It was obvious that Bo’s Dance Hall was a hay barn all week and became a dance hall on Saturday nights. The barn had light bulbs strung from one end to the other. There were haylofts on each side, stacked high with hay bales. At the far end, two wine kegs with a plank across them served as a bar, and a half dozen milk cans served as bar stools. Lining the sidewalls under the lofts were hay bales for people to sit on while waiting to do-si-do their partners.
A short stocky man in bib overalls, a red flannel shirt, and carrying a milk-can in one hand, stepped into the center of the barn. Addressing the gathering, he bellowed out. “It gives me gr-e-a-t pleasure to pr-e-e-sent to you our very own Bo Jennings and his magic fiddle. Bring it on, Bo!”
A scrawny little old man with a face full of white hair and an old leather cowboy hat, stood up with a great deal of effort. His hands now gnarled and twisted with arthritis. In his tan shirt and brown bib over-all’s, he gave the appearance of a dandelion gone to seed.
While he was working his way across the floor, everybody started chanting, “Bo. Bo. Bo. Bo.” “It’s Bo,” Angie said. “I come here a lot with my dad.” She was watching the little old man with intent. “That’s Bo?” Casey asked. “That’s Bo,” Dad said, with a great deal of admiration in his voice.
It took Bo a few minutes to walk to the milk-can that the stocky man had left for him near the bar. No one offered to help him. Everybody just kept chanting until he was seated on the milk stool. The roar from the crowd became deafening. Bo lifted his hands and gave a motion to be quiet. The crowd fell silent. He bowed his head and spoke, “Just one more time, Lord.”
The next time they saw those gnarled and twisted hands one held a bow and the other held a fiddle. The crowd, numbering some two hundred now, roared again. When the bow touched that fiddle – the crowd fell silent. What came forth from that fiddle was nothing short of amazing. The gnarled and twisted fingers moved up and down the neck of the fiddle, squeezing out sounds that one would swear was a choir of angels. As Bo danced the bow over the strings, his whole body came alive with the music. Casey had never heard the tune before. But it made him feel happy and after looking around, it was clear everyone else felt the same way.
When Bo finished his piece, the crowd went wild. With shaking hands Bo leaned his fiddle and bow against the milk can. The stocky man walked up to Bo and placed a hand on his shoulder. He rubbed Bo’s back, “Now that Bo’s warmed up,” laughter from the crowd. “Let’s take a short break and then commence dancing. That’s what we come here for, ain’t it?”
Grammy worked her way up to the bar, got two Cokes, headed over to Bo, and handed him one. “Hey Dad, is Grammy sweet on Bo?” Shelly asked. “Heavens, no!” Dad was amused at the idea. “Grammy’s father and Bo were fishing buddies.” “He looks old. How old is he?” Patty asked. “Nobody knows, including himself,” Dad said. “He claims he went to school with George Washington.” Angie giggled. “Casey, your dad’s funny. George Washington.” “What did Bo mean when he said just one more time? Isn’t he going to play anymore?” Patty looked disappointed. “The first time I heard him play, some forty years ago now, he said the same thing. He says the same prayer every time. It’s part of his charm. I’m glad he’s still with us.” Dad said, deep in thought. “But why didn’t anybody help him to his seat, Dad?” Shelly had a sad look on her face. “He almost didn’t make it.” “Folks hereabouts, believe the struggle of walking out to that milk-can is what’s keeping him alive. It’s like helping a baby chick break out of the egg. If you do, it will die, it needs the struggle to stay alive, and so it is with Bo.” Casey looked back at Bo with renewed admiration. “What was the tune he played, Dad?” “Dunno. He makes them up as he goes. Some say that in seventy-five years of fiddling, he hasn’t played the same tune twice. That’s hard to believe.” “I believe it.” Patty had a look of wonder on her face. “So do I, Honey.” Mom smiled and gave her a hug. Grammy came back and sat down with them. Bo lifted the bottle of Coke in a salute to her with a shaking hand and took a long swig before swapping it for his fiddle.
For the grand finale, Bo played a piece that was so touching that it would be almost sacrilegious to dance to it. No one did. He poured out his soul. Though he never spoke a word, his music told of his love for music and life. It spoke of his love for people and the way of life he had chosen. Bo and his fiddle were truly magic.