset by his mysterious comings and goings. Big Mitch told me one time Mitch ran away and came to Memphis Mo. to  hide, only to find that Big Mitch and family had gone away, forcing Mitch to ride back home...a 50 mile jaunt on an old bicycle in one day!

On one trip Mitch came in sick as a dog. It was hot, and every farm house the stopped at for a drink of water gave him a ripe tomatoe to can imagine the day, cold water, warm tomatoe and 25 miles on a bicycle...

Mitch just wrote. That's what he liked to do...just write.The editor of the newspaper Current Wave in Eminence was asked what he was going to do without Mitch's weekly newpaper column. He said he'd just start over, that he had some 1200 of them Mitch had written over the years.

I think one reason for this prolific writing was that Mitch had gone deaf...stone deaf. I imgaine that keeps one in one's own head...lacking the jabber and noise of everyday life has it's benefits. He continued to do the Dillard's reunion concerts with a high tech set of hearing aides his wife researched to find. It allowed Mitch to play bass and live a fairly normal life on the road with some "help from his friends." He was well over road by 1978 when he retired to his  Ozarks...and didn't venture out very often.

One of his books, Old Fish Hawk was made into a movie in the 80's. I think it was released by Viacom, a company that an old employer of mine, John Hyde was involved in. John and Kate found it for me, but I no longer have the video. I have no idea if it is still available for viewing. His last published work was Home Grown Stories and Home Fried Lies, a glimpse of his favorite characters and tales of the one room school house he taught some views of life on the road with the Dillard's.
Mitchel F. Jayne was a one man Professor in the University of Life. I was glad to be one of his students. He made my life, and thousands of other lives, a little more fun. Thank you, Mitch, for a good ride...wish I'd had a bicycle, we could have ended up miles from home!

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