This site will look much better in a browser that supports web standards, but it is accessible to any browser or Internet device.

The American Morris Newsletter

July, 2007 -- Volume 27, Number 2

 

Dave Stryker's Last Will and Testament

Lynn Noel

Please note-- much of this article first appeared on MDDL, the Morris Dancing Discussion List (see https://listserv.iupui.edu/cgi-bin/Wa-IUPUI.exe?A2=ind0706&L=morris&P=R14043).

As you may recall, on March 30, we had been told for three days that we might lose Dave. Stew, Edmund Robinson, and I--his brother, his minister, and his quondam fool--sat with him all night long.

We sang to Dave all through the night. ... At dawn, Edmund started Bright Morning Stars Are Rising. Dave's arms went up, he called for music, and Edmund played concertina for him as he danced a jig in his bed. We were sure he would dance on out and up... And then the sonafabitch woke up, demanded a beer, and made his will. Its terms are poetic, but clearly not yet relevant, so we will leave it that he was very forceful and insisted we "write all this shit down" so he could sign his name, which he did.

This story counts as the reading of that will. All that of value of which he died possessed, Dave felt, was his body and his friends. That morning, Dave directed us to find his large three-handled tankard with the glass bottom, and to choose one of his three smaller pewter mugs that best fits on/in the top of it. We were solemnly instructed, when the time came, to place his ashes in the larger mug and to seal the smaller one atop it, upright so that it could be drunk out of, and then to pass him around and drink. This mug-urn, decreed Dave, was to go on tour to the following events:

 
Newtowne Easter
Gilbertsville
Newtowne Mayday
Cushman/Montague Mayday
The Pseudzx
Marlboro
The ATM
Juggler Meadow
Harvest Home

Once assembled, Dave's Ale Grail is to tour with one or more of Dave's many teams, presumably in perpetuity, as Dave declined to specify a final resting place. Dave has also specified his authorized biographers and the official editors of his obituary as Geoff Rogers of Juggler Meadow and Peter Klosky of the Binghamton Men. So, since Dave hails originally from Amherst, his witnesses decided to ask Geoff Rogers to host Dave between tours. Geoff didn't miss a beat. Leaning on his mantel, Dave's squire said, "Dave is always welcome in my house."

 

The Ale Grail

Photo by Sarah Strong

Dave was very clear on the mug-urn project, and drew several sketches to various people on at least three separate occasions. Some of his teammates have expressed the strong sentiment that, like William Kimber, Dave deserved to be buried in his bells. Practical to the core, Dave vetoed that. "Nah. Wouldn't melt." (We privately disagreed, but didn't argue.) But he made an alternate proposal: "Put 'em in first. Bells, then me." OK, Dave. Your call.

So, we collected the tankards and bells, and a few days after Dave's passing, I got on the telephone to find a pewterer. This was harder than one might imagine, as pewter requires special handling since it melts at just above the temperature of solder. Not to mention the ashes bit. After six phone calls, I was referred to Scott Ciardi of Brass From the Past in Braintree, a third-generation artisan specializing in nautical restoration: http://www.eciardi.com.

When I walked in the door, Scott says, "You're the crazy lady, right?" "Yah. Actually, I'm the crazy guy's sister. The crazy guy's right here." And I dumped the Box o' Dave on the counter to check his reaction. Scott didn't blink, which was encouraging. With a craftsman's eye, he and his coworker began musing over technical design. "Hmmm. Needs a false bottom for the bells, don't want the ashes clogging them up, they've gotta ring. Cap on the big mug has to be on good and solid, these ashes aren't for scattering, don't want 'em flying all over the place during a toast. Gonna be heavy, somebody's gonna grab it by the top mug handle, big guys waving it around, gonna be drunk guys, maybe need a pin between the top mug and the cap. But then have to solder that pin in, don't want the beer--whisky, did you say?--leaking into the ashes. Better wrap 'em in plastic anyway. Hmm. (holds up a bell against a tankard) See here, if you put anything up against a bell, it gets muffled. How about we make the cap oversize, hang some bells around the rim? Then you get 'em to ring, still put some in the bottom like the guy said. Sandblast these mugs nice and clean, satin finish, then a little lacquer, not too much so it won't scratch when you're carrying it around, but still won't show the fingerprints."

At this point I gave Scott carte blanche and begged him to take up Morris dancing. And four days later, on the morning of the wake, we collected Dave's unholy reliquary. This report from Dave's twin brother Stew:

 


We had a wonderful time at Cathy Mason's house last night and the guest of honor had plenty of drink in him. Yes, Dave's Urn/Mug (aka The Vertical Vessel) arrived, was admired by all, then filled with fine single-malt whiskey and passed around. Then he was filled with beer (donated by Cambridge Beer Co!) and passed to those who don't appreciate fine whiskey, then filled with ginger ale for those who don't care for whiskey or beer or are too young for either. We all enjoyed a drink (or two!) from the fine mug that Dave commissioned.

After drinking a toast to Dave, then a cheery few notes were sung to him. Then we went back to telling our favorite stories of Dave, admiring his mug (probably the first time that's happened???). Then serious music was made in his honor, with great fiddle, guitar, and even dulcimer joining in, going long past the official ending time.
 

For a full set of photos of the wake itself, check out Bob Antia's great photos as well as Sarah Strong's splendid series.

Dave has also specified that smaller containers of his ashes are to go to Cathy Mason, to Peter Klosky to scatter in Binghamton at the confluence of the rivers in Gilbertsville, and to scatter in Juggler Meadow and at the Weeks Footbridge of Mayday on the Charles, with the remainder to Stew. These ceremonies will be privately organized by Dave's various teams, and Kathy Tighe of Muddy River is making handthrown pottery urns for these last remains.

As we gathered around Dave's deathbed in March, I found myself moved to offer some last rites from the tradition we share. It often seems curious to our English friends how seriously we American dancers take the Morris, and how much spiritual meaning we find in it. But it does have that deeper meaning for many of us, even if we don't put it into words. Dave had no formal words for the afterlife, and I tried simply to give him familiar images he could use to face the journey ahead. He had been unresponsive for three days when I took his hand.

Dave, this is Lynn. I know you can hear me. This is the mummer's play, Dave. Not that Revels stuff on a stage. We know you hate that. This is REAL. It comes to us all, Dave. To every hero, to face his own death. And I am only the fool for the first half of this play. But I swear to you, Dave: Will Kemp himself has the elecampane ready to raise you up. You will dance the Nine Daies Wonder, Dave. You will play your box with William Kimber, and pick a bone with Cecil Sharp; you will show them all how it's done and argue with them all about the Morris. You will dance with the best of them, Dave. You will dance again. I swear it. He smiled, and squeezed my hand.

And on that third day, he rose up, and danced in his bed. He felt the spring air on his face and he sang around the Maypole, and he lived to see one more season of dancing and to hear the voices of the generation that he taught, singing with him the day before he died.

Engraved below the ring o' bells on his tankard urn, Dave's epitaph is simply, "Dance Like It Matters."

In death as in life, Dave values function over mere decoration. For those who will, he invites us to drink deep.

We'll drink to John o' Gaunt, me lads
We'll drink to Jinky Wells
We'll drink to David Stryker, who was buried in his bells
We'll drink to all the Morris folk, wherever they may be
And we're hoping that they can dance as well
When they're half as drunk as we!